One of the primary questions you must answer is where you will physically practice law. There are various options, including leasing office space, purchasing a building, working from home, utilizing a virtual office, and sharing space with other lawyers. Each of these options has advantages and disadvantages, and you should give appropriate consideration to this extremely important question. You should also be sure that your office reflects the image you wish to project to clients and opposing counsel.
Home Office/Virtual Office
Utilizing a home office has some considerable advantages, including the relatively low cost and convenience for you; however, there are significant drawbacks. While some attorneys appreciate the ability to walk from their bedroom to their office, others indicated that there were too many distractions at home, particularly when the residence is shared with other adults and/or children.
A home office may also present challenges with client meetings, depositions, support staff, and future expansion; however, there are virtual office services that can provide someone to answer your phone, phones, executive suites that can be utilized for meetings, and cloud computing services (such as CLIO) that can make a home office manageable. Be sure that you have a plan for meeting with clients and that you have sufficient phone/networking capability, parking, etc. You should also check to see if there are zoning issues or restrictive covenants that prohibit you from establishing a law office at your home. Generally, the issue will arise if you intend to actually meet with clients at your home, because it increases the traffic flow to the residence.
Best Practice for Work-Life Balance -- Work From Home:
- Create a routine that works for you and your family
- Make time to exercise
- Create a dedicated space for work
- Eat a proper lunch
- Stay organized in your work space and home space
- Schedule 10-minute chats about non-work stuff with colleagues
- Get outside -- get some fresh air in the middle of the work
- Limit your availability and make time to disconnect
Zoom video conferencing offers some helpful tips on virtual backgrounds and virtual meetings; members also have access to a virtual skills and communication program. See comparison chart on all web meeting services.
Leasing an office is an excellent way to begin a practice; however, there are several issues that should be considered. Monthly lease payments may be your largest single expense. As an initial concern, be sure to utilize a written lease agreement, regardless of the situation. A short-term lease (month to month, 6 month, or 1 year) may be preferable so that you can establish your practice and better predict your long term needs. Proximity to the courthouse, bank, law library, and potential client base is a consideration. It may be beneficial to retain the services of a commercial real estate agent to find the right space for you.
Be sure to closely review any lease and pay attention to CAM (Common Area Management) fees that may not be clearly defined. Additionally, pay careful attention to whether you will be assuming responsibility for payment of taxes for the premises, insurance, and maintenance and repairs (commonly referred to as a triple net lease). Don’t forget – you are an attorney. Negotiate terms with the landlord to make the arrangement as advantageous as possible. Address specifics such as an early termination clause, internet/phone/other utilities, and term renewal.
This can be an excellent arrangement, as in addition to the expense reduction, you may benefit from referrals and having more experienced attorneys nearby to use as a sounding board; however, special ethical considerations may arise concerning conflicts, so be sure to review the Rules of Professional Conduct with that in mind.
Numerous significant ethical responsibilities come into play when a lawyer practices with a “firm,” including issues related to imputation of conflicts of interest, confidentiality, etc.
Whether two or more lawyers constitute a firm depends on the specific facts. See the comment  to RPC 1.10:
Whether two or more lawyers constitute a firm within paragraph (c) can depend on the specific facts. For example, two practitioners who share office space and occasionally consult or assist each other ordinarily would not be regarded as constituting a firm. However, if they present themselves to the public in a way that suggests that they are a firm or conduct themselves as a firm, they should be regarded as a firm for purposes of the Rules. The terms of any formal agreement between associated lawyers are relevant in determining whether they are a firm, as is the fact that they have mutual access to information concerning the clients they serve. Furthermore, it is relevant in doubtful cases to consider the underlying purpose of the Rule that is involved. A group of lawyers could be regarded as a firm for purposes of the Rule that the same lawyer should not represent opposing parties in litigation, while it might not be so regarded for purposes of the Rule that information acquired by one lawyer is attributed to another.
If you intend to form a firm, so be it; however, if you elect to share office space with other attorneys but do not intend to form a law firm, you should take appropriate steps to avoid the appearance that you are a firm.