If you’re looking for ways to expand or diversify your law practice, you might consider opening a satellite office like Immigration Attorney Amy A. Long who shares her experiences in the interview below. By way of background, Amy has practiced law at her own firm, The Law Office of Amy A. Long, PLLC, for four years and is currently licensed in Virginia and the District of Columbia. Amy’s law firm websites are www.immigrationforvirginia.com and www.immigrationprovidence.com, and she can be contacted on social media at www.facebook.com/loaal1 and www.twitter.com/loaal. By the way, if you’ve grown your practice recently – either through adding a new niche or setting up a satellite in another state or online, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to share your experience with readers.
I opened my firm in 2009. I handle only immigration & nationality matters. I have no associates or support staff, though I occasionally utilize the assistance of law clerks.
2. When did you open (or do you plan to open) your satellite office and why did you decide to add a second location?
I opened my satellite office in July 2013.
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?
I chose the second location because it is close to my hometown. I have older parents and I wanted to be closer to them. Also, I had a friend introduce me to the landlord who is also a solo attorney. I did not prepare a market assessment or business plan. I talked to many attorneys though about how well my practice area is faring in that location. I realize that I am taking a risk with opening this office. That is why I entered into a six month lease.
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?
It is a full-time office. The landlord-attorney also works out of that office but of course we have separate work spaces.
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?
Years. I had a lot to negotiate. I have a spouse and there were a lot of uncertainties involved. Would I move there? How often would I commute? Is it feasible (and affordable) to commute such a long distance on a monthly basis? Would I be compromising the quality of representation that I deliver to my clients in Alexandria, VA? Also, if the goal is to visit relatives more often, then why not just travel there more often, why incur the liability of a second office there? These were questions my spouse and I had to hash out together.
I ultimately wanted to open an office in my hometown because my heart is there and I wanted to be part of that city’s business community. My practice involves federal law only, so I am not required to be licensed in that state. I am at the very beginning of my journey in trying to make this office work, so I’ll have to let you know in 6 months if the commute was just too trying! Right now, my goal is to personally staff that office for a few days each month. Also, with a phone and internet I can basically work from anywhere.
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?)
There are some differences in Virginia’s and Rhode Island’s Rules of Professional Conduct. I have a copy of the RI Rules of Professional Conduct. Rhode Island requires that a copy of advertising material be sent to the Rhode Island bar. The Commonwealth of Virginia does not have that requirement.
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?
My Alexandria, VA office is my main office because that is the city where I live and work. The Providence office is the satellite office.
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?
I have client notes, various documents and filings electronically stored, however entire client files are not electronically stored (yet) and right now there is the possibility I may need something in a hard file in Alexandria while I am in Providence. If this situation arises, that will have to be something I tend to when I return to Alexandria.
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?
The Providence office is a single-level building with a large, low window facing the street. I had a sign made emblazoned with”Immigration Law Office” together with my Providence phone number (401-632-4951). The landlord has asked me to leave business cards when I am not there in case prospective clients pop in. When I am not in that location, I have my phone calls to that number forwarded to my personal cell phone. I also created business cards for that location and put an ad in a local paper. I also have a website for the Providence location and I am working on Site Engine Optimization (SEO) for that website. I created a second website for the Providence location for now, but who knows, maybe I will have a single website for both locations in the future.
10. Given the distance between locations, what have you done to get to know the locals in the new jurisdiction?
I can’t wait to reach out! I am attending my 20 year high school reunion which I think is great timing with the opening of my new office. So I will have cards with me then. I might also put an ad in my sister’s church’s newsletter. The Catholic church in my experience has been a big supporter of immigrant rights.
It is important to remember that as solo attorneys we have to work hard to retain each and every client. There is not going to be a “big rush”. I plan to implement multiple efforts to get new clients.
11. What advice do you have for attorneys considering a satellite office?
I’m not that far along to give advice, but check with me in 6 months. I’m quite sure I will have developed an opinion by then.
I am easing into everything slowly for now because I don’t know if the satellite office is going to work out. If I decide it is working out, then I may consolidate websites, for example.
12. Anything else to add?
I have concerns about opening a second office, for example, will clients want to hire an attorney who is only physically present in her office a few days per month but located in another state the majority of time? Will the fact that I am accessible by phone and email help to ease their mind, or will they need to know that I am in physical proximity? Only time will tell. I am accessible anytime by email and phone. I am also now on Skype (loaal1) and consultations can be held by phone or Skype. I am also concerned how my Virginia clients will react, though I am less worried about this since I will be in my Alexandria office 90% of the time.