Your Cramped, Messy Conference Room is a Problem
What does your office say about you and your practice? Do you care? You should. Forget about the clichés about aesthetics — looks don’t matter, you can’t judge a book by its cover, clothes don’t make a man — when a client, potential client, or opposing counsel comes to your office, they are going to make assumptions about your competence and lawyering skills.
Whether you have your own office, you share space, rent a virtual office, or even work from home, you have to be prepared for company.
I was defending a deposition earlier this week, for a multi-party complex litigation matter, and the space where the deposition was held was about 8′ x 10′. Actually, the room was slightly bigger than that, but because there were three rows of bankers boxes stacked from floor to ceiling on one side of the room, there was only about 80 square feet of usable space. It didn’t hurt that the room had a window, but you could barely see the window because there were additional boxes, stacks of files, miscellaneous office supplies, wadded up paper, a styrofoam cup with teeth marks on the lip, and old newspapers strewn about and piled on the windowsill. Then there was a narrow, five-foot table in the center of the room. Five of us were huddled around that table, and the rest of the folks were squeezed up against a wall, trying not to jab each other with their elbows.
Some attorneys would argue that the uncomfortable setting, or conditions under which the depositions were being taken was just a strategy to make the deponents unnerved or irritable. That’s bullshit. Based on my experience at that deposition, I would never refer business to that attorney. In fact, I will make it a point to never go back to that office again. If he wants to depose another one of my clients, I’m going to insist on another venue (I’m not aware of any civil procedure rules that require depositions to be held at the office of the noticing attorney).
We need to realize that when we schedule a deposition, we are inviting a potentially large group of people to spend the better part of a whole day at our offices. It shouldn’t be any different than when you host a cocktail party, casual dinner, or otherwise invite guests to your home or apartment. If you live in a studio apartment in Manhattan, you wouldn’t offer to host a party of 25 or even 10 people, would you? And no matter how many people were coming over, you’d probably straighten up, at the very least, and make sure that you have a variety of hors d’oeuvres and libations on hand and ready to serve. In an office setting, that means, at a minimum, coffee and drinking water should be readily available.
Before I even bought a decent desk for my office, I invested in one of those Keurig single brew coffee makers, and I always have at least two kinds of coffee, tea, and the appropriate condiments on hand. About once a month or so, I pick up a case of bottled water at Costco, and I keep several bottles chilled in a mini fridge (which was there when I moved in), along with some sodas, and milk. Even when I don’t have a lot of clients coming to the office, the stuff still gets used, whether by me, or any friend or colleague that stops by.
I admit that there are times when my office becomes quite cluttered — e.g. when I’m preparing for a big trial, or drafting an appellate brief. But when I have people coming to my office, I make sure to straighten up, and if I know that there are going to be more people coming than can comfortably sit in my conference room, I make other arrangements. The county bar’s offices are right behind my building. They have a large conference room, complete with comfortable leather chairs, which is available to members, free of charge. I also have a good relationship with a prominent personal injury firm that has a brand new satellite office half a block down my street; they have two large, boardroom-style conference rooms with 50″ flat screen TVs. Both rooms are almost always vacant. If neither of those options are available, or if I needed more space, the state bar headquarters is about four miles away from my office. They have meeting space available (also free to members), which is sufficient to present CLE seminars and awards banquets.
Perhaps I have a few more options than most, but I’d bet that you probably have more options than you are aware of. Whenever I meet attorneys at bar meetings and networking events, it is common for the ones whose offices are far away to offer their conference room space: “Hey, if you’re ever in [bumblefuck], and need a conference room, definitely give a call.” I’ve never actually taken anyone up on one of those offers, but I know they’re there, and I wouldn’t hesitate to call one of them if the need arose.