Office Space Primer For Lawyers, Part IV: The Home/Virtual Office
The last option in this Office Space series is the virtual office. The virtual office can be defined in a myriad of ways, but one of the most common iterations is simply working out of your home. Aside from the obvious cost savings (and potential tax benefit), there are several practical issues to consider:
Pros & Cons to Working Where You Sleep:
On the “pro” side:
- No office roomies. In other words, barring client visits, you’re free to dress casually, listen to music at whatever volume you’d like, eat at your desk, use your speakerphone, burn candles, and otherwise create a work environment that is tailored solely and exclusively to Numero Uno.
- No commute. Depending upon where you live, working at home can easily add several minutes up to a few hours of productivity a day. Similarly, you may actually live closer to the places you need to periodically be (court, county clerk’s office, client offices, etc.) and thus, could be significantly cutting your out-of-pocket commuting costs.
On the other side of the ledger, you’ll need to address:
- Interruptions. When working at home, spouses, significant others and/or kids need to respect the home/office distinction. Realistically, the adults in the picture either inherently have the ability to respect this or they don’t – and you probably know whether they do already. If they don’t, contending with that can be very difficult, and end up affecting both your professional and personal life.
- Self-Discipline. For your part, you need to respect that you can’t be “on the clock” 24/7. In some ways, working from home can be a big enabler for workaholics because the work is always right there, staring right at you. As lawyers know, setting bright-line rules is usually not a successful approach. However, barring the occasional real client emergency, it is generally possible to set down some general parameters and try to keep business to business hours.
- Perception issues. Some clients will not necessarily look favorably upon a lawyer working out of her home, but that perception is changing fast as technology continues to evolve. (The huge, opulent “traditional” office also has its own, sometimes worse, set of perception problems.) In addition, for certain projects like discovery production, due diligence, deal closings, board meetings, etc., it’s possible – and even preferable – to work with the client right at the client’s office.
- Zoning Or Use Restrictions. That cranky neighbor, or the self-proclaimed King of your Condo Association, will undoubtedly get all bent out of shape if he sees clients periodically coming and going from your home. Be aware that if your property isn’t in an area zoned for your practice, you could end up spending a lot of time you didn’t plan for doing a bunch of extra favors or seeking variances.
- Networking. When working at home, it’s easy to get pigeonholed. While social media certainly makes this less of an issue than it once was, “old school” networking is something that can require some additional conscious effort when you’re at home. It’s important to do all the networking activities (lunches, lectures, schmoozing, etc.) that you’d otherwise be doing if you were working out of a “traditional” office.
- Purchasing the necessary equipment. You’re most likely to need:
- A reliable laptop and scanner.
- A comfortable office-type chair and desk.
- Web-based practice management software for billing, calendar, contacts, document management and trust accounting.
- A phone system, which can be configured inexpensively with the use of Skype or other options. (Virtual receptionists are also available to help with client service and efficiency at reasonable rates.)
As always, additional tips or suggestions are welcome.