Smaller ways to rethink physical space
Perhaps because they are under the auspices of metro bars rather than state bars, many other incubators are maintaining a physical space—but that doesn’t mean they’re immune to the trends of rising real estate costs and advancing technology that facilitates virtual practice.
For example, when the Dallas Bar Association launched its Entrepreneurs in Community Lawyering incubator in fall 2019, physical space was part of the plan—but not in the usual way. “Thanks to a generous donation from Dallas attorneys Julie Johnson and Jay English, the [ECL] members have complimentary virtual tenant leases in the Johnson English Law Center. They receive mail and meet clients there,” says Program Director Saedra Pinkerton. “Most use this in conjunction with a home office.”
Pinkerton, who jokingly refers to herself as a “team mom” for the first ECL cohort of nine lawyers, also practices family law and has her office in that same building, which will allow her to mentor ECL participants in that area of practice, at the same time that she assists all participants, regardless of practice area.
Similarly, participants in the Toledo Bar Association Fellowship Collaborative, which launched in 2018, have access to a communal workspace and a private office for client meetings—and they also have the flexibility to work from home.
“I would say each fellow has used the space differently. Some only use it to meet with clients, and others spend much more time in the communal work area,” notes Maggie Humphrey, the TBA’s assistant bar counsel and director of community engagement. “Our goal with this project was to help the fellows launch their practice, so we want to be as accommodating as we can to their preferences.”
Humphrey foresees continuing to offer the physical space, and especially the private office for client meetings, because many new lawyers (a requirement for participation in this incubator) still need this type of space and find it very difficult to afford. But that’s not the only reason, she adds: “We also value the connection that is made in the fellows’ workspace.”
One well-known and long-established incubator, the Chicago Bar Foundation Justice Entrepreneurs Project, changed locations in late 2019, in large part because of rising rent and taxes for the loft-style space it had occupied since 2013. The JEP moved into a suite within a coworking building in the Chicago Loop, says Jessica Bednarz, director of innovation and training at the CBF.
During the first six months, JEP attorneys don’t have to pay anything for the space and have access to “floater” desks and workspace (as well as typical co-working amenities such as a copier, internet access, and free beverages), Bednarz says; in months seven through 18, they pay $300 per month and have access to dedicated desks.
Aside from cost savings, Bednarz says, one real advantage to the new space is that if JEP participants want a change of pace and perspective during their workday, they can go up to the top floor to work or to meet up with entrepreneurs from outside the legal industry.
But even though the location has changed, Bednarz says it’s still integral to the program. “Many of our attorneys do work from home at least part of the week out of convenience,” she notes. “With that being said, I think all of them would tell you that one of the biggest benefits of the JEP is being able to bounce ideas off and communicate with the other attorneys in the program, and many of those interactions take place in person in the JEP space.”