What does it take to establish a successful home-based practice? Are there hidden pitfalls to drafting legal documents in your spare bedroom?
Learn whether working from home would suit you by considering these nine criteria:
Dedicated Office Space
Do you have a bedroom, den, or other area you can dedicate to full-time work? Practicing at the kitchen table is less than ideal if it means assembling and disassembling your “office” each day.
Family and Confidentiality
If you live with others, can you protect client confidentiality? Take appropriate precautions to prevent access to client information (on computers and mobile devices as well as physical client papers). A shared laptop is not suitable for your law practice.
Do you have the right focus and mindset to work from home?
Failing to set personal boundaries can result in one of two extremes: nothing gets done or all you do is work.
Several years ago I met a home-based lawyer who reached out for help with procrastination and time management. During the work week the lawyer let family chores and home responsibilities rule. To meet client deadlines, the lawyer worked all weekend. As you might imagine, the lawyer’s spouse was not happy with this arrangement. I have also witnessed the opposite. Workaholic tendencies are amplified tenfold when your commute is just down the hall….
Working from home usually means working alone. Make a concerted effort to get up and out. Set concrete goals to attend CLEs, networking events, bar committee meetings, or go to lunch with colleagues. Make these contacts a regular part of your schedule.
Privacy and Professionalism – Your Address and Telephone Counts
Arrange for a business mailbox at the post office or UPS Store or sign up for an executive suite and get a dedicated business phone. This can be your cell, Google Voice, a VoIP provider, a virtual receptionist, or anything else you can figure out. Using your home address or home telephone allows clients, opposing parties, and opposing counsel unfettered access to your personal life. It may also be irksome to those you live with.
Meeting with Clients
This is best done outside your home. If you don’t have an executive suite, consider renting a conference room. If this isn’t economically feasible, ask colleagues if they would be willing to let you use a spare office or meeting area in their firm.
If you pursue one of these options, keep one eye on confidentiality and the other on conflicts. I am not saying that borrowing someone’s conference room makes you a “firm member” for conflict purposes, but I am asking that you remain attentive to how such arrangements may evolve.
Whatever you do, don’t use a coffee shop. Aside from the obvious confidentiality concerns, these venues are loud, distracting, and not conducive to interviewing and note taking.
Home Office Permits
Projecting professionalism and protecting your privacy are the foremost reasons for not meeting clients at home, but if you need more, I am happy to oblige.
Most municipalities regulate home offices, which could – in the right circumstances – have a substantial impact on neighboring homes. (Parking is the first issue that comes to mind.)
Do your research! At a minimum, expect to complete an application and pay a fee. You may also be required to notify neighbors and attend a neighborhood hearing on your permit application. If neighbors object, your permit may be denied.
The typical renter’s or homeowner’s policy covers risks associated with social invitees who slip and fall on your premises. It does not cover risks associated with business invitees who are injured on your premises [unless you purchase an appropriate rider or endorsement]. Of course, if you are uninsured you assume all the risk all the time.
If you live in a municipality that requires businesses to be licensed, this will be another step (and cost) in addition to obtaining a home office permit.
For a comprehensive checklist on running a home-based law practice, visit the PLF Website. Search for the form/practice aid “Home-Based Law Office.”
[All Rights Reserved 2014 Beverly Michaelis]