August 15, 2019 Technology

TAPAs: Do You Still Need a Brick-and-Mortar Office?

By Jeffrey Allen and Ashley Hallene

One of the authors (Jeff) recently closed his brick-and-mortar office and has officially semi-retired. He calls it semi-retirement as he continues to work part-time. To make this work, he has an office at home and has office space available to him on an hourly basis to meet with clients, when necessary. He has found that this system works so well for him that he wishes he had moved to it sooner. As a result, we thought it might be useful to put together some tips to assist you in deciding whether you want to move into a similar arrangement.

The evolution of technology has made it possible to function as an attorney without a brick-and-mortar office, effectively and efficiently, depending on the nature and style of your practice.

Tip 1: Evaluate How Often You Meet with Clients

Depending on the nature of your practice, you may find that you need to meet personally with clients at your office frequently. If so, you probably still need a brick-and-mortar office. If not, you may be a good candidate for not having one. For example, Jeff represented many clients over prolonged periods with most of the interaction by phone and e-mail. He met with clients respecting intake and communicated with them regularly, but not often in face-to-face meetings.

Tip 2: How and How Much Do You Collaborate with Others in Your Office?

If you practice as a lone wolf, this issue does not concern you. If you work in a law firm you control, you have the ability to address this issue and modify the structure as necessary. If you work in a firm controlled by others, you may not have much choice about how to proceed. If you do not regularly collaborate with others in your office or can successfully do so using electronic communications (phone, e-mail, text messaging, videoconferencing, etc.), you may be a good candidate for not having a brick-and-mortar office.

Tip 3: Evaluate Your Level of Dependence on Paper

If you do not have a brick-and-mortar office, space will likely become a premium and paper files just won’t do. The farther you are along the path to a practice less dependent on paper, the more likely that you are a good candidate for not having a brick-and-mortar office. If your practice still depends heavily on paper files, you will need someplace to keep them where you have ready access to them. Assuming you have a reasonably significant number of files, this might prove somewhat problematic in most homes. Even if you have a large domicile, your spouse or significant other may not look kindly on converting that extra bedroom into a file room. The farther you are along the path of using electronic files for your practice, the better a candidate you become for not needing a brick-and-mortar office. Hint: If you have a paper-dependent practice and want to shuffle off the brick-and-mortar office coil, start the conversion process sooner rather than later.

Tip 4: Evaluate Yourself: Do You Have the Discipline to Work from Your House?

Some people find it quite easy to work out of their house, while others have a hard time getting started each day as they allow the many distractions available in that setting to entice them away from practice. If you lack that discipline, work on training yourself to do that or stay in a brick-and-mortar office. Note that this does not mean that you need to put yourself on a schedule of working at your house from 9 to 5 (or 6 or 7) every day. One of the things we have learned about the practice of law is that clients really don’t care if you do their work at 10:00 in the morning or 10:00 in the evening. They also don’t care if you do it on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. They do care that you do it right and that you get it done on time; you get to figure out how and when. Remember, flexibility represents one of the major advantages of not having a brick-and-mortar office that you must be at every day.

Tip 5: How Badly Do You Want More Freedom, More Flexibility, and Lower Expenses?

Working without a brick-and-mortar office affords many advantages. The most significant of those advantages include flexibility, freedom, and lower expenses. The more important you find those things, the better the likelihood that you can make a brick-and-mortar-less office structure work for you and your practice.

Bonus Tip

No matter whether you have a brick-and-mortar office or not, you need to make sure that you keep in touch with your clients. How you do that has less importance than the fact that you do it. E-mail, snail mail, telephone conferences, videoconferences, etc., all work. Clients need to hear from their lawyer regularly about how their case is evolving. Your communications should make your clients feel comfortably involved in their case and the related decision making. Don’t let the newfound freedom of a brick-and-mortar-less office existence cause you to forget this fact.

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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 American Bar Association (particularly in the GPSolo and Senior Lawyers Divisions), the California State Bar Association, and the Alameda County Bar Association. He is Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of GPSolo magazine and the GPSolo eReport and continues to serve as a member of both magazines’ Editorial Boards. He also serves as an editor and the technology columnist for Experience magazine. A frequent speaker on technology topics, he is a former member of the ABA Standing Committee on Information Technology and the Board of Editors of the ABA Journal. 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 is on the faculty of California State University of the East Bay. He may be reached at jallenlawtek@aol.com.

Ashley Hallene is a petroleum landman at Macpherson Energy Company in Bakersfield, California. Ashley is Editor-in-Chief of the GPSolo eReport and 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, and the Bakersfield Association of Petroleum Landmen. She frequently speaks in technology CLEs. She may be reached at ahallene@hallenelaw.com.