ILNews

Hybrid office solutions giving attorneys new ways to practice

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

Six years ago, potential clients who called bankruptcy attorney Brad Woolley might be able to get an appointment in three weeks. Now, they likely can get in to see him the next day.

Demand slumped when the bankruptcy laws changed, which had the Monticello-based lawyer looking for ways to draw in new clients. He embraced the old business adage – location, location, location – and opened a branch office in West Lafayette to be near the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Charles A. Halleck Federal Building.
 

rutkowski-annette-15col.jpg Attorney Annette Rutkowski likes the flexibility virtual offices provide. (IL Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

Woolley added a contemporary twist by not signing a long-term lease agreement and instead contracting with Officescape, an office services and technology provider. He pays about $300 per month for 16 hours of use of an office. About four to six times each month, he drives to Lafayette, plugs in his laptop and helps local residents file their paperwork.

People are happy he has an office in town, he said, because with gasoline near $4 a gallon, few would make the drive to Monticello.

The attorney is part of a growing international trend away from the traditional concept of what constitutes a workplace. This is not the virtual law practice where attorneys offer legal services online and across jurisdictions. Rather, companies like Officescape and Regus rent office and meeting space, and provide administrative support along with other office-related services.

Brick-and-mortar offices are not going away, said Jon Beattie, global business development manager for Officescape. People will still need a place to meet and conduct business, but they will no longer need to be at that place eight hours a day, five days a week.

Woolley compared the move to this hybrid version of a virtual/brick-and-mortar office to the purchase of display ads in the Yellow Pages. Lawyers who initially resisted advertising changed their minds when they saw the return on the investment.

“Yes, we don’t like the idea that we have to go out and generate clients,” he said, “but if we don’t generate new business, we’re going to get passed.”

More than providing a room in a downtown building, virtual office service companies offer a range of products so comprehensive that many clients would never know they are meeting their lawyer or accountant or financial adviser in a space that is rented.

Depending on which products the professional buys, a receptionist may greet clients and show them to a waiting room. Calls to a local number can be answered then routed to whatever phone the professional wants: home, office or cell. Mail will be collected, technical support will be on hand, and even administrative assistants will be available for standard office chores like photocopying and faxing.

The force behind the movement toward these types of professional arrangements is, of course, technology. Laptops, smartphones and access to cloud computing are reducing the requirement that workers travel to a single location in order to access the company data and services. 

In fact, in a 2012 survey of senior IT decision makers, Citrix found that the number of organizations that have implemented mobile work styles will balloon from the current 24 percent to 83 percent in 2014.

Data on how attorneys and law firms are adapting or implementing mobility is scant. However, Grant Greenberg, spokesman at virtual office provider Regus, counts the legal community among the biggest users of his company’s services, along with the financial industry and startups or tech companies.

Both Officescape and Regus expect rapid growth in the coming years. Benefits of contracted or virtual offices range from cost savings and higher employee productivity and satisfaction to lessening the risks in an uncertain economy.

“We think it’s the way the world is going,” Greenberg said. “Why sign a long-term lease when you don’t know what’s going to happen in the next six months?”

Indianapolis-based attorney Annette Rutkowski sees virtual offices as the wave of the future because of changes in the way law is practiced. As bigger firms consolidate and limit the number of equity partners, small and solo practices are growing.

When she moved into solo practice, she contracted an office in Indianapolis with Regus and, more recently, an office in West Lafayette with Officescape.

Using these services, she was able to open her offices without making the heavy investments in purchasing the space, technological support, furniture, computers and staff. She could have opened her own practice without contracting with the office services providers but, she said, it would not have been as easy and it would have required her to put more money up front.

“I think (when you say) virtual office, everybody assumes you’re not there,” said Rutkowski. “Most of the attorneys I know are doing some combination because you have to have face-to-face with clients. Virtual doesn’t mean you’re not there, it means you’re not there all the time.”

Rutkowski said she is comfortable with the current arrangement. She has a professional space to meet clients and she has been able to network with other attorneys and business professionals who also use virtual offices. To her, a virtual office is better than the other options such as mixing her personal and professional lives together by working full time from her home, meeting clients in coffee shops, or having her mail delivered to a P.O. Box.

Officescape has submitted a proposal to the Indiana State Bar Association to offer its services as a member benefit. The Membership and Membership Benefits Committee has been reviewing the proposition and plans to continue the discussion at its January meeting.

“It certainly seems like a service that would be of great benefit particularly to small and solo firms,” said Susan Jacobs, ISBA associate executive director.

Eighteen years ago, Woolley was a pioneer of the virtual office. He used to drive to Kokomo, plunk down $50 to rent a conference room for a day at the public library, and see about 10 bankruptcy clients. It gave him the local office, but missing were the professional services like a designated waiting area and administrative assistant.

Both Woolley and Rutkowski say their virtual offices are providing them the tools they need to reach more clients. However, they also noted, if they ever establish a full-time presence in West Lafayette or hire more staff, they would likely move from the rented space to possibly buying a building or signing a long-term lease.

“Right now,” Rutkowski said, “this allows me flexibility and I don’t see changing that for quite some time.”•
 

ADVERTISEMENT

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. Are you financially squeezed? Do you seek funds to pay off credits and debts Do you seek finance to set up your own business? Are you in need of private or business loans for various purposes? Do you seek loans to carry out large projects Do you seek funding for various other processes? If you have any of the above problems, we can be of assistance to you but I want you to understand that we give out our loans at an interest rate of 3% . Interested Persons should contact me with this below details . LOAN APPLICATION FORM First name: Date of birth (yyyy-mm-dd): Loan Amount Needed: Duration: Occupation: Phone: Country: My contact email :jasonwillfinanceloanss@hotmail.com Note:that all mail must be sent to: jasonwillfinanceloanss@hotmail.com Thanks and God Bless . Jason Will

  2. Can I get this form on line,if not where can I obtain one. I am eligible.

  3. What a fine example of the best of the Hoosier tradition! How sad that the AP has to include partisan snark in the obit for this great American patriot and adventurer.

  4. Why are all these lawyers yakking to the media about pending matters? Trial by media? What the devil happened to not making extrajudicial statements? The system is falling apart.

  5. It is a sad story indeed as this couple has been only in survival mode, NOT found guilty with Ponzi, shaken down for 5 years and pursued by prosecution that has been ignited by a civil suit with very deep pockets wrenched in their bitterness...It has been said that many of us are breaking an average of 300 federal laws a day without even knowing it. Structuring laws, & civilForfeiture laws are among the scariest that need to be restructured or repealed . These laws were initially created for drug Lords and laundering money and now reach over that line. Here you have a couple that took out their own money, not drug money, not laundering. Yes...Many upset that they lost money...but how much did they make before it all fell apart? No one ask that question? A civil suit against Williams was awarded because he has no more money to fight...they pushed for a break in order...they took all his belongings...even underwear, shoes and clothes? who does that? What allows that? Maybe if you had the picture of him purchasing a jacket at the Goodwill just to go to court the next day...his enemy may be satisfied? But not likely...bitterness is a master. For happy ending lovers, you will be happy to know they have a faith that has changed their world and a solid love that many of us can only dream about. They will spend their time in federal jail for taking their money from their account, but at the end of the day they have loyal friends, a true love and a hope of a new life in time...and none of that can be bought or taken That is the real story.

ADVERTISEMENT