BonaFide Office Rules – A Rejoinder by Tannebaum

Last week, I  criticized a ruling out of New Jersey interpreting the bonafide office rule to prohibit virtual offices.  I argued that the rule (1) would force lawyers to hire staff and rent full time space, thereby raising the cost of legal services and (2) make it difficult for recently unemployed lawyers and female lawyers cutting down to part time to open up or run a law practice.  Over at My Law License, my friend Brian Tannebaum completely disagrees with my position — and he’s generating some comments, pro and con in response (so check out the conversation).

Bonafide offices are one topic where Brian and I will forever disagree.  However, Brian raises a significant point that my post glosses over and that many lawyers, intent on “doing it my way” often forget:  the client’s perspective.  As Brian writes, “clients have the right to have their files kept in a safe place….in a real office with insurance and security than in the trunk of a car or a den in a home with 4 kids, 2 dogs and people visiting…:” He’s right.  Likewise, clients expect to meet an appropriately attired lawyers in a professional looking location with some semblance  of confidentiality (which is why I’ve always favored the virtual office arrangement as a happy medium).

The other point is that working from home is neither a picnic, nor an excuse for vacation.  You work twice as hard, but at least, it gives you a chance to hold on to a career.  When I worked part time, largely from home, both the working world and stay home moms always expressed envy over my perfect situation.  What they didn’t realize is that I was waking up at 5 am to get in an hour of work before my daughters woke up and putting in a shift between 9 and 1 after my husband returned home.  Sometimes, I worked at the coffee shop down the street from my daughter’s school because it allowed me to get in an extra hour of work by not traveling all the way home before pick up.  I rarely exercised, took showers or did anything other than work, handle household chores or spend time with my daughters.   If I’d have had to commute to my downtown office (an hour each way), I’m not sure I could have made this schedule work at all.

Serving clients is really, really hard work – on that, I know that Brian and I agree.  And though working from home or a virtual law office doesn’t make it any easier to serve clients, the convenience and lower cost makes it more feasible by enabling lawyers to spend more money on CLE to master practice areas or  for a mom like me to handle a manageable workload without panicking about paying rent.  For that reason, I’d hate to see these options eliminated.