Time to begin year-end tax work

Too early to suggest working on your taxes? Absolutely not!

Once Thanksgiving hits, the rush to year-end becomes more hectic.
Start organizing your records now. Pull together and sort income and expense documentation – whether stored digitally or physically. Evaluate 2018 deductions before it’s too late. Tax questions? Call your accountant or tax preparer in the next two weeks before they’re buried by work.

To help you get started, here are some tips from the experts:

Tax preparation checklists are available from a number of public sources, including Nerd Wallet, H&R Block, TurboTax and others. The best come from your accountant or tax preparer. In either case, rely only on credible sources. For example, avoid irs.com. Remember: all government websites use the suffix .org.

Taking small steps now will ease the pain of tax return preparation later. Open your calendar and find 30 or 60 minute appointment blocks for specific tax-related tasks, like gathering records, sorting records, scanning receipts, or calling about your tax questions. You’ll be glad you did.

All Rights Reserved – Beverly Michaelis [2018]

Flex Space and Other Meeting Options for the Home-Based Practitioner

Practicing from home has its challenges, chief among them finding a place to meet with clients.

Until recent years, meeting options were fairly limited. Some lawyers elected to pay for an executive suite.  Others borrowed a colleague’s conference room, met clients at their location, or gritted their teeth and used coffee shops.  A few lawyers invited clients into their homes.


Traditional Meeting Options Aren’t the Greatest

Executive suites are fine, if you can afford one.  Using someone else’s conference room is hit or miss. Going to your client’s location can be a nice touch, but isn’t always optimal. Be prepared for interruptions from others vying for your client’s attention.

Coffee shops are bad for the obvious reason (confidentiality) and some would add they are unprofessional.

Seeing clients in your home?  I am not a fan.  You are sacrificing your privacy and the privacy of everyone else you live with.  In addition, most jurisdictions require a special permit and a business license.  In addition to the fees involved, your special permit may carry a long list of conditions and standards.  Tigard’s “home occupation permit” is an example.  Also be prepared to purchase a rider on your homeowner’s policy adding premises liability coverage for business invitees.  (If you’re a renter, the same would apply to your renter’s insurance – assuming you are allowed by the terms of your rental agreement or lease to operate a business on the premises.)  Have I discouraged you yet? Good. I’m all for working at home.  I’m only opposed to seeing clients at home.

Flex and Co-Working Spaces

Fortunately, there are a growing number of flex space and co-working options. What makes them different from an executive suite? You can book co-working space, a business center, or shared space by the hour, day, or month on-demand through a website.  Think of it as Airbnb for client meetings.

Here are two to consider: ShareDesk and LiquidSpace.  Both are good solutions for meeting space in larger metro areas, or if you need to set up a meeting out of state.  As they catch on,  I suspect options in less populated areas will become available too.

In the Portland metro area, take a look at:

Another possibility is Regus meeting rooms by the hour.  (Regus is a long-time competitor in the executive suite business.  A quick check of their site shows meeting rooms available in Portland, not elsewhere in Oregon. Perhaps a better option for out-of-state business meetings… ?)

Some flex spaces require membership or give perks and discounts to members. Depending on specifics, this may end up making them very similar to an executive suite.

Statewide Meeting Options in Oregon

If you don’t know about the “Oregon Meeting Rooms” list on the Professional Liability Fund website you’re missing out.  Visit the website, select Practice Management, then Oregon Lawyers’ Conference Room.  Scroll to the bottom of the page and locate the heading “Other Options for Meeting Space – Metro Area | Statewide.”  A link to the meeting list appears here. It contains four pages of options for free or inexpensive meeting space made available by libraries, bar associations, and courthouses throughout Oregon.  The state is well-covered, with meeting options in places like Dallas, Lakeview, and Vale in addition to the valley, coast, central Oregon, and larger cities in eastern Oregon.

Portland Metro Area Choices

  • The Oregon Lawyers’ Conference Room is free meeting space courtesy of the PLF and Oregon Attorney Assistance Program. To learn more, visit the PLF website, select Practice Management, then Oregon Lawyers’ Conference Room.
  • The Multnomah Bar Association makes its conference room available at no charge to members.  Read about the conference room use policy here.
  • The Oregon State Bar offers meeting rooms on an hourly, half-day, and full-day basis.  Extensive amenities; check the website for rates.
  • Naegeli Deposition & Trial generously makes its conference room available to Oregon lawyers.  Contact Naegli by phone for more information: (800) 528-3335.
  • Specialty bar groups may also be willing to lend out their conference rooms – make a phone call if you want to pursue this option.

All Rights Reserved Beverly Michaelis 2017

Establishing a Successful Home-Based Practice

Shingle Style CottageWhat 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.

Premises Liability

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.

Business License

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.

Parting Thoughts

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]


The Nontraditional Law Practice

A nontraditional law practice can be anything a lawyer wants it to be:

  • Hybrid or alternative fee arrangements;
  • Unbundling;
  • Virtual law practice;
  • Home-based practice;
  • All the above; or
  • Something else entirely

Hybrid or Alternative Fee Agreements (AFAs)

As more clients push back against the hourly rate model, lawyers are looking for unconventional ways to price legal services.  One of the most popular?  The hybrid or alternative fee agreement (AFA).

Before you enthusiastically embrace this option, read this post and make sure your AFA satisfies the 5 “C’s” test:

  • Clarity
  • Completeness
  • Compliant
  • Common sense
  • Can’t be excessive

Hybrid or alternative fee agreements are often combined with other elements of a nontraditional practice.  Used correctly, they can be a huge asset.

Unbundling: Have it Your Way

With unbundling, clients pick and choose discrete services from a menu of available choices:

Providing limited legal services is not a new concept. Transactional lawyers have long served in the role of document reviewer or preparer. So how is unbundling different? It takes the idea one step further by employing a team approach in which the lawyer and client decide who will do what based on the legal services required by the client’s case. The client takes a much more active role in the matter and often assumes responsibility for pro se court filings and appearances.

Keep in mind that unbundling has its risks: Unbundling in the 21st Century: How to Reduce Malpractice Exposure While Meeting Client Needs and its ethical limitations.  See Unbundling Legal Services: Limiting the Scope of Representation and The Ethics of Unbundling:  How to Avoid the Land Mines of “Discrete Task Representation.”

Virtual Law Practice or Home Practice?

A virtual law practice or virtual law office (VLO) is a term of art referring to online delivery of legal services through a secure client portal.  If you are interested in creating a VLO, Stephanie Kimbro’s book Virtual Law Practice: How to Deliver Legal Services Online is a must.  [Available on the ABA Web store here. If you are not an ABA member, save money at checkout by using the Professional Liability Fund’s (PLF’s) discount code OSBPLF.]  Also see this post about click wrap or click through fee agreements.

VLOs aside, most lawyers who express an interest in practicing virtually mean they want to work from home – due to economic necessity, personal choice, or both.  In next week’s post, I’ll discuss the nine steps to establishing a successful home-based practice.

[All Rights Reserved 2014 Beverly Michaelis]