American Bar Association
General Practice, Solo, and Small Firm Division

Winter 2003 vol. 9 Number 2

Now You See It, Now You Don't

By James M. Niemann

Want a better life? You'll find it in workplace independence. I know. After eight years as a law firm associate and partner, I was searching for a better way to operate. As a sole practitioner I discovered how to minimize overhead and maximize life beyond the office.

The biggest step was to locate an office-sharing arrangement that let me choose how "present" I need to be. I selected HQ Global Workplaces, an international network of office locations that has a large suite of offices and conference rooms in a first-class building near my home office. HQ leases fixed office space along with a "business identity" program, which establishes my business presence without my having to actually maintain a traditional office.

Outwardly, it appears that I have a top-drawer law office. For $250 a month, I get my firm's phone number and voice mail and a professional receptionist who is equipped with state-of-the-art computerized phone routing. Calls to my "office" prompt a greeting on the receptionist's computer monitor that I can alter at will. The screen lists my numbers, highlighting the one where I want to receive calls at that time. I've had clients compliment the professionalism of my "staff"-something that was sporadic, at best, at my former firms. And my clients are unaware that I may be on a sunny beach in Florida or attending an ABA conference instead of at a desk in St. Louis.

Rent includes reasonable conference room usage, though many clients prefer to meet at their offices so they don't have to travel with several employees and volumes of documents. But when I need a conference room, my office suite is equipped with the latest telephone and video-conferencing capabilities and is furnished as only the biggest law firms can afford. I can also opt for pre-furnished business offices for my ad hoc use.

I have access to permanent office staff that performs word processing and other administrative tasks for reasonable additional charges. Other services included in the rent: processing of incoming and outgoing mail; access to a fitness center; free parking at the building and near the airport; free bottled water, coffee, and teas; and invitations to complementary office socials and luncheons.

When I think of the 90 minutes of billable time it takes to pay my monthly rent and associated costs, I know that my practice has forever changed from working to pay staff, rent, and other overhead to the luxury of putting in a reasonable workweek and still having time for my friends, family, and my faith. Workplace independence allows me to honor these priorities-in a profession that traditionally puts pressure on us to give them short shrift.

James M. Niemann is a sole practitioner in St. Louis, Missouri, and a member of the GPSSF Section. He can be reached at niemannlawfirm



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