Shared Office Space for Lawyers? Can You Ethically Run a Law Practice Out of WeWork?

Rushie Law PLLC World Headquarters

My, how the world has changed in just a few years…

In 2017, all my law books are on my iPad / Kindle, I use Uber to get downtown, and my faxes convert to .PDF and are sent to my email account. My files are all saved to Google Drive, meaning I can access them anywhere. My office voicemails are converted into an audio file, transcribed, and also sent to my email. Large documents are now sent to courts and opposing counsel on flash drives (or better yet, I just email them a link to my Google drive), and almost all of my filings are electronic. I have become a master at editing .PDF files. Some days it feels like my entire practice is run from my Macbook Pro, and the only things I need are a good scanner, printer, Adobe Acrobat, and stationary.

Transportation has also changed the nature of law. Client is too badly injured to make it to my office? No problem, I’ll take an Uber out to their place halfway across the City. Worried the client can’t make it into court? I’ll have an Uber pick them up and take them to the courthouse.

Suddenly, the whole world feels smaller and more accessible…

As technology shifts, I have found that the need for a huge office dwindles day by day. In 2014, I was paying $2500 a month plus U/O taxes for office space. My space was huge. It had a private conference room, a dedicated administrative room with filing cabinets, a giant printer, and supplies. The cost did not include the additional costs of coffee, paper, etc. It also did not take into account the man hours of simply having to gauge what supplies we had, what supplies we need, and keeping everything in check. We’re out of coffee? Someone has to run to the coffee shop. Jordan just printed out a gigantic court filing and we’re out of paper? That needs to be addressed stat.

In 2016, I decided to give shared office space a try. Many of you have asked me what it’s like, and whether it would work for your practice. I can’t answer that. But here is a day in the life of Jordan Rushie…

This morning I woke up and printed out the documents I need for court on my home printer. About an hour before my 9am hearing, I call an Uber. It costs me about $8 to get downtown from Fishtown to Center City in an UberX. Much cheaper than parking and much faster than public transportation. I haven’t taken public transportation since UberX came to Philly.

Even though my physical office is based out of WeWork in Northern Liberties, my membership allows me access to three other spaces downtown, just blocks away from the courthouse. The entire WeWork system is run through two things – a black keycard, and an app on my phone. I find both to be very convenient. I simply book a workspace through the app, and the Center City team knows that I’m going to be there.

I get to WeWork Center City, pour a cup of coffee, and go over my paperwork again. When I walk in, the staff greets me by first name.

Shit! I’m missing a document. Not a problem – I put what I need on a flash drive and the WeWork staff prints it out for me. Crisis averted and I’m ready to go.

Hearing goes smoothly. After, I head back to WeWork Center City, draft an email to my client about what happened, and continue working on a brief that I’m drafting. Why head back to Northern Liberties right now? I’ll hang out downtown for a bit, maybe meet some new people. All my office voicemails forward to my email, plus with a cellphone and a laptop, I don’t really need to be tied to any one location.

As I’m sitting in the common area, I run into a guy with blueprints in his hands. I walk up to the table and introduce myself. Turns out he’s an architect, which I can always use more of. We exchange cards. His group is giving a talk through WeWork on Monday about architecture, zoning, and real estate, which I sign up to attend. Sounds interesting.

With some downtime, I decide to return client and potential client calls for the next hour. WeWork has private phone booths with free VOIP phones. This works well for me, because I can call clients in a private space without giving them my cellphone.

After, I move my meeting with a client from Northern Liberties to Center City. No office? No problem. I book a private conference room through the WeWork app. Meeting goes smoothly and I put the notes taken on my Y-Pad into my trial bag. [Note: For my day to day operations when I don’t have court, I have since downsized to a laptop bag. On most days, all I need is a laptop, charger, phone charger, and yellow pad]

Around 5pm, I decide to Uber back to my office in Northern Liberties to check my snail mail. WeWork’s staff does a good job processing mail. I get a notification whenever anything arrives at the office, and by this point, they have figured out what’s junk mail and what’s important.

After, I scan in my notes from the client meeting and then shred them in WeWork’s free shredding service, along with my junk mail, and pleadings mailed to me that were filed electronically. (Why people decide to send me hard copies of things filed electronically, I do not know.)

Even though it’s late, maybe I’ll stick around. Apparently there’s an event here tonight directed at real estate professionals. Sounds interesting, WeWork has educational and networking events almost every night of the week. There is usually free food and beverages, too.

Glad I decided to stick around. I end up meeting several new contacts and setup a few lunch meetings.

I head home around 8:30pm, cook dinner, and get ready to do it all again tomorrow.

The next week I end up signing up three new clients, all of whom I met at WeWork events.

The Upsides of Shared Office Space

– Shared office space gives you more time to focus on lawyering. I no longer have to worry about making sure we have enough coffee, printer paper, ink, sugar, creamer, etc. If I run out of something, it’s no longer an emergency. There is also a giant television screen on the front of my building where I can sit and watch Eagles games, making working on Sundays far less painful. I get an email notification when I have mail or a visitor arrives.

– The flexibility is incredible. WeWork has space in New York City, Amsterdam, downtown Philadelphia, Los Angeles, you name it. There is space in virtually every major city across the world. You want to take a trip and not be confined to a hotel “business center”? Now you have office space everywhere.

– Free shredding service. No more having to hire a company to do mass shredding or having confetti all over my office and doing it myself. You just throw the stuff in a secure box and the service takes it everyday.

Shred all the things!

– The common areas and conference rooms are very well laid out and look impressive. All of my clients walk in and say “oh la la, this is so nice!” Each space has tons of conference rooms with TVs in them, white boards, etc. Even if you’re a solo practitioner, your conference rooms will look nicer than those of many big firms.

– Cost efficient. I pay $1100 a month for a physical office and access to all the amenities and other locations. The amenities include coffee (plus all the fixings like sugar, sweetener, milk, almond milk, etc.), tea, fruit infused water, and beer. Food is often served, too. WeWork allows its members to host events at their space free of charge, meaning I can give talks on Zoning 101, the permitting process, etc., and they take care of everything (including food, booze, and advertising). There is also a dedicated front desk person, IT staff, etc., so I don’t need to spend time worrying about any of that. When one of my devices doesn’t work, I just submit a ticket and they fix it. WeWork has freed up a significant amount of my administrative time.

– Shared office space makes solo practice not feel so lonely. I’m a single guy and live alone. Solo practice can be extremely lonely at times. Nothing is worse than working from home and having no human interaction except for days at a time. With shared office space, you’re never lonely. Walk out into the common area, and suddenly you’re around friends and colleagues. You’ll find yourself constantly grabbing breakfast and lunch with other people, many of whom you can bounce ideas off of and get business from.

– WeWork provides you with free event space. Want to put on a seminar about how much car insurance a person needs? What to do if you’re in a motor vehicle accident? How the Philadelphia Zoning Code works? How to cope through a divorce? WeWork gives you event space and a platform. Just come up with a topic and start talking. (I suggest you talk about something that you actually know about…)

– Networking. WeWork holds events almost every day, most of which are hosted by other members. I could probably sustain my practice just hosting and going to events talking about real estate. Working in a place where I’m the only lawyer has kickstarted a boom in business. Working from the common area guarantees that you’ll meet new people and generate new business. I have met a ton of new people just by being part of WeWork. If you wear a suit on a daily basis, people will come up to you and ask if you’re a lawyer. I am the only practicing civil litigator in our building. When I work from home, the cat rarely sends me any business…

The Downsides

– This would not work for a law firm that has several employees. My firm is just me, a few independent expediters, and a per diem / part time paralegal. Most of the WeWork offices have shared desks, meaning you would be working in the same physical office as your paralegal, secretary, and law clerks (five desks in one office). Very annoying and virtually impossible. My physical office has just one person – me. I’m on the phone too much yelling at people or talking about very confidential matters to share a space with anyone else.

– Offices are physically small. I have a two person office, which is just large enough to accommodate me plus a printer, scanner, stamp printer, phone, computer, and artwork. There are no windows. I still like it, though.

– Younger crowd can be annoying. I had one construction client get weirded out to see so many hipsters in one place. My days start at 7am, or at 8am at the latest. The younger crowd strolls into work around 10:30am, usually wearing ripped jeans and a t-shirt. The good news is they’re usually gone by 3:30pm, because like, that’s when meditative yoga starts, and they so need to let the dog out.

– The physical offices are all glass, meaning you can’t hang anything on the walls. My diplomas and some artwork sit on the window space. If one of your neighbors decides to blast their music, it will go right into your office.

Ethical Considerations

– Do not take client calls in common areas. Do not meet with clients in the common area if the content you’re discussing is confidential. Meet with clients privately in a conference room or your office. The attorney / client privilege is still a thing, and you could easily waive it by discussing sensitive material in front of other people. Just because the nature of office space is changing doesn’t mean the rules of client confidentiality are. Plus, you never know who is overhearing your conversations.

– You still have a duty to safeguard your clients’ belongings held in trust, IOLTA checks, etc. Lock your office when you leave, and lock your checkbooks up. Have a physical safe.

– Be careful about what you’re printing on shared printers, and especially what you print and leave there. I don’t use the shared printers for anything, except occasionally for copies of public documents (pleadings), etc. Rough drafts of things I am working on? No. Client correspondence? Absolutely not. My notes, observations, etc.? Hell no. If you want to keep something private, always print it to your personal printer.

Conclusion

Shared office space is great if you’re a small firm or solo practitioner looking for flexibility and efficiency. If your goal is to have a firm with several attorneys and a large staff, you’re better off with a more traditional office. If you go the shared office route, make sure to adhere to ethical considerations, particularly maintaining client confidentiality and keeping their property secure. Make sure you have your own printer instead of relying on a shared one.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: