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December 26, 2006

The Many Virtues of the Virtual Office

Connecticut Law Tribune - December 25, 2006

Most people don't truly understand what a virtual office is and the amazing benefits it can offer all businesses. The uninformed legal professional could be missing out on one of the greatest opportunities available, not just for the solo or small firm, but for law firms of all sizes.

For the sake of argument, let's say you are an immigration lawyer. Your potential client base generally seeks out local counsel. You don't want to limit your opportunities to just one city and would like a presence in every major city in your state. The idea, however, of actually having multiple offices — security deposits, utilities, insurances, staffing and the like — is financially daunting. Plus, you are not sure it will prove demographically sensible or profitable to be in multiple cities. This is where the virtual office makes the decision easier, by offering tremendous flexibility while mitigating financial risk-taking.

A virtual office is a local professional business address, usually in a prestigious building conveniently situated with ample parking, fully furnished, and professionally staffed with receptionists, paralegals and technical staff. They provide fully equipped business centers, video conferencing centers, onsite security, lockable rooms, data storage rooms and lobby signage. These virtual offices are meant to be either an extension of your currently existing permanent office, or your permanent office presence in each of your chosen locations. Just walk in with your laptop and get to work.

Depending upon your needs, you can include a few hours or multiple days of on-site office time at each of your addresses each month. If you require a "virtual assistant," you can purchase paralegal or administrative help on an "as needed" basis. You can test drive your selected location and services on a month-to-month basis with a "terms agreement," instead of committing to a lease which locks you into unnecessary financial obligations.

If you want to commit for longer tenancy, you get a rate reduction. There is usually a one-time set up fee of around $99. Normal monthly fees range from $150 per month and up, depending upon the services selected and price of real estate in your chosen market. You can experiment with multiple locations while you work on a daily basis from your home for generally less than the cost of a single traditional private office rental. There are no utility, maintenance, equipment or salary costs. There is also no need for premises liability, workers' compensation and unemployment insurance. There is a minimal financial risk versus a maximum business advantage.

In focus groups, the few issues that did surface were more psychological for the attorney rather than actual road blocks. As a group, lawyers tended to feel a lack of permanence with virtual offices. They analogized the virtual office experience to long-term residence at a high-quality hotel. All their needs were attended to at a fixed price. It was great, but it wasn't home. In addition, signage is limited to the lobby, and it is a challenge to limit building tenancy to other professionals.

Having a business presence in numerous locations in order to penetrate new markets and meet clients' needs used to be a luxury only afforded the largest law firms.

Virtual offices are the future and there are numerous ways to incorporate the advantages they pose into your business plan. They can be especially beneficial for solos or small-firm lawyers starting out with a smaller budget. If you are in flux about where to position yourself geographically and/or with limited funds, the virtual office is an option you should explore. •

Susan Cartier-Liebel is solo practitioner, adjunct professor at Quinnipiac University School of Law and a business consultant for solo and small firms. She can be reached at SCartier_Liebel@comcast.net. Copyright © Susan Cartier-Liebel (2006) All Rights Reserved. No portion of this material may be copied, transmitted, posted, duplicated or otherwise used without the express written approval of Susan Cartier-Liebel.


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Peter Mullison

I started a few months ago with a virtual office, but as you wrote, there has been a psychological impact. I'm hoping to get into a "real" office in the next couple of weeks with some other attorneys. I think it will be nice just going to an office, having a routine, and having other professionals around to bounce things off of.

Excellent article.

Peter Mullison

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