Need an Office? Consider Going Collaborative

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.



Get Lawyerist in Your Inbox, Daily

Current Articles
Current Lab Discussions
  • Ian

    Thanks for the tips. Are you aware of any of these in NY?

  • How does one address the duty of client confidentiality in such space? How is it superior to subletting an office with a door from another lawyer?

  • @Ian-

    @Bruce- many of the workspaces allow you to use their conference room for meetings; problem solved? As to whether it’s superior to subletting an office, I think the fact that there are flexible plans (as opposed to lease agreements) makes this a little better for startups. Plus, you get to work with other sectors; which I think is pretty valuable.

  • All over NYC (and I believe Brooklyn & Westchester, and because of their proximity to the Courts, I’d guess Poughkeepsie and CI). So hit google, hit the streets to see what’s right for you (I mention these other locations because I don’t know where you live, and in addition to commuting–your time is your money; if you don’t have enough cases, market and network. You don’t even have to go to an event. Go to your local Fed. Court for an hour or two before lunch. On a good day, you can hit the trifecta, ie, (i) watch and lear from some seasoned, less seasoned, and some totally unseasoned local lawyers from all sorts of firms; (ii) you may well strike up a chat with one or more of those lawyers that leads to an on going relationship; (iii) at least one lawyer makes an incredibly amusing faux pas. Worst case, you’ll see somethings that are far better than daytime TV, lean something–we can all learn even from those who are’t as good or experienced. If you’re an old hand, how would you be litigating the case? Did the judge come out right? If you’re ust out of school, and yet to christen that court suit your Aunt bought you when you graduated, your brief case is clearly empty & brad new, and nothing’s more frightening–and I hope exhilarating–than the thought of actually arguing your first case, more the better. You’ll see a lot of good lawyering and some very bad lawyering. If all that comes of those hours watching is that you got to see some real players in action, and are armed with that much more as a lawyer starting out, when you get stage fright and question your ability before you’re first bloodied in court, hopefully you’ll be able to calm yourself by thinking “God, if that guy could do it. . . I may not be that Law&Order/TDBank guy, but at least I won’t make a total mess of it”. If you can afford to, do pro bono work or write an article. Do lawyer things. Don’t obsess over advertising that cost dollars. Cover your basic expenses first. The web is filled with really cool–and often very helpful ways to generate business. But the most important way to get–or at least to keep it–is TO BE A GOOD LAWYER. I choose to believe that if you focus on that, the rest will come. Hang in, and best of luck.