Can a Coworking Space Work for Lawyers?

shutterstock_261911066 (1)

Though a home office is probably the cheapest option for a solo, nothing blows a negotiation worse than a barking pet. And if the thought of seeing only your family and the person delivering your takeout food sounds isolating, you might want to consider an alternative working arrangement.

One option is a coworking space.

Coworking spaces have traditionally been marketed to creatives and tech startups, but they can also be an affordable option for solo attorneys.

What is a Coworking Space?

Coworking spaces usually have an open layout, lower rent than a regular office, perks like free coffee and meeting-room time, and cool marketing.

For your monthly rent, you get access to a communal table or dedicated desk, WiFi, a power outlet, document shredding, and a break room with complimentary coffee and tea. Coworking spaces also hold events like happy hours or educational seminars.

Typical premium upgrades for coworking spaces include a dedicated desk or office, and conference room time. Some of the fancier coworking spaces even offer free beer and game rooms.

Because of the amenities and marketing, the demographics of coworking spaces compared to law office suites skew a bit younger. Like, under-thirty young. You might feel like a narc if you are over forty.

That said, different coworking spaces have different cultures. WeWork has a lot of young startups and freelancers, while Regus has more professionals.

Coworking Culture

The main difference between a coworking space and a law office suite is the ambiance and culture. Coworking spaces are filled with young web designers, press reps, app developers, and tech startups. People are constantly moving around, chatting, collaborating, and distracting themselves from work.

If you are bored holed up in your office suite, a coworking space is the more interactive option. But a coworking space lends itself to distraction. Many opt to go in a few days per week, in part to allow for some focused time at home. Others get a dedicated office with a door.

Business Development

One reason solos like working in suites with other lawyers is for business development. Some suites accept only one firm in a particular practice area so other members can freely refer cases.

In a coworking space, business development isn’t as easy for lawyers.

“Going into it, I thought people would need lawyers,” said Daniel Gershburg, a real estate and bankruptcy attorney with offices at WeWork. “I’ve found it’s the lowest common denominator. People are looking for free advice.” When a startup or freelancer is looking for a lawyer, “thirty lawyers respond immediately and cut prices.”

Many of the pre-funded startups and freelancers don’t have money to spend on legal services, and they’re only looking for small jobs like business formation. You are also competing with BigLaw firms that offer pro bono services to startups. And if a startup does get funding, VCs often require they use a preferred firm.

Can law firms get business from coworking space users? Yes.

Is it going to cover your rent? Probably not.

Confidentiality Concerns

No matter where you are working, keeping client confidentiality is a huge concern. Just like you should not conduct client meetings in a Starbucks, you should not speak with clients about confidential matters in a public space.

If you are working on an open floor with other businesses, keeping client confidentiality can be difficult. At coworking spaces, you can take calls in a conference room. But if your practice has a lot of unscheduled calls, a dedicated office may be the only way to protect confidentiality. And that comes at a big premium. If you are seeking out a dedicated office at a coworking space, you should price it out against a law office suite.

The Perception and Professionalism of Coworking

Depending on your practice and your typical clients, you might be concerned about the impression your office gives. Are you working at a law office or a playground?

“I thought investor clients would think I was eleven years old,” Mr. Gershburg said. “But, they love the concept and idea. A few of them have said ‘I couldn’t care less where you practice. I know that the fees I pay go to your office space.’ Clients want the work done, they don’t care about the space.”

But, before making a judgment, consider how often you will have clients at your office and if they are just going to see a lobby and the inside of a conference room.

How much you need to care about perception and professionalism will definitely depend on the type of clients you want to attract.

Featured image: “Business People Working Office Corporate Team Concept” from Shutterstock.


Get Lawyerist in Your Inbox, Daily

Current Articles
Current Lab Discussions
  • K Davis Senseman

    This is a pretty narrow sampling (one) of lawyers working from coworking spaces. I’ve built a firm of 4 full-time attorneys in 3 coworking locations) almost entirely on referrals from coworkers. Not sure this one lawyer’s experience is indicative of what others might expect at their local space. I will say, the attorneys I’ve observed failing here (both big and small) haven’t fully understood how important community is when it comes to coworking. Find a place that values community and then be a part of it.

    • In my experience, lawyers would be hard pressed to find good business at a coworking space. That’s not to say that there aren’t exceptions, as you apparently seem to be. But coworking spaces are filled with companies just starting or are tight on cash flow, not leaving much room for lawyers.

      • K Davis Senseman

        I think it really depends on the coworking space. Sure some of them are filled with small start-ups, but the more successful ones (like COCO in Mpls, where we office and where I believe Lawyerist also offices) have memberships available for companies up to 12-14 people, and all of those are full, and many of those companies have hired us.

        It’s not coworking spaces in general that can’t provide good business for lawyers, it’s specific ones that don’t foster community, etc as part of their values. If a lawyer finds a good space and becomes part of the community (and yes, sometimes that means offering a bit of free advice knowing that later when that person has a larger need they will come to you) it can be a completely viable part of their business.

        Statistically, 75% of our referrals come directly from COCO’s membership and I’d say it’s a great place for business attorneys. But it didn’t happen overnight, and we definitely had to be around for a bit before people began to trust us, just like any good networking relationship.

        I’d also add that I do think this applies mostly to business attorneys, so if you don’t have a great deal of experience in that area or it isn’t your main focus, then perhaps you won’t find a great deal of benefit from a coworking space re: business, but I still find them a great place to find other professionals that our clients need.

        • Alex

          This makes a ton of sense for me. I was a member of a co-working space with a civil litigation and criminal defense practice. It sort of worked. I would not recommend it to litigators. For business attorneys, it would be fine.

          I would just use the conference room to meet with certain civil clients. I would use it as a place to kill time between court hearings. I would use it as a business address for local SEO and for packages. What I didn’t use it for was a place to do hard legal work for long periods of time. That was for my home office.

          Other attorneys judged me, but for the wrong reasons. They thought my clients wouldn’t like it, or it would send the wrong message. However, my clients thought it was cool–the place had a bright, palpable energy and intelligence. A lot of tired one-room offices lack that and are sort of depressing.

          But ultimately I left it because: (1) clients would drop by unannounced and I wasn’t there (yes, I put in my fee agreements that they needed appointments) ; (2) potential clients would wander in and attempt to leave packages with random people; (3) the conference room was only sort of sound proof and with loud talkers I would get nervous that they would be overheard, so I would be thinking about that instead of listening; and (4) I like having a place to leave stuff.

          Coworking spaces like mine work for lawyers that can do it all with a laptop. If you want to spread out papers when you write, or meet with people to discuss their drug charges, it’s not ideal. However, if I had a transactional practice, or was doing a lot of trusts online, or whatever, then it would be awesome. Or if the co-working space had different amenities, maybe it would have lasted longer.

          I think it’s great for keeping your overhead low and your expenses variable. For this law firm, there were some drawbacks that led me to get an office. Now I don’t scan docs at home. Instead, I spread my files out over the desk and leave them there. I have a little solitude when it comes to writing long comments online, and working on important legal matters. :)

  • Gabriel Munoz-Calene

    After spending a year in a co-working space, I moved into a small office for about the same price. For me, a personal office is a much better fit.

    The bottom line is that co-working spaces offer some opportunity, but they produce special challenges for a law practice.

    The issues of confidentiality, and having a dedicated space to take calls and store files, are well covered in this post. The co-working space I experienced provided a private office, so that wasn’t really an issue for me. After exploring other co-working spaces, I have encountered the issue of privacy, however, and I don’t think having a dedicated desk in an open space would work for my practice.

    The bigger issue with co-working spaces is the push to run everything like a tech start-up. Often models which are promoted as creative and outside-the-box are stuck in rules of the cultural trend they are promoting. There are many lean-canvases, shark-tank business competitions, and advice to push customer relationship management (crm) and monthly subscription services for any type of business. Also, most of the businesses were creative marketing professionals such as website developers and search engine optimization (seo) services.

    Moreover, I don’t think that many of the entrepreneurs in co-working spaces understand or know about the difficulties facing new lawyers and the legal profession. The state of the legal profession is much discussed on Lawyerist and within the legal community. Other entrepreneurs, however, don’t seem aware of the disruption going on in the profession and maintain a more traditional view of lawyers.

    The fundamental flaw with start-up styled co-working spaces, however, seems to be a culture focused on obtaining money from angel investors. Though this may work for some businesses, it doesn’t really work for a law office because of the restriction on non-lawyer ownership of firms. Also, I am not convinced that a business model built on pitching to VC investors is the best idea for any business.

    Though there are interesting ideas that the legal profession can draw upon, Co-Working Spaces were not a good fit for my law office.

    Two final points.

    First, now that I have a dedicated personal office, I may check out a co-working space in the future as an alternative to satellite offices. Co-working spaces can be great environments, and a step-up from doing work at a coffee shop. The distinction is that it is necessary for a law practice to have a private space for storing certain files, taking phone calls, and meeting with clients.

    The last point is that co-working space prices often charge extra for things like after-hours access or use of meeting rooms. With all the extra charges, I found a personal office to be cheaper than the co-working space around the corner.