Coworking office spaces are becoming more popular in the legal industry
When business lawyer Mark Spitz resumed practicing law after a stint in teaching, he knew he would need to make connections to the Denver legal community.
Although he did have a home office for his solo practice, that wasn’t going to meet his need for community. Instead, he turned to a new trend that’s spread across the nation in recent years: lawyer-exclusive coworking offices.
“It was a way to meet attorneys in different practice areas and build referral relationships, which you can’t do from your basement,” says Spitz, who has been coworking since 2015. During his first few years, 40% of Spitz’s revenue came from referrals from other attorneys at LawBank, a coworking company with three Denver locations.
“I’m also able to refer people to an attorney I know, if it’s an area I don’t have expertise in,” he adds.
Emerging around 2010, the coworking industry was estimated to have grown to over 5,000 coworking spaces this year that serve an estimated 754,000 U.S. workers, according to a study by the Global Coworking Unconference Conference and Emergent Research. Commercial real estate services firm Jones Lang LaSalle found that flexible office space has been the primary driver of growth in the U.S. corporate real estate sector since 2010, growing an average of 23% each year, and projects that coworking will account for 30% of the domestic corporate real estate market by 2030. Many coworkers are part-timers, freelancers and small-business people.
Lawyers are starting to get in on the trend. “Coworking is the wave of the future, and I see it’s something breaking into the legal industry,” says Aaron Poznanski, co-founder and CEO of FirmVO in Pearl River, New York, a virtual office provider exclusively for attorneys. “It’s a quickly growing sector. It’s not as big as in other industries—because it needs to be exclusive to attorneys—but it’s definitely a growing sector, especially with millennials.”
A lawyer’s professional responsibilities and ethical rules may spook him or her away from general coworking spaces, but that’s a problem that lawyer-exclusive coworking companies aim to solve.
FirmVO is one of the larger players with three California locations, two in New York and one each in Boston and Washington, D.C. Two other locations, one in midtown Manhattan and another in Chicago, were expected to open by June, FirmVO’s website said. Another is Law Firm Suites, which has three locations in New York City, another in upstate New York and offices in Boston and Annapolis, Maryland. Smaller, single-city lawyer coworking spaces include Engage in Dallas, Enrich Coworking in San Diego, Chisel Space in Tysons, Virginia, and DOCKIT in Springfield, Massachusetts.
DOCKIT owner and founder Lauran Thompson says a wide range of lawyers use her space, but often they may also maintain a home office or have an office in another city.
“Most people like to come here to meet clients in a space and meeting room that’s just for that,” she says.
Coworking is different from renting an office in a commercial building or from another law firm. Rather than signing a lease, a lawyer pays a monthly membership fee. The lowest membership level provides a “virtual office” where an attorney uses the address on letterhead, gets mail and receives limited time each month for working or meeting clients. At the next level—ranging from $250 to $350 per month—a lawyer can work full time, sitting in an open area at a different desk each day. For a higher fee, a lawyer can receive a dedicated desk or even a private office.
Compared with general coworking companies, the spaces for lawyers are marketed as primed to fill attorneys’ needs for professionalism and confidentiality. There are phone booths or rooms for making confidential phone calls; and conference rooms for client meetings, depositions or mediations. Lawyers can secure files and computers in lockers while they run out for a court hearing, or they can keep things overnight in locking desk drawers. Some spaces require new members to sign nondisclosure agreements promising if they overhear another attorney or see confidential documents on the printer, their lips will stay sealed. There are also events like seminars on business topics, continuing legal education for credit and simple networking.
“Lawyers have specialized needs that an ordinary coworking space doesn’t meet, especially when it comes to client confidentiality and the type of atmosphere lawyers like to work in,” says France Hoang, co-founder of Chisel Space. “When you’re handling sensitive documents or taking private meetings, it’s comforting to know the people around you understand and respect that confidentiality.”
When estate planning, wills and probate attorney Alison Mathey Lambeth left a partnership at a small firm last year to launch her own practice so she could control her schedule and care for her young baby, she turned to coworking at Chisel Space.
Lambeth adds that her clients love the cost savings they get from her low overhead. “It’s a professional workspace,” she says. “I love bringing clients there.”
This article appeared in the June 2019 issue of the ABA Journal under the headline: "The Coworking Frontier: Flexible office space gains a foothold in the legal industry, thanks to attorney-exclusive services"