Dec 14, 2010

How Working Cheek to Cheek Can Help Market Your Practice Week to Week

Is your law office costing you $30,000 a year in foregone revenues?

It just might be. A quartet of surveys on the economics of law practice from Wisconsin, Colorado, Michigan and Ohio compared the incomes of solo practitioners in (a) either home-based offices or independent offices outside the home and (b) shared space arrangements. In Michigan and Wisconsin, the surveys found that solo practitioners who shared space earned at least 30% more than their counterparts in either a home office or independent space. In Michigan, solos in their own office (either home or outside the home) earned $81,884 compared to $111,571 for space sharers; in Wisconsin, those numbers are $71,783 in net income for solos compared to $109,586 for the space sharers.

In other states, space sharing also gives an advantage, albeit not as dramatic.  In Colorado, space sharing solos earned $80,000 - $5000 less than a solo with an office outside the home, but a whopping $30,000 more than a solo with a home based office. Finally, in Ohio, solos with home offices earned more than their office-renting counterparts in the first ten years of practice, but by year 16 and beyond, space sharing solos' income ($100,000) exceeded that of home office solos ($56,000) and and solos outside the home ($85,000).

Though hardly scientific (the economic surveys reflect limited data samplings), the numbers aren't coincidental either. One solo interviewed in the article accompanying the Wisconsin survey results surmised that:

"there might be something about that informal networking available to those who share offices...for example, they might refer cases outside their areas of expertise to their office mates."

Sharing space may offer other marketing advantages besides referrals. Solos sharing space can split the cost of other networking activities, such as monthly client lunches, holiday parties or picnics. Or solos with complementary practices - such as workers' comp and personal injury might team up to put on a joint webinar.

Shared space can also help reinforce good marketing habits. Working alone, it's easy for you, particularly as a solo, to let marketing fall through the cracks when they're busy. But when you see your suitemates consistently marketing their hearts out, you'll either feel motivated - or shamed - to keep pace.

If you think shared space might benefit your practice, search out openings on Craigslist, in bar newsletters or on listserves. And have your colleagues put the word out that you're looking for a space sharing arrangement

Of course, maybe you're happy to work from home or the existing office where you rent space. Or perhaps you simply don't yet feel financially ready to commit to space outside of a home office. Even so, you can still enjoy the advantages of space sharing without the commitment or cost.  One increasingly popular option is coworking.  As Business Week describes, coworking blends the appeal of an individual work environment with the traditional advantages of an office.  In a typical coworking arrangement, you'd have access to a common work space where you drop in on an as-needed basis and work at a cubicle or a large open table. Coworking spaces provide access to all of the necessities of the office, including supplies, printers and wireless computer access; even a shared kitchen and coffee and snacks. Coworking arrangements vary; for some, you might pay a monthly fee which grants you permanent access to a cubicle or workspace; in others, you might pay a small annual membership fee and then pay for each separate work session when you choose to use the space. Like a shared suite, coworking offers many opportunities to get to know other business owners and professionals, without the commitment of long term rent.

If there aren't any coworking facilities near you, you could try to organize one yourself. In fact, there's even a name for that concept: it's called a Jelly, a casual work event where people gather in a person's home, coffee shop or office to work together for a day every few weeks. Over time, you'd begin to establish a relationships with other Jelly participants which could generate enough business to allow you to enter into a space sharing or coworking arrangement full time. Or not - you could simply remain at your preferred location, but capture the benefits of working along side others a few times a month.

So why not consider one of these arrangements for your practice? After all, you spend enough time working in the office. You might as well take the time to make your office work for you.

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4 Comments

Nice article. Thanks for sharing these interesting stats. And for introducing me to the Jelly concept. The video was interesting. My Gen Y son meets a friend at a coffee shop to work sometimes. I always went alone, just to let the change of scenery remotivate my writing. I hadn't thought about inviting someone to join me. Something else we Boomers can learn from Gen Y.

BTW, in addition to referrals and sharing marketing costs, office sharing lawyers may have higher incomes because they have more visibility than a home office, but less fixed overhead than a solo office. Landlords often charge more per square foot for smaller spaces. Of course, office sharing lawyers may also share the costs of conference rooms, reception areas, staff, premises insurance, signage, software, telephone systems, copiers & scanners, libraries, etc.

Another thought...maybe most home office attorneys move out when business increases enough that they need staff. I do know of some who have had staff at their home office (and I do). It has its challenges, however. So that factor may skew the statistics. When you do move out, it still makes sense that sharing space is cheaper than renting alone.

The only thing which troubles me about these numbers is it is based upon the gross. If we were using the net (taking out the expenses of having a shared space,etc.) it would make it more valuable because we all know it's not how many dollars you earn but how much of each dollar you take home!

The most important aspect of sharing space, I believe, isn't increased marketing, but motivation to work as we watch others work. A home office can provide a myriad of distractions which can impact the bottom line. Getting up and 'going to work' can make a difference to many people.

A great resource to find or list available shared office space within an established law office in your city is online at https://www.SharedBusinessSpace.com.

SharedBusinessSpace.com is a national listing directory of shared spaces for lease. There is an industry category of listings just for Lawyers.

Julie Clark

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