Do I Need This Real Estate?
The way we practice law has changed over the years. You can see those changes manifest in our law offices and how they have changed over time. Years ago, lawyers met with their clients in their offices. As files got larger, so did the need for space to work on them. Our work crowded out the clients, so we began meeting with them in conference rooms. Eventually, our work spilled over into the conference rooms, as well. Workrooms were born. Lawyers' offices generally got larger then smaller. Libraries got larger then smaller.
The changes wrought by COVID have been substantial. While most were occurring anyway, the speed of the change was amplified by the environment in which we found ourselves. Virtual conferences, meetings, hearings, depositions, and mediations had all been around but have become more common and accepted in the last few years. And the same goes for remote operations, all made possible by internet access to paperless files.
One of the questions that I frequently hear is, “Do I need all this space?” After some exploration and discussion, the answer is usually obvious: no.
Depending on your practice, you might not need any conference rooms at all. If you have business clients, they would probably rather meet with you at their office. It's more convenient for them. Competition is fierce. We want to think about our client’s convenience, right? If they want to get out of the office, they’d just as soon have lunch or coffee. (We have PLENTY of coffee shops now, don’t we?) If you have an occasional need for a conference room, you can use one for a lot less than you can pay in increased overhead to have one, if it costs you anything at all. Court reporters have them. Other lawyers have them. People have made a business out of providing short-term use of conference rooms. Think twice before you “invest” in one.
Gone are the days when you needed multiple secretaries to keep up with you. And if you need multiple people transcribing dictation or putting together documents, you can find highly qualified staff who can do everything that you need outside of your office. Heck, they can be outside of your state. They don’t want to come to the office either. And do they need to? Not only do we need fewer staff, but we don’t need the square footage to house them.
Even if you figure out the cost of converting paper documents to digital, for most situations, you will save money storing your documents in the cloud in the long run. And, they will be easier to access. If you don’t want to undertake mass conversion, at least go paperless going forward. If you adopt a file retention policy, (that you actually follow), your need for physical storage space will gradually subside.
The amount of space that most of us “need” in which to practice law has shrunk. We aren’t opening multiple volumes of books at one time while we pour over a draft of a brief. We don’t need space for paper files. We really only need a comfortable seat, a computer (likely a laptop), and an internet connection. But maybe our offices can be more like they used to be – multifunctional. We can work on files there and meet with clients without worrying about unintentionally divulging confidential information. Or maybe we can work from home.
If you decide that you need an office and you decide how much space you really need, the next question is where. Does it need to be close to the courthouse? Does it need to be close to your clients? Are clients going to actually visit? One important thing to remember about your office location is where it puts you so far as Google is concerned. Your physical location can be important SEO information. For example, if your office is in Hoover, Google My Business isn’t going to rank you the same in a search for “Birmingham lawyer” as it would if you were actually in Birmingham.