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Who You Are Depends on Where You're At

by Jay Reeves |

Location, location, location.

It's not just the key factor in real estate. It's critical for lawyers as well.

And here's an irony: in this digital age, where a lawyer can be everywhere at once, the physical location of your law office might be more important than ever. Your professional digs could mean the difference between a thriving practice and a stagnant one.

Think about it. Soon all lawyers will have some form of online presence, and in many respects they will all look alike. The place to distinguish yourself is offline, in a physical office that is inviting, convenient and accessible and where the human touch prevails.

"If you as a professional can touch your clients personally and make an emotional connection, your clients will love you too, " writes Larry Bodine, Editor in Chief of lawyer.com. "As they say, people like to do business with people they like."

A law firm's physical location has become one of the most important elements of strategic planning. This is so for a number of reasons:

  • Buyer's market. Real estate prices are at record lows. Landlords are eager to lure good tenants. Savvy lawyers can write their own terms.
  • Law firm expansion. Firms continue to open branch offices in new geographical areas. Some branches might require only a small physical presence. Finding the right spot can mean the difference between profit and loss.
  • A shaky economy. In uncertain financial times, brick and mortar remain reliable commodities.
  • Virtual offices. To increase occupancy rates, commercial buildings are offering flexible alternatives such as shared space, virtual tenancies and free amenities like conference rooms and internet services.
  • Going local. One consequence of the economic bust has been a renewed emphasis on local goods and services. Some lawyers are looking to leave the bright lights of the big city in favor of a more personalized presence in a smaller area.

If you are thinking of opening a new office, branching out or relocating, following are some points to consider:

  • Match professional interests with geography. Looking for an urban lifestyle and a corporate practice? The city is the place for you. Craving a more laid-back lifestyle and a general practice? Head for the country.
  • Courthouses and government offices. Obviously, being close to the places where you will be spending much of your time is a plus. As is the opportunity to easily drop in at the courthouse and get to know the clerks on a personal basis.
  • Check out the neighborhood. Is the office near restaurants, real estate companies, insurance offices or shopping districts? These could generate business. Having banks within walking distance could save time and money. Public transportation is another plus.
  • Accessibility and parking. Your office should be easily accessible. This is especially important for practices with clients who are elderly or have special needs.
  • Size matters. How much space will you need? Can it be shared? Remember that client confidentiality becomes a greater challenge if you share space with others.
  • Virtual perks. Landlords have become remarkably creative in setting up virtual spaces for professionals who do not need a full-time office. Most provide work stations and administrative assistance. Some will offer to help build and maintain your website and answer your phone.
  • Visualize your ideal client. The nature of your practice and the type of clients you want to represent will determine where your office is located and what it looks like. Big-dollar corporate clients will expect a law office to look a certain way. Other clients might not care. Regardless, your office should be clean, organized and attractive.
  • How self-reliant are you? If you choose to locate in a rural or isolated setting, you will need to be more self sufficient with library, equipment and staff than in an urban setting with lots of available resources.
  • Meet your neighbors. In some cities, large firms who own buildings are offering free rent to start-ups and tech companies. The idea of course is to cultivate future clients. Conversely, a solo or small firm might consider moving into a space that is teeming with entrepreneurs. Wherever you end up, it is wise both personally and professionally to spend time getting to know your neighbors.

    "Even though most of your interaction with clients may be telephonic or electronic, some will still prefer to have their lawyer close by, "writes Debra Bruce in the lawyer's blog solopracticeuniversity.com" If you choose a building that lets you ride in the elevator every day or eat in the same restaurants with members of your target market, you will enhance your ability to develop relationships with potential clients."

    Take pride in your surroundings. Like it or not, your office like your attire and personal appearance makes a statement about who are you. Be sure that statement is a positive one.

Ernest (Jay) Reeves Jr. is an attorney licensed in North Carolina and South Carolina. He has practiced in both states and was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He writes the Risk Man column of practice pointers and risk management tips. Contact jay.reeves@ymail.com, phone 919-619-2441. www.riskmanlawsolutions.com.

About the Author

Jay Reeves

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. He was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He is the author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World, a collection of short stories from a law life well-lived, which as the seasons pass becomes less about law and liability and more about loss, love, longing, laughter and life's lasting luminescence.

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