February 01, 2018 Technology

TAPAs: Setting Up a Home-Based Law Office

By Jeffrey Allen and Ashley Hallene

One of us (Jeffrey Allen) has recently gone into semi-retirement. He authored this article to share some of what he learned with those of you thinking of setting up a home office.

Having recently gone through the process of closing my physical office and moving my practice to a part-time, home-based operation, I thought it would be a good time to share the experience anticipating that some of you may plan on doing this in the near future. There are many reasons an attorney may elect to go this route. Perhaps you do it because you have reached the point in your career that you no longer wish to work full-time or cannot do so for health or family reasons. Perhaps you choose it as an alternative of convenience or economy. Or perhaps you do it for one of many other reasons. The bottom line, however, remains that, if you choose to do it, you need to give some thought to the process in order to do it efficiently and effectively. In this article, we will give you some tips about how to plan for this evolution of your practice.

Tip 1: Plan for the relocation! Long before you move your office to your house, you need to figure some things out. Where in your house will you set up to work? Is the space suitable for that purpose? What equipment will you need? (Hint: computer, printer, scanner, copier, telephone, and a broadband connection with WiFi hardware.) Where will you locate this equipment? Where will you meet with clients (new and existing)? Do you want them coming to your house, or do you want to make arrangements to have an office to meet them, available to you on a part-time basis? Where do you want mail sent? What about packages? And don’t forget that you will need new letterhead. Remember also that you will need a place to store your business records and files, some of which you will need to access with some regularity. Also, remember that if you intend to make your house the primary location of your office and have clients meet you there, you need to check out local rules respecting zoning and access and accommodations rules. And please note that you should set up a separate WiFi network at your house to ensure that you do not have unwanted access to your confidential information.

Tip 2: Convert to electronic files! Unless you have a lot of extra space in your house for file cabinets, you will find that electronically stored files work much better in such a setup than physical files. If you have not yet converted to electronically stored files, this gives you an excellent excuse (motivation) for biting that bullet sooner, rather than later.

Tip 3: Try it before you buy it! You would (hopefully) not buy a car without a test drive. You would (hopefully) not buy a suit without trying it on first. Similarly, you should not give up your brick-and-mortar office for a home-based operation without giving it a shot first to see if it works for you. The concept has appeal to some (but not all); and it works for some (but not all). Before you decide that you want to go this way, try working out of your house for a month and see how it goes. You may find it suits you perfectly. You may find that it creates problems for you and your spouse (or the functional equivalent of a spouse). You may find that your children, pets, hobbies, or television set get in the way. You may find the situation unbearable. Alternatively, you may decide that it gives you what you always wanted. The simple fact is that you want to have a pretty fair idea what it will be like, how you will react to it, and how it will affect your practice before you make the jump.

Tip 4: Make lists! Whenever you relocate your office, you need to provide notice to lots of people and entities. In addition to all your clients, you need to notify the attorneys in all your cases, the courts handling all your cases, your licensing authorities, your insurers, your vendors and suppliers, etc.; no matter how good your memory is, it is doubtful you will remember all of them in the middle of the move. Prior to moving, make lists of everyone to notify—along with lists of all the other things that need to get done. Figure out who will do what, and make arrangements to hire whatever help you require.

Tip 5: Get rid of stuff! This may prove the most difficult. I thought I did a good job getting rid of stuff. I disposed of all my office furniture (donating most of it to my daughter for use in the school where she serves as vice principal). I went through the storage room and got rid of many years’ accumulation of no-longer-needed items (amazing some of the things we found in the storage room). At the end of the day, I ended up with a hall in my house lined with boxes of stuff I did not throw out before I moved. As I go through these boxes, it seems that I find less and less of the contents vital to my practice or my existence. The moral of this story: Why pay to move what you will ultimately toss?

Final note: I did this because I will turn 70 this year and figure I have worked full-time long enough. I intend to spend the next few years working part-time before retiring completely. I have discovered that I enjoy working at home, taking breaks to run errands or play with the dogs or one of my grandchildren. My wife, who did not like the idea when I first suggested it a couple years ago, has accommodated to it and is no longer bothered by it; and I am quite content with the arrangement. I work out of a one-room office inside my house and have an office available to me downtown to meet with clients when I need to do so. I use that address as the official mailing address for the office as I do not want to use a post office box or my home address.

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Jeffrey Allen is the principal in the Graves & Allen law firm in Oakland, California, where he has practiced since 1973. He is active in the ABA (particularly in the GPSolo and Senior Lawyers Divisions), the California State Bar Association and the Alameda County Bar Association. A frequent speaker on technology topics, he is Editor-in-Chief of GPSolo magazine and GPSolo eReport. He serves as an editor and the technology columnist for Experience Magazine and has served on the Board of Editors of the ABA Journal. He also serves on the ABA’s Standing Committee on Information Technology. Recently, he coauthored (with Ashley Hallene) Technology Solutions for Today's Lawyer and iPad for Lawyers: The Tools You Need at Your Fingertips. In addition to being licensed as an attorney in California, he has been admitted as a Solicitor of the Supreme Court of England and Wales. He teaches at California State University of the East Bay. He may be reached at jallenlawtek@aol.com.

 

Ashley Hallene is a petroleum landman at Alta Mesa Holdings, LP, and practices Oil and Gas law, Title Examination, Due Diligence, Acquisitions and Oil and Gas Leasing in Houston, Texas. She maintains a diverse solo practice on the side. Ashley is the coauthor of the technology overview Making Technology Work for You (A Guide for Solo and Small Firm Attorneys) along with attorney Jeffrey Allen. She has published articles on legal technology in GPSolo Magazine, GPSolo eReport, and the TechnoLawyer Newsletter. Ashley is an active member of the American Bar Association’s General Practice Solo & Small Firm Division, ABA’s Young Lawyers Division, the Texas Young Lawyers Association, the Houston Young Lawyers Association, and the Houston Association of Petroleum Landmen. She frequently speaks in technology CLEs and is Deputy Editor-in-Chief of the Technology and Reviews Department of the GPSolo eReport. She may be reached at ahallene@hallenelaw.com.