Happy New Year!
I always enjoy the month of January, which brings new energy, goal setting and much optimism for the future. I hope you’re looking forward to 2014 as well. Please don’t hesitate to let me know what I can do to support you!
I am a member of the American Bar Association’s Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division. I joined the Division to be part of the national conversation about how to improve the practice of law for solo and small firm practitioners. Over the summer, I was approached by an editor of the Division’s GP|Solo eReport, a digital magazine, and invited to write a four-part series about setting up a virtual law practice. I’m thrilled about this opportunity! I view my virtual office as a role model for how law firms can evolve past an increasingly outdated brick and mortar approach, and operate to reduce costs (and pass those savings on to clients), be more environmentally conscious, and provide excellent client service.
Part One of my column is reprinted below with permission from the American Bar Association’s GPSolo eReport, and Part Two will be forthcoming in next month’s newsletter.
As I write this, I am sitting in my virtual law office—more specifically, a spare bedroom in my townhouse which has been converted into an office. My attire, admittedly, is quite casual: black running tights paired with a t-shirt. Tonight, I’m attending the annual Washington Women Lawyers dinner in downtown Seattle. I’ll need to change clothes at some point, but for now I’m quite comfortable. My cat, Roger, snoozes contentedly downstairs on the sofa. The tea kettle simmers in the kitchen. And, consistent with the stereotype of a home office, the washing machine spins away while I work.
I opened my virtual law firm in 1999 after an eclectic first decade of legal work, which included five years in Washington, D.C., writing legislation for the U.S. Senate and working as a registered foreign lobbyist, and then a move to Seattle to work both in private practice and as a pro-tem magistrate. When I started my solo practice, a woman operating a law firm out of her home conjured up images of someone fitting in a few hours of work before picking up the kids at school and driving them to soccer practice. Some attorneys assumed, and a few verbalized, that my practice was not “serious” and that a home-based law practice could never survive on a long-term basis.
In reality, a home-based law office is often a smart option for lawyers starting a solo or small-firm practice, or changing the physical environment of their existing practice. Far from lacking in seriousness, a virtual practice can be cutting edge, technologically savvy, environmentally conscious, and profitable. If you are contemplating the merits and drawbacks of a virtual office, you should consider the following:
Are there any legal constraints regarding home-based businesses that might impact your decision? To ensure that your business model is in compliance, it’s important that you check all state and local legal requirements. For example, the City of Seattle imposes various restrictions on home-based businesses in order to reduce the impact of commercial activity within residential neighborhoods, such as limiting business deliveries to one per day on weekdays. Make sure you feel comfortable with any restrictions before you proceed.
I do not have children, and I live in a quiet neighborhood. My home offers sufficient space so that my office is set apart and completely dedicated to my law firm. When guests come, I don’t have to clean out my office so it can be used as a spare bedroom. If your home environment is noisy, disruptive, or does not have the capacity for you to permanently and consistently dedicate a specific room as office space, operating a successful virtual law practice becomes much more problematic.
Factor 3: Practice Areas
My practice focuses on business law, estate planning, and probate. Other than the occasional probate hearing, my firm does not handle litigation. A transactional practice lends itself to a virtual environment more readily than a litigation practice, due to the practicalities involved in serving and receiving pleadings, conducting discovery, etc.
Best wishes in 2014!