Over the weekend, when I was perusing Facebook on my mobile phone, an ad popped up that interested me. It wasn’t the first time this had happened.* Clearly (and somewhat disturbingly), the Facebook mobile ad algorithm knows me well and has an uncanny ability to serve up really interesting, relevant ads.
The one that inspired this post was no exception. It was for the website “DesksNear.Me,’ which matches those seeking shared office space with those in need of an officemate. What a great concept–especially for recent graduates seeking to set up shop in a cost-effective manner.
Of course, sharing or renting office space from an established law firm isn’t a new concept. Lawyers have been doing that for decades now. But more often than not, young lawyers have been told either to network in order to locate law firms seeking to share space or to check the classified ads in the local legal periodical.
But it’s the 21st century now, and just as Craigslist has essentially replaced classified ads, the Internet now offers alternative ways of seeking out shared office space arrangements.
Not surprisingly, Craigslist is one of the most obvious online sites to check out and you’ll find plenty of ads for lawyers seeking officemates. Other options include sites such as DesksNear.Me or SharedDesk, both of which offer the ability to search for suitable office sharing situations in your area. These sites work best if you’re located in an urban setting, however, since offerings for less metropolitan areas tend to be sparse–at least for now. But that will likely change over time as these sites become more popular.
Website office sharing recommendations aren’t always a match made in heaven and of course there are benefits to word-of-mouth referrals from trusted sources as opposed to cold calls based on a website match. But even so, website referrals are better than nothing when more traditional means don’t pan out or aren’t available. And there’s a lot to be said for the ability to quickly and easily locate a match and then conduct initial inquiries online.
That being said, office sharing isn’t always the ideal situation and before going this route, research your options carefully and ensure that this arrangement makes sense given your particular situation.
When assessing if office sharing is right for you, there are a number of issues to think about, as Debra Bruce recently explained at her blog, Lawyer Coach. In Part 2 of a series of blogs posts focused on choosing the right office space for your law firm, she discusses the benefits and drawbacks to sharing office space, including: 1) reduced costs as a result of sharing rent, equipment and support staff, 2) built-in referral sources from your office mates, 3) built-in camaraderie and collegial support, 4) ensuring equal use of office staff by each attorney can sometimes be a challenge, 5) lease negotiations can sometimes be difficult, and 6) ethical issues regarding office sharing arrangements can arise.
In other words, the nuts and bolts (and potential pitfalls) of entering into this type of office arrangement should not be overlooked. For more on those issues, take a look at this blog post from Nolo, which offers a number of suggestions to help alleviate some of the predictable problems that can arise and also provides a draft of an Office Sharing Agreement, which could prove helpful.
And, as Debra mentioned in her post, don’t forget about the potential ethical issues! It’s important to understand the rules applicable in your jurisdiction when it comes to shared office space. So, for example, as explained in this article from Wisconsin Lawyer, taking steps to ensure client confidentiality is paramount. Likewise, it’s important to avoid misrepresenting the relationship between the lawyers who are sharing space.
Other issues to consider are discussed in this Louisiana Ethics blog post and include: 1) avoiding “disclosure of confidential information at “leak points” such as shared printers, copiers and fax machines,” and 2) avoiding entering into potentially unethical arrangements to provide legal services or referral fees for the lessor or office mates.
Of course, there are other ethics issues that could pop up as well, so before entering into an office sharing arrangement, make sure to thoroughly research the ethics rules that might apply in your jurisdiction.
Once you’ve done so, however, don’t be afraid to take advantage of this cost-saving and flexible arrangement. Office sharing is a great way to get your practice off the ground and should not be overlooked. For many solo lawyers, it’s the ideal office set up and with online tools designed to connect those seeking office space to those with space available, it’s easier than ever to find a match.
So what are you waiting for? Give it a go and take the first step to getting your solo law practice up and running!
* Other interesting discoveries I’ve made via Facebook ads are the Tile App for my husband who is constantly losing his keys and the Mosaic photo book app which quickly creates a stylish photo book from your iPhone photos).