How many lawyers really work from home?

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According to the latest US Census, 2% of lawyers now telecommute. That’s up 166% in the last ten years and it’s one of the fastest growing categories. But it’s still a small number.

I’m guessing that most of these lawyers don’t see clients. They write, research, and perform other functions that don’t regularly require meeting people in person.

I’m also guessing that if The Census had used a different word than “telecommute,” the results would have been different. I think a lot of attorneys do at least some of their work from home. They don’t call it telecommuting, however, a word that is not usually associated with professionals.

I also think a growing number attorneys, sole practitioners primarily, work almost exclusively from home. They see clients at an office suite where they have so many hours a month available for that purpose, or other arrangements, i.e., using a conference room or spare office in another attorneys suite.

I work from home. When I “see” a client (lawyer), it’s done over the phone. My overhead is a fraction of what it was when I had an office and I love not having to commute. If I was practicing today, however, I would still have an office.

For one thing, I got a lot of walk-in clients in my practice. Existing clients would bring their papers to the office when it was convenient for them and if they needed help with those papers, someone needed to be there to provide that help.

In addition, my clients needed to see me in person, even if it was only greeting them before turning them over to a member of my staff. They needed to see me wearing the uniform (suit and tie) and to see that I was successful (i.e., nice furniture, etc.) Most of all, they needed to see that I was physically present, committed to the community and niche market that I served.

Over the years, I’ve talked to attorneys who have an office in their home and see clients there. I think this is a mistake. Clients have expectations about what an attorney does and they expect attorneys to have an office. When you deviate from what they expect, they get nervous. They may not say anything but they are surely wondering why you can’t afford a real office.

Without an office, it’s more difficult to attract clients. There are exceptions–entertainment law, for example, where working from (an expensive) home may actually provide even better posture. But for most attorneys, not having an office, in my opinion, costs more in terms of lost business and referrals than the amount saved by working from home.

I would probably have a smaller office today, however. You don’t need as much space today because a lot of work attorneys need done can be outsourced to virtual assistants or employees who work from home. I talked to a secretary for a California attorney recently. If she hadn’t told me, I would never had known she lives in Florida and works from home.

How about you? Do you do some or all of your work from home? Do you have a smaller office than you had in prior years? Let me know in the comments.

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Comments

  1. Lawyers never get a second chance to make a good first impression. It’s a balance. Regardless of where or how you practice law, I think it’s important to be able to physically “meet” a client in a reasonably acceptable office for your surrounding community. There are great options out their such as executive suits or using a friends conference room. Whatever the option, always make sure to dress the part and coordinate your meeting in an appropriate location. Having said that and depending on the relationship you have with a client, subsequent follow-up meetings can be more casual and even via video. But until you make that first good impression and earn the client’s trust and respect, I’d play it safe and plan ahead with appropriate meeting place options.

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