This post follows up on last week’s interview with Immigration attorney Amy Long who shared her experience on starting a satellite office. The post generated such positive feedback that today we’re interviewing another solo, Andrew Ayers on his experience expanding his Brooklyn, New York office to New Jersey. To learn more about Andrew’s practice, which focuses on family law, business counseling and litigation, visit his website – www.AndrewMAyers.com his blog - ayersblog.com; or follow him on Twitter at @ayerslaw
I opened my law firm in the summer of 2011 with my office in Brooklyn. My primary areas of practice are family law and small business counseling and litigation, which are surprisingly complimentary to each other. I don’t have any dedicated staff or lawyers, but both offices are staffed generally by the managers of each suite.
2. When did you open (or do you plan to open) your satellite office and why did you decide to add a second location?
My office in Summit, New Jersey opened on September 3, 2013. My family moved to New Jersey and it seemed logical to have a local presence here that was not run out of our house. I love being able to work out of my house, but having a second actual office to go to makes me much more productive.
3. How did you choose the second location for your office? Did you prepare a market assessment or business plan to evaluate need? Were you already familiar with the city or town where your satellite office is located?
Since we just moved to this area, I was not familiar with the local towns and spent some time looking at the downtown space of each and the various lawyers who were already set up. We are in an interesting area in that I am at the edge of one county (Union), but a five minute drive one direction takes you into Morris County, a five minute drive the other direction takes you into Somerset County and there are two other large counties a short drive away. So my office is relatively central to each of the counties so that I would be able to work on cases in each of them. I also really liked downtown Summit because it provided me with all of the office amenities that I needed (i.e. FedEx, bank, post office) within a short walking distance from the office. In the end, the town of Summit just felt like the right place to open an office.
4. What type of infrastructure do you have at your satellite location? Is it a full-time office? A virtual space? And how is it staffed?
The office is a full-time office in a suite of 12 offices. Like my Brooklyn office, I am surrounded by non-lawyers, which I find makes for a more interesting office experience. The managing tenant staffs the office and takes care of mail handling, conference room appointments, etc.
5. How long did it take from when you first conceived of the idea of a satellite office to its implementation? Can you list some of the specific tasks involved in getting the satellite office set up?
The turnaround time for the office idea was probably about 2 weeks from idea to signing the lease. From there, it was another month because the office was not available until September 1. The tasks that I went through included getting signs for the door and building, getting another phone and hooking it into my phone system, moving around technology between the home office, the Brooklyn office and the Summit office, registering the change of address with the New Jersey court system and my active cases and then the basics of sitting in the office and trying to get everything organized. Since it is physically different from the Brooklyn office, I spent a bit of time just looking at the office and figuring out what was the best configuration to fit into my normal work-flow.
6. If your satellite office is located in a different state, presumably that triggered an additional set of ethics requirements. How did you go about figuring out the ethics requirements in your new jurisdiction, and were there any unique ethics challenges (e.g., conflicting requirements? marketing restrictions?)
I didn’t really have to deal with the ethical requirements because I’ve been practicing law in New Jersey almost as long as in New York, so I’ve been used to the requirements here.
7. Please describe the relationship between the two locations. Do you consider one office to be your “main” location and the other office as a “secondary” location? How do you split your time between locations?
I don’t know if I consider either office to be my “main” office these days. What I’ve been doing is splitting my time pretty equally between the two offices, depending on where my court appearances take me. Usually I’m in New York City for 2-3 court appearances or meetings per week, so it’s become a natural split of time. On my way home from the city, I hop off the train in Summit and walk over to my office to check my mail on my way home. If I’m in Summit for the day, I check in with the Brooklyn office (or they contact me) to let me know what mail comes in and, if needed, they scan or fedex it to me.
8. What types of technology, if any, do you use to facilitate coordination between the offices? Do you maintain hard copies of documents and files at each location?
All of my documents get scanned into my system, so the hard copies are not needed on a daily basis. I use Clio for my practice management system, so no matter what office or courthouse I am in, I have access to my client files on whatever computer or iPad is in front of me. When I pack my bag in the morning, I usually think of documents that need to be moved to whichever location I’m going to that day and throw them in the bag. In the end, there is paper in both offices and I look forward to closing cases so I can return the paper to my clients and clear up room. If need be, I use DropBox or an external hard drive to transport documents electronically. My phone system is set up to ring on both office phones and my cell phone simultaneously, so RingCentral allows me to get my calls no matter which office I’m in.
9. What about marketing? Do you have two different marketing strategies for each location or do you present yourself as a single firm with two separate locations?
I present myself as a single firm with two separate locations, but there are definite differences in marketing an office in Brooklyn and in the suburbs of New Jersey. In Brooklyn, our family was very involved in family programs in the neighborhood, which served as a good way to meet people and we are currently looking for a similar situation here in New Jersey.
10. Given the distance between locations, what have you done to get to know the locals in the new jurisdiction?
This is an extension of the prior question, but we’re trying to get more involved in the community here in New Jersey to get to meet more of the locals. The farmer’s market in town and other local activities are a good way so far to meet people.
11. What advice do you have for attorneys considering a satellite office?
My advice would be not to ignore the infrastructure challenges of opening a second office. All of the hard work that goes into opening an office has to be replicated when you open a second office, including some type of system for communicating between the two offices and keeping abreast of what is going on in two communities at once. But once you get all of the work done, it is very rewarding to sit down in your second office and look around and realize that you were able to do it.
12. Anything else to add?
Thanks again for this survey, it was a great way to think about what I just went through in opening a second office. I think, at times, we all focus too much on just doing legal work and take for granted all the non-legal work that goes into one, if not more, offices. But when you get into a good groove with all of your systems working, it can really make practicing law fun.