Why you may want to rent an office

These days, working from home is all the rage, glamorized by successful lawyers like Chuck Newton at Third Wave Law Blog or Jay Fleischman at Untethered Lawyer, who through writing and by personal example make a compelling case for the virtues of virtual law practice.  I don’t disagree, either – there’s much to be said for working from home, from keeping overhead down to accommodating the needs of family.  In fact, it was exactly thirteen years ago yesterday that I trudged out of my downtown DC office, nine months and two weeks pregnant, never again to return for a full day’s work at that venue, or any other space outside of my home for that matter.

As much as I’ve enjoyed working from home, working in an outside office has its upsides.  Which is why you shouldn’t feel ashamed or behind the times for craving an office.  After the jump, I’ll describe two hidden benefits that come with renting or subleasing space that you might not have considered.

For starters, take a look at what Boston-based biglaw firm Foley Hoag is doing with its space.  Foley’s 6000 square foot Emerging Enterprise Center houses the firm’s venture capital and start-up team, but half the space is available for hosting tech talks and events.   The Center is a win-win for Foley in many ways – hosting events on site makes it easier for Foley’s lawyers to attend, plus, Foley can show support for the tech community.

Obviously, most new solo and small firm lawyers can’t replicate Foley’s Enterprise Center, but they may be able to sublet space in an existing office with a conference room.  Having space on hand makes it easier to plan regular lunch meetings and networking events and conferences.  Plus, if you’re paying for the space, you can share it with other groups that might be looking for a location to hold events.  Sure, you can do the same thing by renting virtual office space or leasing a meeting room, but I think this kind of planning is much easier to fit into a busy schedule when you’re working at that location.

A second, and admittedly more controversial reason for renting office space comes from this Maryland Daily Record story about what happens when lawyers get sick.  The story profiles one of my buddies, Herb Dubin, who sadly became quite ill last year.  Herb rented space with a dozen other lawyers in Rockville, and they held down the fort for him until he was able to get back on his feet.  In the article, Herb commented:

The bottom line was, I just happened to be sharing space with a good bunch of guys,” he said. “Suppose I was practicing the way a lot of new, young lawyers are: from my house, by myself.

Some will take Herb’s quote as an unjustified jab at “new, young lawyers,”  (and I’ll make no bones about it — Herb is a traditionalist.  But he’s also generous – I’ve seen him help many new lawyers, entirely gratis, out of ethical pickles).  Still, Herb also makes a good point:  lawyers need to have someone covering their back in the event of the unexpected.  And often, when you work in space with other lawyers, you have back-up built in.  I know that when I sublet space, the paralegal and messenger for one of the other attorneys often made filings for me and checked my mail if I was out of the office.

Again, that’s not to say that lawyers can’t build these “back up” relationships working from home.  Of course, they can.  However, you have to remember to make the effort.

The final consideration is that in a down economy, office space is still fairly inexpensive.  There may be deals available – either low rent or flexible leases – that might enable a new solo or a group of new solos to take on space without taking on the kind of enormous overhead that will sink a practice from the get-go.

Working from home offers plenty of benefits.  I wouldn’t have done it for nearly thirteen years if it didn’t.  But I have to admit that I also really liked having an outside office with my name on the front door that I called my own.  In the end, we all have to choose the option that works best for our individual situations.

What do you think – home office or leased office – or some other option?  Please share your thoughts below.