By now you are surely aware of the rapid growth of the coworking industry. According to Liz Elam, Executive Director of the Global Coworking Unconference (frequently referred to as GCUC, pronounced 'juicy'), niche and industry-focused coworking spaces are expanding the market.
Today we launch a new series where we feature shared workspaces that focus on specific industries. To launch this series, here is our interview with Stephen Funari, Founder and President of Law Firm Suites.
As you might have guessed, Law Firm Suites is a shared workspace environment focused on the legal profession. (Interestingly enough, the concept is not entirely new. Fegen Suites was a serviced office industry pioneer. Launched in 1966 they peaked at 200 locations.) The benefits of working at Law Firm Suites mirror those a tech company or freelancer might get from an Industrious Office - flexible workspace rentals, access to conference rooms built-in networking and community. And in full disclosure, you also get great visitor registration thanks to Greetly.
Interview with Steve Funari of Law Firm Suites
Q: How do you describe Law Firm Suites to people unfamiliar with the concept?
A: Law Firm Suites operates coworking spaces for attorneys that support a self-employed lawyer’s freedom to practice however they want. Our unique community system helps lawyers accelerate the success of their practices through the exchange of referrals, advice and moral support they get from their peers. We offer office rentals, virtual office services and deskspace (coworking) memberships in professionally managed law office suites.
Q: What was the original vision Stephen? Why was Law Firm Suites necessary?
A: Small firm and solo lawyers had been sharing office space for decades, and, with the right combination of lawyers, those suite shares could be very productive in terms of the exchange of referrals. But these situations were hard to find, operated inconsistently and could be hit-or-miss in terms of referral exchange.
Over 10 years ago my practice was located in one of these suite shares. It worked well for me. In any given year, I received around $100K in referrals from suitemates, and gave away about the same. Not enough to make a practice, but certainly enough to cover overhead.
I operate a niche corporate law practice and routinely needed access to other B-to-B lawyers (tax, litigators, patent) to be successful. So when my practice required more office space, I opened a suite share similar to the one I had been renting in. The difference was, I spent a lot of time focusing on cultivating a good mix of lawyers and creating systems to get these attorneys to collaborate with each other and exchange referrals.
Back to the inspiration behind Law Firm Suites, we essentially combined a traditional shared law office suite with best practices in coworking space management. In the end, lawyers get an office space that looks, feels and works like a traditional law office, but that is professionally managed and has the possibility of generating valuable referrals. And they get this for all the same price as an office rental anywhere else.
Q: Why does the shared workspace environment makes sense for law professionals "industry"? What are their alternative workplace options?
A: Because we are so specialized, attorneys are collaborative by nature. Lawyers routinely work on complex issues that can be very difficult to manage all alone. So, attorneys often rely on peers for advice, support and guidance. But when you are a solo or a small firm, it can be challenging to get the same “connection” to peers that you would have if you worked at a firm with multiple attorneys. Shared office space is a great substitute for the benefits of working in a firm, without all the hassles that come with being an employee or partner.
Lawyers also generate the majority of their new business from other lawyers, so it’s natural for attorneys to share office space where that where is the potential to give and get referrals.
This all being said, when it comes to office space, attorneys have some very unique needs. Lawyers have duty to keep clients’ information confidential. They need quiet spaces to get complex writing and research done, and typically, they are heavy users of conference room time. Lawyers clients also have a certain expectation about how their attorney’s office should look, and when lawyers fail to meet that expectation, they can lose business.
This is why many legal offices are traditional in style. It is not that they do not have interest in modern corporate office design trends, but rather that attorneys need privacy, ample conference rooms and other people who work quietly and dress professionally. This is the kind of environment lawyers will find at Law Firm Suites.
We get a lot of feedback that the super-modern coworking spaces with lots of glass offices tend not to work for lawyers. While we love our industry friends who operate these kinds of spaces, in many cases, that style of workspace just doesn’t support the needs of a legal practice. Nevertheless, a multi-professional coworking space is still better than working in total isolation from your peers, which ends up hindering practice growth and exposing lawyers to greater risk of malpractice.
Q: What benefits do professional achieve by working at Law Firm Suites, versus their own space?
A: I can give you a list of benefits, but let me provide a video where our clients say it in their own words - they do even better than I can!
Q: What are your future plans?
A: We are currently partnering with other shared workspace operators and law firms to offer a “Law Firm Suites” type of experience in other cities. We have opened three of such partnerships in Boston, White Plains and Annapolis.
We have also begun running Attorney Mastermind Groups at our locations, which has been very successful.
Q: What is your favorite success story so far?
A: It's hard to pick just one. One is Deepti Suhkani. She had a stellar legal background yet had some fear about going out on her own. She credits Law Firm Suites with giving her the confidence and network do so - and then to build her practice. Her story makes me proud.
Perhaps Jason Huf sums up the whole experience perfectly. He credits Law Firms Suites with helping him overcome 'small firm prejudice'. He knows some companies will avoid solo practitioners. His ability to pull in topical experts, even more readily than if he were a part of a larger, structure law firm, impresses his clients. According to Huf, "In short, I have all the resources in the world without the weight of hungry partners or prohibitive overhead costs to pass along to my clients."