One of the big concerns for any solo or small firm owner is what they should spend on an office. When starting and running a firm, the biggest potential drain on a practitioner’s budget is office space. The drain is so substantial that in fact some attorneys decide not to have an office altogether.

Some office-less attorneys choose to work from home or from a coffee shop. And that’s fantastic if it works. But when I first started, I learned quickly that I needed an office.

Working at home wasn’t an option for me because I have kids and attention span issues and a righteous collection of video games; a lethal death-punch combo against productivity. I also didn’t much like working out of coffee shops. My clothes eventually reeked of a hybrid patchouli-Sumatra blend and I hated having to worry about finding a table and protecting my laptop when I went to the bathroom.

Point is, I needed an office, and I wish that I would have known about collaborative workspaces when I was a new solo.

What is a “Collaborative Workspace?”

A collaborative workspace is an office cooperative where you can rent a desk and use office amenities along with other freelancers and rogue professionals. Many of these collaboratives offer part-time or full-time memberships where you choose your own level of involvement. One of these “coworking spaces” in my town is called CoCo in Minneapolis, and I’ll use it as an example (just Google-fu “collaborative workspace” in your city and you’ll likely find something similar). They offer different kinds of memberships for individuals based on how often they would like to use the space. Their prices range from $50/month for part-time and no monthly commitment to $350/month for full-time (with a 6 month commitment) and a dedicated desk.

In many of these collaborative spaces around the country, a membership gets you wireless access, access to printers and conference rooms, free coffee and other amenities. You also get the underrated benefit of working around kindred solo-spirits. Obviously, membership in one of these collaboratives comes with a cost, but I’ll wager you this: the amount of money you save by not paying for vanilla lattes, breakfast sandwiches and Febreeze will contribute significantly to whatever membership fee you decide to pay.

Overhead or “In Over Your Head?”

As I mentioned before, the chief concern in any firm owner’s budget is how much they spend on brick and mortar. But it isn’t just the monthly lease cost at issue, it’s the lease commitment as well. The uncertainty of success justifiably makes solos worried about whether they can afford to lock themselves into a year-long lease. But joining one of these collaboratives allows you to test the waters of your practice without worrying about breaking an office lease if it doesn’t work out.

Utilizing a shared workspace also eliminates the need for ponying up for a printer, networking equipment, office furniture and the like. So if you feel like you need an office, and are worried about the startup costs, a collaborative workspace could be the ticket for you.

Esprit de Corps

Depending on your work habits and style, being around other motivated people can really boost your productivity. Personally, I’m at my best when I am working with or around others. And the cool thing about these cooperative workspaces is that you work around people from all different kinds of industries. This can be good for a variety of reasons: it can foster creative ideas, it can generate some good networking opportunities, and it could be fun. Not that working around other lawyers isn’t an absolute GAS, but it might be nice to talk to other people with different backgrounds.

Law firms are a business just like any other. The successful business owner finds ways to operate effectively while keeping costs to a minimum. Establishing a workspace that allows you to meet clients and do work cheaply and effectively without having to worry about coffee shop transients stealing your spot and your stuff is a step in that direction.