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Some say that an office is essential to maintaining an appearance of professionalism. Others argue that you can have a home office, meet clients offsite, and save tons on overhead. You might even be able to deduct that home office as a business expense on your taxes.
For those starting a small firm on a limited budget, the appeal of a home office is undeniable. After all, who needs monthly overhead when you're only serving a couple clients in your first few months? Still, when considering where to locate your new law firm, there are a few factors you should consider.
Some practice areas are more suitable to offsite meetings and limited in-office time. For example, an estate planning attorney might only meet with the client a couple times when planning and reviewing a will. On the other hand, a divorce mediation attorney will have two bickering spouses fighting for hours at a time, sometimes for many sessions. Starbucks won't suffice.
This ties in strongly with your chosen practice area. You might wish that certain clientele, from certain practice areas, stay as far from your house and family as possible. Obvious examples include accused sex offenders and violent criminals.
Furthermore, if you are catering to high-end clientele, it might be necessary to get a swanky office just to keep up appearances. After all, a million dollar client won't want to meet at the law library or in the back room of your two bedroom apartment.
If you're starting on a limited budget, chances are, you're living on a limited budget. If you live in a run-down apartment, house in the hood, or any other environment that might make clients feel uncomfortable, a home office is probably out of the question. Of course, you can meet clients off-site, at their home or at their business, but that might be unrealistic depending on your practice area.
In some places, executive suites are plentiful and can be found for around $300 per month for a small, solo office. In other places, there might be a shortage of cheap surplus office space. The only way to find out is to check real estate ads and talk to agents. Get a feel for the market and whether you can afford the going rate.
Your Work Habits
Some people just can't work at home. Perhaps they have children running around. Or, if you are the type that always studied in the law school library, instead of your own bedroom, because of the "ooohhh, something shiny" syndrome, you probably need an office. Other factors to consider: a large family, noisy roommates, or just no space.
Whatever you choose, keep an eye on the bottom line. While an $800 office might not seem like much, if you are specializing in $100 simple wills, that might eat your entire revenue stream for your first few months.