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American Bar Association - Defending Liberty, Pursuing Justice

 

Vol. 17, No. 1

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Features

 

Office? What Office? Staying Home—and Loving It!

One of a solo’s biggest concerns is office space. How do we find a convenient, work-friendly environment that won’t break the bank? Working from home may be a big plus for anyone starting out with limited capital or with an existing practice affected by the down economy.

Many solo practitioners (including me) use a post office box as an official office address and meet clients at remote locations. All it takes is a bit of forethought into the mechanics of your work and how you market yourself. And there are lots of plusses:

No set office hours

Most solos with outside offices keep regular hours there. With a home-based practice, there’s no need to advertise specific times, a huge advantage for anyone with family issues requiring availability on short notice. Want to take an afternoon movie break? Go ahead! No one will come looking for you and find your office empty.

Total scheduling freedom

Set client meetings at your convenience, with flexibility to accommodate those who may need evening times. Also, I routinely set aside at least one day a week where I do no client appointments, just work on existing projects and take care of my practice management.

Your practice is eminently portable

For meetings, just drop your laptop into your briefcase and go. If you keep most things digital rather than in hard copies, you should be able to take almost anything with you. With limited exceptions, my entire filing system is on my MacBook (with redundant backups.) Need a document or record? Pull it up instantly! Get a stick scanner to scan client docs, or ask the client to fax them to you. With an Internet-based fax service, you’ll have electronic copies ready to drag and drop into the appropriate file.

See clients in their environment

If you’re interested in learning about your clients, you can find out more in a few minutes in their spaces than through hours of meetings elsewhere. Going to their location also means there’s immediate access to most relevant information.

Free or low-cost meeting space is readily available

It’s amazing how many meeting spaces are available either free or for a pittance. From a private room at a restaurant to the community room at your local public library, venue options are plentiful. Some groups, such as a Chamber of Commerce, provide free meeting space to any member upon request. Local libraries or other public buildings also have rooms you may reserve in advance at no charge or for a nominal fee. And restaurants are always good for working lunches or dinners. For those who want something more traditional, there are businesses that provide virtual office space, some local, some national. Two examples are Regus and Intelligent Office; both are continuously expanding their locations.

Save on support staff

No clients in your office? No need for a physically present receptionist and the burdens that an employee presents (payroll, taxes, HR issues). Handle your phone through a voicemail “receptionist” (no cost), or hire a virtual receptionist to manage your calls (low cost). Google “virtual receptionist” and you’ll find a plethora of companies to do your work. The ABA Solosez archives have many threads on this topic. (See http://new.abanet.org/divisions/genpractice/solosez/Pages/default.aspx).

Better focus for both you and your clients

Consider scheduling all of your client meetings/phone calls in advance; no walk-ins (or phone-ins) allowed. Tell prospects up front that both their time and yours is too important to waste playing phone tag. You can set your appointments (live and phone) via e-mail. Most clients appreciate the concept; virtually everyone is a fan after the first call or two. Build in prep time, asking each prospective client to complete a questionnaire developed for the specific type of legal service and return it at least a day before the scheduled appointment. If the client doesn’t follow through, send a reminder asking for the information by the end of the day, and if there’s no follow-through, you’ll have to reschedule for a later date after you get the completed questionnaire. Completing the questionnaire helps the prospect determine what’s relevant; getting it in advance allows you to learn a good deal about your prospect before the initial meeting. It may also help determine whether this is someone you’d want to engage, or whether you may want to decline politely and send the prospect to your bar’s lawyer referral service. If a prospect can’t adequately complete a questionnaire, or provides irrelevant or ranting answers, it’s a good indication that this is what you’d face in an attorney-client relationship.

Easy-to-manage client communications (and expectations)

Answer e-mails any time, day or night—just keep the message in your “drafts” folder to be sent during standard business hours. Feel you’re on a roll at 1 a.m.—or even 8 p.m.? Go for it! Then put your work product in your drafts folder and set a calendar alert to send it during the next business day. Using your drafts folder as a management tool helps give the impression that you’re not working all hours (even when you are). And that helps maintain client expectations at a reasonable level.

A comfortable environment

There’s something to be said for dressing as you wish without having to maintain third-party expectations, and for having your pets with you as you work. My two fantastic greyhounds are the best support staff I can imagine, providing everything from stress relief (check the medical studies that show stroking a pet is good for you) to entertainment value. Plus they force me to take at least a couple of breaks a day for walks. Personally, I can’t imagine going back to a traditional work environment having tasted the good life of working as I do now. Though it may not be for everyone, if this sounds like something you’d enjoy, you might want to give it a try!

Jan Matthew Tamanini is a solo practitioner in Harrisburg, PA, concentrating her practice in business, nonprofit, and government law and estate planning. Contact her at mailto: JMTLaw@plainenglishlaw.com or visit her Web site at http://www.PlainEnglishLaw.com.

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