Solos & Small Firms
A Day at The Virtual Office
Cost-effective or too cheap?
Posted May 1, 2009 7:39 PM CST
By G.M. Filisko
Solos are in a tough spot. They need to control costs, but who’ll hire them if their office doesn’t project a professional image? To meet both goals, some lease virtual offices, which allow them to choose among a menu of services for a monthly fee. Need a business address? A receptionist to answer calls? An office or conference room for client meetings? Check, check and check.
“I love my virtual office,” says Gabriel Cheong of the one-man Infinity Law Group in Quincy, Mass. For $75 per month, he gets the swanky-sounding 1 Adams Place as his business address, has his firm listed in the lobby’s computerized directory, and could have the receptionist answer calls, though he chooses not to because of his Chinese-speaking client base. For an additional $25 per hour, Cheong can rent a conference room or office when he’s not working at home. His average monthly cost is under $200.
Jessica Foley also has a virtual office at 1 Adams Place. But she’s considering renting space within another attorney’s office. “Some people do well by themselves, but I’m not one of them,” she says. “It would be nice to have the camaraderie of other lawyers to bounce ideas off.”
Foley is also concerned about the message she’s sending to clients after one asked, “You don’t have a real office?” The comment nags. “I told him I work out of my home and pass the savings on to clients,” she explains.
“But people want to see a firm. They want to see your diplomas on the wall.”
A FIRM FEEL?
That temporary feel also concerned New York City-based Marshall Isaacs. “People have a certain expectation of what a lawyer looks, acts and feels like, and the office I saw didn’t have that feel,” he says. “It had this tentative, ‘I’m not sure I really want to be in solo practice, but I’m giving this a shot’ feel. I wouldn’t have wanted to bring clients there.” Instead, Isaacs shares space with seven other attorneys. “My office space is double the cost,” he says, “and I wouldn’t give it a second thought.”
Charles Hokanson shares others’ concerns about virtual offices. “There are lots of differences among providers of these services,” says the Long Beach, Calif., general practitioner. “In addition, to the extent people are relying on a virtual office to make it seem like it’s a real law firm, that won’t work. That was brought to me early when I sensed a client was uncomfortable. The words he used were something like, ‘What kind of setup is this? What’s going on here?’ I was glad I found out early. Who knows how many people I’d have alienated?”
Today, Hokanson has found a happy medium. He rents an inexpensive, full-service office where he works daily and supplements it with virtual space that serves as his business address and client meeting spot—and he explains that to every client up front. Though he’s purchasing an office condo, Hokanson still plans to hold on to his virtual space. “With my office condo, the only time I’ll rent rooms will be for big depositions, but I’ll still want the receptionist,” he says. “You can’t hire a receptionist for $75 month.”