Office Aesthetics:

By Youshea A. Berry

Finding office space for your business can be a daunting task. It can overwhelm and unnerve even the most levelheaded professional who is trying to juggle the practice of law and other professional and personal commitments. In many ways, finding office space for the first time is like renting an apartment: you must determine, from the limited amount of information given to you by the management company, if that is a suitable place where your business can rest its corporate head. Of course, since it is an endeavor that is undertaken while you continue to practice law (and run a business), and since office moves are often borne out of necessity (e.g. current least term is about to expire, firm is expanding), there is usually a time element that adds significant stress to this decision.

Alas, there is hope. There are several factors that can be considered when you are looking for office space for your new (or existing) business. I recently went through this process myself, and am happy to offer to you my list of things to consider when looking for office space. I categorized each set of points for easier reading, but this is by no means a one-size-fits-all solution for every law firm. Keep in mind that these are all things that I found helpful; your own firm may have more (or fewer) needs to consider in your quest for the perfect space. Happy hunting!

Youshea's List of Things to Consider When Looking for Office Space

The Space:

  • Location, location, location. . .is the building located in a convenient place for your clients or potential clients?
  • Is the space furnished or unfurnished?
  • Will the management company build out the suite per your specifications?
  • If you are moving existing furniture into your new space, will it fit into the new office?
    • Will large furniture fit through the dimensions of the doorway in the new office?
  • Will you have a directory or marquis listing of your firm name in the lobby or on the door outside of your suite?
  • Is there space for growth?
    • Think about expansion. Will you be able to fit future associate attorneys, paralegals, and legal assistants?
  • What is the square footage of the space?
    • Generally, office space gurus suggest 150-200 square feet per person.
  • Conference room size
    • How many people does it seat?
    • Is there a dry erasing board available?
    • Is there an existing conference call phone station?
    • Is there a waiting area for clients?

Amenities:

  • Kitchen
    • For a shared office space, are there a community microwave, refrigerator, coffee maker, and water cooler?
    • Is the kitchen clean (and who is responsible for keeping it clean)?
  • Parking
    • What are the parking options?
    • Is there a parking deck or metered parking?
    • What is the cost for a monthly space?
    • Is parking available for guests and clients as well as attorneys and staff?
    • If there is a parking lot, can you validate clients' parking costs?
  • Security
    • Is there 24-hour building security, or is it limited to certain times?
    • Does the building require key card access?
    • Do the office doors have locks?
    • Is there a secure place to store file cabinets?

Office Aesthetics:

  • Are there window offices/corner offices available?
  • Is there a pleasing view?
  • Will the management company repaint, replace carpet, and complete repairs on the space before you move in?
  • Bathrooms
  • Are they in the suite, or elsewhere on the floor?
  • Are they on another floor entirely?
  • Is the building's exterior pleasing to you? Will it impress the clients who patronize your practice?

Convenience:

  • Are highways or main streets in close proximity to the office?
  • Is the office accessible by public transportation?
  • Are there other amenities available?
    • Gym
    • UPS/FedEx/Post Office/mail drop on site or within walking distance
  • Is the office in close proximity to places where your firm does business?
    • Courthouse
    • Bank
    • Restaurants
  • Does the office building offer weekend access?
    • What are the building hours? 
    • Is air or heat /electricity/lights on after hours or on the weekends? Or is there an additional cost?
    • Are the loading dock hours limited requiring you to move in or receive deliveries during certain hours?
  • Does the building offer storage facilities for tenants?
    • What type of storage space is offered?

Other Tenants in Building:

  • Co-tenants
    • Who are the current tenants, and what are the management's criteria for future tenants?
  • If this is an office share situation with other attorney, what are the attorney's practice areas?
  • Are there other law offices on floor or in the building? If so, what types of law do they practice?
  • What types of other businesses are in the building?

Practice Resources:

  • Is there a shared receptionist available?
  • Is there space a receptionist bay/cubicles/workstations available for your own legal staff?
  • Is there a high volume (industrial) Fax/copier/scanner available?
  • If this is a shared attorney suite, is there an existing legal research subscription available or possibility for referrals or overflow legal work from other attorneys?

Lease Considerations:

  • What is the lease term? Standard leases are 1, 5, 7, or 10 years.
  • If this is an office share, what is the current lease term for the main tenant? How long has the current tenant been in the space?
  • Is there office insurance coverage available?
  • What janitorial service does the management company provide?
    • Housekeeping
    • Trash pickup
    • Vacuuming
  • Have there been any past problems getting building management to fix problems in a timely fashion?
    • What subcontractors does the management company use to handle complex problems?
  • Will you have the ability to see the space empty before moving in?
    • Are they flexible with your hours of operation, or does management insist on a certain number of hours?
  • What is the building class (A, B, C)?
  • When will the space become available?

Utilities/Telephone:

  • Are utilities included?
  • Is there T-1 or DSL connection in place?
  • Is there a phone jack already pre-wired for separate lines or fax line, or will you have to have the phone company install new jacks?

The Management Company:

  • Have you heard rants or raves about the management company from colleagues or friends?
  • Is there an online source where you can check reviews about the management company (e.g. the Better Business Bureau)?
  • How quickly do they respond to questions about the space?

Affordability:

  • Is the space in your firm's price range?  

Which considerations are you willing to sacrifice or limit to ensure that you can afford a space within your budget?

Resources

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About the Author

Youshea A. Berry, Esq., is the principal of the Law Office of Youshea A. Berry in Washington, D.C. Her practice is focused on the areas of real estate and business law. She provides legal counsel to individuals, businesses, corporations, non-profits, and churches in the District of Columbia and in Maryland.

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