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How to Have a Professional Attorney Image When You Work from Home

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Summary: Many attorneys are looking at alternative ways to practice law, including working from home. Find out how you can do this successfully and look professional.

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With today's technology, a lawyer practicing out of his or her home can produce the same high-quality work as someone with the fanciest office on Wall Street.
 
But you may still have to overcome the "image problem" of a home-based practice.

Clients may not feel they have a "real" lawyer. No matter how often you explain that you're practicing out of your home to keep overhead and legal fees low, they may believe you're not successful enough to afford a real office. They may bring small matters to you but turn to a "real" lawyer in a "real" office when they have a significant problem.

Or they may believe you're practicing law as a hobby (especially if you're married), so you don't need the money and shouldn't charge them much for your services.

How can you keep a professional image while working at home? Follow these 20 rules:
 
  1. Don't volunteer that you practice out of your home, but don't hide it, either.
  2. Say that you have "an office" in your home, rather than saying you have "your office" in your home.
  3. Don't justify your home office based on cheapness. If people ask why you practice out of your home, say that you have "an office" in your home for several reasons, including quick access to client files on weekends.
  4. Have two phone lines dedicated to your office.
  5. Equip your home office as you would any other office. I recommend against "multi-function" machines; stand-alone fax machines and copiers work much better.
  6. Don't allow family members to use or answer your office telephone, fax or modem.
  7. Have a good voice-mail system to answer your office phone when you can't take a call.
  8. Use a headset when on the phone to reduce household noises such as children playing, sirens, cars passing by, etc.
  9. If you live in an apartment, use "Suite 306" rather than "Apt. 306" to give the appearance of being in an office building.
  10. Use a P.O. Box or mail-drop address on your business card rather than a home address, if the address is readily identifiable as a residence. If asked why you use a P.O. Box, you may reply (if true) that you have greater access to mail at nights and weekends, and that you sometimes get mail a day earlier, especially on weekends.
  11. Encourage clients to use e-mail or fax instead of regular mail to de-emphasize your street address.
  12. Have a backup system for receiving mail, messengers, deliveries, etc. when you are not at your home office.
  13. Do not meet clients in your home unless you have no other option. Not only might they be put off, but you might be subject to various government requirements for bathrooms, handicap ramps, fire exits, business permits, etc. You may also need special insurance because the typical homeowners' policy excludes commercial uses of your home.
  14. Be creative in finding alternative places to meet clients, including:
     
    • The client's place of business.
    • The scene of an accident or event.
    • Restaurants for breakfast or lunch meetings.
    • Conference rooms at the courthouse, law library, local bar association offices or local law school (you may have to join an alumni group).
    • Conference rooms at court reporters' offices. These are frequently available for free if they want your deposition business, or they may charge an hourly fee.
    • Conference rooms at other lawyers' offices. They may do this for you as a favor, in return for referrals or for an hourly fee.
    • Hourly rate business centers.
       
  15. If you decide to meet clients in your home office, follow these tips:
     
    • If possible, have a separate entrance for clients to emphasize that this is an office, and to protect client identity from family members.
    • Be sure the office is sound-proof to keep out sounds of the home and neighborhood.
    • Don't allow family members into the office or to use the office bathroom.
    • Keep lots of law books and legal journals in the office to reinforce your professional image.
       
  16. Don't hire employees to work in your home office unless you can comply with OSHA and other federal and state laws covering workplaces.
  17. If you're caring for children, you must have a fail-safe backup system for child care in case you are suddenly called to court or a meeting with a new client. (One suggestion: Find a nearby grandmother who loves kids and is willing to accept $10 a week just to be on call plus get paid when needed.)
  18. Be active in bar associations and local business groups, and attend meetings. Practicing at home can be lonely and create a sense of isolation from the professional world.
  19. Although you may dress more casually, don't take it too far. You won't feel professional wearing pajamas or yard clothes.
  20. Lastly, have a life! Leave work behind when you walk out of your office and into your living room. If you're going to take business calls at night, go into the office. Don't give your family the impression that their needs are less important than your clients' needs.
     




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Professional Image      Working From Home      Work From Home      Achieving Success As An Attorney      Attorney Career Advice     

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