Between running your solo or small firm law practice out of your home and leasing independent space in an office building lies an attractive middle ground: co-working. Recent years have seen an explosion of co-working spaces throughout the country, especially in large and mid-size cities. Their popularity is due to the evolving nature of work in the modern world. While technology has freed many workers, including attorneys, from the need to report to an office every day, the social benefits of working with other people on a daily basis are being lost. Enter the co-working space: a community of independent business persons renting shared office facilities.
When Working from Home or the Coffee shop Is No Longer Cutting It
Co-working is an attractive option for the attorney ready to move on from home-based, shoestring operations but not ready for the expense of setting up a private office in town. Many work-from-home types have turned to co-working not only to escape the sense of isolation it can breed, but to alleviate problems of space, clutter, and distractions in the home. It may even be hurting a lawyer professionally to continue at home, depending on the nature of the practice and the need to receive clients there. For those who have fled the home for the coffee shop to get work done, the same problems (and others) may be demanding a solution.
The Features of Co-working
Companies that provide co-working services typically have a very large office space that they make available to members. The space can consist of closed-door offices, rooms of desks or cubicles, a big open shared area with individual or communal tables, or typically a mixture of these. Your monthly membership fee or "rent" will depend on which set-up you desire. It can be quite inexpensive to join a co-working community and work from a desk in the open area. Consider how much, if any, file and supply storage space you require, and how much noise is likely to bother you. Renting an office within a co-working community can be nearly as expensive as renting within any other building.
The level of service provided by the co-working company will be a distinguishing factor. The better ones provide:
- High-speed broadband internet access, obviously. Even more important is tech support which is usually available from fellow members, as co-working tends to attract a lot of tech-savvy entrepreneurs.
- Conference rooms in which to meet clients or give presentations. A certain amount of conference-room hours each month may be part of the membership, with the option to purchase additional hours if needed.
- Private rooms for conducting phone conversations, which may be important if you're not going to be behind closed doors in an office.
- Printing/copying/faxing/scanning. Use of the machines may be unlimited as part of the membership, or it may be free up to a limit.
- An individual mailing address and mail services.
- 24/7 access to the building, and front-desk services during normal working hours.
- Kitchen/cafe areas.
The best co-working communities attract a diverse set of fun, interesting, and creative people who are also quite serious about building their own small business. For attorneys, especially those catering to the needs of small or start-up businesses, the network and referral effect of co-working can be considerable. If you're fortunate, you can join a co-working community in which you are the only attorney offering services in your area of practice.
The Bottom Line
Co-working spaces can ease some of the stress of starting a solo law practice and provide valuable resources and connections you won't find anywhere else. They're popular for the flexibility they offer new businesses, but the real value is in their assisted serendipity: the informal conversations and the expert advice members are happy to offer one another.