October 01, 2011

Working from Home: Why I Work from Home

Lynne R. Ostfeld


I am a solo practitioner with an associated office in France. I have had a home office since 2001. The motivating factor was necessity—the lease for the office where I had been working was not to be renewed. The biggest tenant wanted the space of most of the small tenants for its own employees, so the building’s owner let the lessees know that their leases would not be renewed.

Since becoming a solo practitioner in 1991, it seemed that I had moved every two to four years. Inevitably, the law firm from which I was renting space always wanted my space back for something else. And I did not want to pay more to ensure a long lease.

Moving each time was a significant expense: movers; new phone lines (each move put me into a different switching station, and I did not want to pay to have phone calls forwarded); new stationery; mailings to everyone to notify them of my new address, telephone, and fax numbers; and lost billable time spent finding new space and both packing and unpacking the office.

When I knew that I would have to find a new office yet again, a friend suggested that I buy a two-bedroom unit where I lived (just across the Chicago River from the Loop) and put the office into one of the bedrooms. This location is slightly closer to the state court and slightly farther from the federal court than my old office had been.

The benefits to me have been multiple. In terms of cost, I no longer lose several thousands of dollars per move in forced relocations. I pay myself rent for the space that I use for an office, and it is only used for an office. There was no difference regarding transportation costs, because I had previously walked to my “Loop” office, but the transportation savings have been significant for many of my colleagues who have started to work from home offices.

The benefit for my work has also been significant. Because I have clients in France—which is seven hours ahead of Chicago—and elsewhere, I can conduct overseas business early in the morning with everything at hand. I do not need to bring things home from the office or leave for the office too early in the morning for phone calls. I can get some overseas business done before I work out. Late at night, I can send e-mails and faxes to overseas contacts, which will be on their desks before they start the day. If they respond quickly, I will have the response at the start of my day and can get a reply to them before they finish their day.

Because I have occasional work requiring me to visit potentially disabled adults and submit reports to the court, I can get these reports done at night or on the weekends and not have to run to the office to make copies. The same holds true for reports or pleadings that I work on up to the time I need to leave for court. I can get up early to work on a project, then think about it while taking a shower and getting dressed, and then edit it.

The benefit for my personal life is also significant. If I want to stop work on something of semi-importance to attend a social event or a concert or play with a set start time, I can leave everything on my desk and return to it when I return home. I need not pack it up to bring home for further work after my social event, nor need I worry about problems (or theft) caused by the office cleaning personnel. I can do laundry while working, or I can start preparing for a dinner party.

There are safety benefits because I need not worry about someone snooping in my office to find something to eat or to obtain my passwords or to borrow an ink cartridge from my printer.

The biggest downside is that I need to find other space for depositions. I once held a deposition in my dining room, but I generally conduct them in opposing counsel’s office or the office of co-counsel. Opposing counsel are happy to be on their site, and I do not have to bring them into my home or fuss with coffee setups.

As to receiving clients, this is less a problem for me than the lack of space for depositions. My practice is such that I rarely see my clients. I have had a few clients in my home office, and occasionally I meet them in theirs if I believe they would not react well to seeing my non-traditional office arrangement. But I have many clients whom I have never met in person. My colleagues in home offices report that their clients are thrilled when the attorney comes to them (and does not charge for it).

My one other problem is finding witnesses to will signings. Sometimes I have told clients to bring in friends, and we have done these signings at their homes.

I do not have a problem keeping to task just because I am in my home office. I had already worked for myself for ten years before I made this move.

Because I do not have a train to catch, I may work a bit too much, thinking that another five or ten minutes will allow me to finish a project sooner. The terrorist attacks on 9/11 were a big distraction for me because I started to watch television too much in order to see what was happening. But these days I can do bills and billing with the news on in the background without distraction.

The biggest problem, truly, was that hunger pains could now be satisfied by a ten-step walk into the kitchen, whereas all that was available in my prior office was an occasional bag of pretzels or microwave popcorn.

The home office works for me because it save me both money and time. It is exceptionally more convenient. I feel the freedom to do more of what I want when I want. I no longer have the dread of having to run to the office just to make some copies or check the mail. I can take a nap on my couch rather than sitting at my desk pretending to read something, in case someone walks by.

Now, if only I can lose the extra 15 pounds I picked up by having a kitchen so close at hand!






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