Taking Your Legal Skills Out Of The Office? You’re Not Alone.

Ed Stevens was not your typical lawyer. First off, he was a fictional character on an eponymous TV show – chock full of all the usual lawyer clichés. Second, he was fired from a prestigious law firm and hung up his shingle in a bowling alley in his hometown. Throughout the series, try as he might, Ed couldn’t shake the “bowling alley lawyer” label.

A lot has changed in the 12 years since “Ed” went off the air. What once was considered a novel premise is now widely accepted as a smart business decision. No, I’m not advising you to set up shop at the local bowling emporium. That said, Ed was a forerunner for a huge wave of attorneys who have abandoned formal workplaces for the comfort of home.

Today, one in five lawyers work out of a home office, a figure that has nearly doubled in just the last few years. In 2015 alone, 68,000 attorneys opted to sidestep the traditional law firm environment in favor of the carpet commute.1

While most of these legal nonconformists are solo acts, the home office trend continues to gain traction in small firms that employ up to 50 attorneys.2

Why go home?

Different lawyers have different reasons for “going virtual.” Here are four common factors:

  • Monthly expenses. The “can’t afford an office” category includes recent law school grads who are burdened with student loan debt as well as more experienced lawyers who have been laid off. If you fall into this camp, a home office may be your only reasonable option.
  • Practice areas. If you have an appellate practice or perform contract work for other attorneys, your need for in-person meetings with consumer clients may be all but eliminated.
  • Part-time work. This category includes both ends of the age spectrum: moonlighting assistants looking for extra income and retired attorneys who aren’t quite ready to ride off into the sunset.
  • Online services. The rise of online legal platforms has also contributed to the rising ranks of home-office attorneys.

Of course, thanks to technological advances, working from home or even at a coffee shop is a lot more doable and has gained greater acceptance in the legal community in the last dozen years. Consumers have also become used to communicating with providers exclusively through the Internet.

Now, if you do decide to practice in a space of your own, be aware that you’ll need to plan carefully to avoid damaging your reputation. Workplaces don’t get much more casual than your own home, but a casual appearance and behavior simply won’t fly among your clients and employers. In my next post, I’ll outline some things to consider before you start converting your rumpus room into a home office.

1. The 2015 ABA Lawyer Demographic Report identifies 1,300,701 licensed attorneys, 75% in private practice.  The  2015 ABA Legal Technology Survey Report states that 20% of attorneys identified their primary workplace as a “Home Office”, up from 13% in 2014.
2. 2015 ABA Legal Technology Survey Report, Volume VI.

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