General Practice, Solo & Small Firm Division

General Practice Section, Solo, Winter 1996

The Commute's Just Right and the Coffee's Just Made:

Working at Home

by jennifer j. rose

Working at home can be a great arrangement for lawyers. All sort of tax benefits come into play (read the IRS Guide to Offices in the Home). No longer must you endure lengthy commutes to the office, surly parking attendants, or lunch-hour sales at Bloomingdale's. Mornings start off with a cup of coffee from your own kitchen instead of Starbuck's. Lest the rest of the world think you're loafing about in fuzzy slippers watching Oprah, there are still some rules:

  1. Dress appropriately. Notice, I didn't say "suit and tie," but dress for the office, just the same, at least during your "regular office hours." You never know who's going to drop in, and it's real tacky to get caught in your bathrobe. (After hours, no one cares if you want to work in your pajamas.)

    Insist that staff dress appropriately as well. While the dress code for home offices is relaxed, often staff begins to think that sweats are de rigueur in a home office.

  2. Keep regular office hours. While your "hours" may not be the usual 9 to 5, establish some kind of schedule when you're Open for Business. You need the regularity to stay on task, and your clients need to know when you're "at home" and when you're "at work."
  3. Keep household noises to a minimum. The sounds coming from the laundry room or kitchen are a dead giveaway that you're not real serious about the law business. Lawnmowers and televisions blaring are distracting. If you need to, invest in a white sound machine or play some music that will mask household noises. Keep cooking odors down...while everyone loves the smell of just-baked brownies, you may want to wait until later before you boil cabbage.
  4. Separate your home life and your office life. Don't use your office area at home for anything that would be out of place on the twentieth floor of Conglomerate Towers. You may adopt an attitude of formality in your home office that you never considered when you practiced downtown.
  5. Meet clients elsewhere. Some clients can be just as uncomfortable meeting you at your home office as you are having them invade your territory. Arrange to meet them elsewhere. Borrow another lawyer's conference room, meet at the client's office, or find another, more public meeting place.
  6. Don't always be available. Underscore to both clients and other lawyers that having an office at home doesn't mean that you're on call 24 hours a day. I've had other lawyers expect that I have nothing better to do than wait around to hear from them until 9 p.m. on a Friday, just because my office is at home.
  7. Add an extra door. If you can, establish a separate entrance from the outside to your home office. If that's impossible, then do your best to keep the pathway from your front door to the home office as direct as possible. Keep the traffic flow away from the private aspects of your home.
  8. When you're not working, stay out of the office. Do not, under any circumstances, enter your office unless you have a legitimate purpose in being there. Otherwise, you'll never mentally leave the office.
  9. Come up for air occasionally. If you have an "office practice," it's real easy to get nearly everything accomplished without ever leaving. Make an effort to get out, even if you're only going out for coffee with other lawyers. Don't become a hermit.
  10. Read about others' home offices. Self Employed Professional and Home Office Computing magazines are great resources. Talk to others who have home offices...what works for someone else in another office may work for you, too.

jennifer j. rose is a sole practitioner in Shenandoah, Iowa.

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