Volume 11, no. 4
In Search of Your Own Space
By Robin Page West
Once you’ve decided where to set up your practice, you’ll need to find office space. Whether or not to go with an agent depends on your familiarity with the area, the time you can invest, and how concerned you are about keeping your search a secret.
During my first lease, I shared space with two other lawyers. We each had individual offices and shared a conference room and kitchen/photocopy area, and our secretaries filled in for each other. This arrangement worked well, but at the end of the lease, I chose to seek a solo office.
In searching for my next space, I worked with many agents who showed me many offices. In the end, though, I found it myself when I saw a sign on the side of a building. If you opt for an agent, be very clear about the kind of space you want; if possible, get listing sheets and floor plans before you set out. Otherwise, you’ll be dragged all over town to view space that doesn’t meet your basic criteria.
In selecting your space consider these factors: rent; expenses for utilities, real estate taxes, and common area maintenance fees; whether you can sublet; whether you can expand; building security; janitorial services; maintenance and repair services; signage; elevators; overall appearance; acoustics; other tenants in the building; location and appearance of rest rooms; windows; window treatments; availability of running water; kitchen facilities; proximity to police, and fire safety.
Keep in mind that a lease is an opportunity to negotiate, so drive a hard bargain. My second lease included free electricity, carpet upgrades, custom cabinets, installation of a glass dividing wall, blinds, daily janitorial services, right of first refusal on adjacent space, and six months’ free rent.
If a clause seems unclear or unfair, speak up. After all, you’ll be living with the results for years to come. If possible, eliminate pass-through expenses that can’t be controlled or estimated in advance, such as building maintenance fees and real estate taxes. Also, think about construction work and finishes you want the landlord to include. You’ll want to set a tone and style for your new office, so keep in mind the furniture style and coordinate the paint and carpet colors. Specify the locations of telephones and major electrical equipment so the outlets are properly located. Write these things down and attach them to the lease so you’ll have some recourse if the landlord fails to live up to the agreement.
Robin Page West, editor-in-chief of SOLO, is a shareholder in Cohan & West, P.C., in Baltimore, Maryland, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This article was adapted from the Litigation Section book, The Woman Advocate: Excelling in the 90’s.