Having a law practice in your home poses interesting challenges, but in this day and age of technology, it may be one of the least expensive and best ways to make a profit. As with any business decision, it takes significant planning and an understanding of your legal practice business model to be successful. Most importantly, it takes a great understanding of your own work habits and your ultimate desire for your practice.
The financial advantages of forgoing a formal office space are significant—especially if you can conduct your client meetings at other locations, such as the courthouse or at the client’s business. With the technology available today, many clients don’t want to come into the lawyer’s office and want a lawyer available 24/7. This can make working from a home office ideal. Money not spent on office space, lights, phones, Internet, utilities, and commuting can be dedicated to advertising, technology, and other items. The tax benefits of using a portion of the home as an office can be significant. If meeting space is necessary on a regular basis, perhaps contracting with a local law firm or renting time from an executive suite is the solution.
Just because a practice does not have a traditional office location does not mean that a portion of the home should not be dedicated solely to the practice of law. Set off an area exclusively for filing and work space. You may also want to set off specific hours of the day when you are working and undisturbed by other family members. Also, keep in mind the home noises when you are on the phone with a client. While some clients may not mind a baby or dog in the background, other clients may find it offensive. It is really easy to throw a load of laundry in and blur the lines of work and home, but you must be disciplined enough to make it feasible. Setting boundaries is important to the success of a home office. Still, it is not such a bad thing to give the dog a walk in the middle of the day or pick up the kids from school and then return to your legal practice.
If your clients expect to have a formal space to drop off documents or to see you at their whim, the home office may not be ideal for your law practice. Also, some areas of practice may not be ideal for disclosing your home address, such as a criminal practice or divorce practice, where clients may show up at any hour given the nature of the emergency. Some state bars require you list your office location on a public list, and in certain practice areas you may not want your opposing counsel, clients, or opposing parties to know where you live.
Think about the practice areas you would like to focus on and how you can or cannot fit them to a home-office style. For example, a high-powered litigation practice might require significant space such as a war room—which could translate to a garage or extra kitchen table. On the other hand, a wills and probate practice may need significant secured storage space and may require off-site rental of a secure storage unit or safe deposit box.
Probably the biggest challenge that faces home-office work is expansion of the business. Having a secretary come to your home to work each day or having clients park at your residence on a regular basis can pose challenges such as concerns from your homeowner’s association or violation of local ordinances for running a business out of your home. It is important to be cognizant of the laws impacting a home-based business as well as insurance requirements such as the liability on your homeowner’s insurance for home-based businesses and work in the confines of those requirements. For example, if regulations prohibit hiring someone in your home, perhaps you can utilize virtual or contract workers instead. Meeting clients at other locations may be a necessity to not violate your homeowner’s insurance, or you may need to look for specialized insurance. (For more, see the article “Working from Home: Ten Tax and Legal Tips.”)
The image and branding of a home-office law practice will be key. As with any home-based business, it can be possible to design the business image so no one ever knows it is being run from your kitchen table. Top-notch client service and professionalism are a couple of ways to improve your business and help you obtain clients who might not normally view a home business as a “real office.” That is the bigger question, of course: How do you obtain clients in a home-office legal practice? In my humble opinion, obtaining clients for a home-based practice is no different than obtaining clients for a practice located in an office building. Define your practice area and market and network to your niche.
There is no right or wrong way to have a home-office legal practice. Whether you are at the beginning, end, or middle of your legal career, there may be a time that the home office is the right solution for you. The most important thing is that you be yourself and design your practice around your wishes and wants. Remember why you went solo in the first place. In fact, I started on a kitchen table three years ago but have since moved to three offices, a conference room, and a file room with employee cafeteria. There are days I long to work from my kitchen table in my pajamas again. Occasionally I still indulge in that fantasy at my “second office location” on my kitchen table and hang out with my kids during the middle of the day. Some day, I may go back to that home office permanently—it just depends on my desires and how I want my practice to grow with me.