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May 02, 2008

When Going Home To Go To Work Benefits The Client

On this blog and others solo lawyers tout the benefits for the lawyer who goes home to go to work.  They are referred to as Third Wave Lawyers, decentralizing from traditional offices and shedding second wave work environments for more independent, creative and technology-driven practices (generally at 'home' )which can be a boon to the independent lawyer...the solo practitioner.

And yet those very same lawyers (as well as home office detractors) will say it presents an unprofessional appearance and question whether both colleagues and clients will take them seriously.

Well, let's think about the client in this post (because quite frankly you are not running your business to please or impress your colleagues.  Well, at least I hope not.)

A few years ago I had the need of a lawyer who was highly specialized.  I wanted the best lawyer, not necessarily the one with the closest office.  I found him in Colorado.  Clearly, we were not going to meet.  All our business was conducted on the internet and phone, initial consultation, signing of the retainer agreement, all legal communications and payment.  He negotiated on my behalf, we had three-way teleconferences and concluded business without ever meeting. For all I know he was working in a shed in his backyard or talking to me while mountain biking.  I didn't care.  What mattered was his level of expertise, customer service orientation and ability to get the job done. 

I found it tremendously convenient to not have to leave my home to go to his office, waste valuable travel time, gas, pay for parking, sit in a waiting room, make idle chit chat nor did I care where he practiced.  I knew by reputation he was excellent and because he conducted his business this way it was emminently affordable.  But, the key here is it was much more convenient to me, the client.  Were there highly qualified individuals in Connecticut?  Sure.  But I would have had to traipse to their offices and...well, I wasn't interested because they wouldn't conduct business this way if I was local. I would have had to go to their offices to meet, at least initially. (OK, part of it is I would have felt compelled to meet with them.)

Yes, this was a contract issue and my lawyer and I were comfortable conducting business this way.  My point is when you are questioning going home to go to work don't automatically assume that a home office is a liability to your clients. It may very well be a blessing to them.

Reality check:  How often do you actually meet your clients during the course of the representation?  If you are involved in an adversarial proceeding, can you conduct depositions at opposing counsel's office and on their nickel?  Can you meet your client's for an initial consultation in the court house (depending on their legal matter) or at a virtual office paid for a la carte or make an arrangement with a fellow attorney to use their conference room?  Many bar associations have conference rooms for rent on an as needed basis for their members.  Consider going to your client's place of business for their convenience if appropriate (while showing interest in their business). Be creative based upon your practice area but don't assume not having a traditional office where you are carrying overhead is the only way a client will accept you as a credible professional.  Then factor in how much of it is your own personal prejudice and fear of what others may think.

Remember, what you assume is a negative to the client by NOT having a traditional office, may only be you projecting your inability to turn a home office into a positive in your own mind...or you have very specific needs which you have determined cannot be met by having a home office.  And that is perfectly OK.  The purpose of this post is to help you consider if a home office may actually be a good thing for your client. Also, going home to go to work is not about not having the money to open a traditional office.  Going home to go to work for many is a lifestyle choice.  Not all home office lawyers are impoverished.  Not all traditional Second Wave lawyers are wealthy.

A home office is not necessarily right for everyone or every circumstance.  But don't let your own prejudices stop you from assessing the option objectively.

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Comments

Abdul

I was wondering if this would apply to a criminal defense practice?

I'm graduating from law school soon and don't have a job yet. I imagine some of my initial work would be criminal defense.

It seems to go against common sense to invites those clients home.

Susan Cartier Liebel

I believe I indicated throughout the post a home offce is not right for all circumstances.

That being said, in many criminal situations the first time a new lawyer will meet a client will be in the court house or jail. After that, if your client isn't released, there is no problem. If your client is released during the course of representation, the rules of creativity still apply including making arrangements with another criminal attorney who does maintain an office.

It's still about lifestyle and creativity....not overhead.

Grant D Griffiths

Abdul -- I ran a family law and criminal defense practice from my home and it worked great. I never met clients at my home. Criminal clients are actually the easiest to meet else where. Criminal cases lend themselves to meet clients at the courthouse.

Stephanie Kimbro

A home office is a good thing for my clients. Many of them are stay at home parents who appreciate not having to make a couple office appointments and hire a babysitter to meet with me in person. We can handle most of the legal work online. You're right - it's about good customer service and producing quality legal work.

Christian M. Frank Fas

I have a mix of both. I rent a "real" office which I have just to meet my very few local clients, but the brunt of my work is done at my home office.

I started my practice from home right out of law school, and made my first client through an online travel forum. To this day, two years later, I'm still working my first case. In the meanwhile, I have a Family/Estate/Criminal Law practice, and I meet my Criminal Law clients at the courthouse.

True, home offices may not be for everyone. Not everyone enjoys working from far out locations like the beach or an internet café. Fortunately, that leaves enough clients for us Home Office Lawyers who actually have the time to personally tend to our client's needs.

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