Thinking about office sharing?

If you are in a solo practice and need some bricks and mortar space but don’t want to take on a full office, or the financial burden it brings, office sharing may be an option you wish to consider  Office sharing – usually with a joint receptionist and some joint equipment (think printers, copiers) – can be a frugal and expeditious solution.  Of course, if it was easy and fool-proof, there would be no need for any comment.  The fact that you are reading this opening paragraph therefore tells you that there are a number of considerations to address.  Here are some:

  • Be certain that your firm is distinct and separate.  This applies to signage and business cards/stationary; it also applies to your phone number – you should have one that is separate from any other lawyer or firm in that space, your email, your fax number (if you have one) . . . you get the picture.  A client or prospective client coming into the shared space should not be confused about who you are and that you are not associated with the other lawyers in the space.
  • Physical separation and security is also an issue in these arrangements.  It may seem obvious, but it is easy to forget.  Your office door, desk, and any physical file storage must be able to be locked so that you may restrict access.
  • Be sure to inform your clients that you are not associated with the other lawyers in the shared office.  You may do so during your consultation; it’s not a bad idea to have that disclaimer in your fee agreement or engagement letter.
  • Remember that communications with your client, or about your client’s matter, should be held in your office space – and remember to close the door.
  • Will using a shared receptionist create confidentiality or conflict issues? If you are sharing a receptionist do not assume that s/he understands the confidentiality requirements to which you are subject.  Even if this is an office-sharing arrangement that is tailored specifically to lawyers and you’ve been assured by the rental agent that staff is trained, keep in mind you are responsible for supervising your non-lawyer assistants.  Assume that the receptionist has been appropriately trained at your own risk; it doesn’t take long to have a conversation to assure yourself that the receptionist understands confidentiality.
    • If you are using a shared receptionist, it is a better practice to have them forward calls to your voice mail rather than actually recording a message.
    • If clients want to drop off documents, files or other information, how will you ensure that this information is not exposed to the other lawyers in the space or their clients in a shared waiting room.
  • What are the cybsersecurity provisions of the space?  If you are all using the same internet connection think about whether you need some professional IT assistance to make sure you have adequate security for your cyber-communications with your clients.  Perhaps you may wish to choose an office-share where you will have your own, unique internet connection.
  • In what kind of practices are the other lawyers in the suite  engaged?  Will there be a conflict created if your clients use a shared waiting room?

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the issues that should be addressed before you make this commitment.  The lawyers at Practice 2.0 are happy to discuss with you your personal situation and assist you in identifying issues and crafting solutions.  Call Practice 2.0 at 602-340-7332.

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