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Deciding where to hang your shingle

Map of MarylandDon’t worry. I’m not going to start this post off with the old “Location, location, location” cliché.

I’m just going to try to give you an idea of what to expect after you make that initial decision to open up your own law office. Because that choice actually forces you to make a hundred or so more that will directly impact your career as a solo practitioner.

And while you may think that it would be more beneficial to spend your time trying to decide what type of law you want to focus on, how much of a caseload you are willing and able to handle or what kind of malpractice insurance you feel is appropriate and affordable, the fact is that choosing where you want to open your law practice often influences those other decisions and more.

For example, if you plan on practicing criminal law, it would be better to look for a location close to the local courthouse or jail so that you would have faster and easier access to your clients. Attorneys who spend most of their time handling estate planning should probably open their office in or near a large residential area — for mostly the same reasons. On the other hand, transactional attorneys who work with contracts don’t necessarily need the perks that come with proximity to clients, so they can look at other criteria when deciding where to set up shop.

In the same way, the location of your law office can partly determine how many cases you wind up handling. Hang out your shingle in downtown Baltimore and you are bound to get more walk-ins than someone who opens a law practice somewhere on the Eastern Shore. The key is deciding how much of a caseload you are willing to work. If you have other commitments that require your time, energy and attention, perhaps it would be better to find a location a little more out of the way. It can be very tempting to take on more clients than you are comfortable handling if they just keep walking in your door.

Finally, your choice of office location can impact various financial decisions as well, such as your choice of malpractice insurance and what bank you’ll use. These differences show up predominantly when looking at one state versus another instead of different localities within the same state, but the principle remains true. If you are licensed to practice law in two or more jurisdictions, wouldn’t it make sense to at least consider a state where the malpractice insurance is cheaper and the local banks are willing to give you better deals on your accounts, even if that may not have been your plan when you first made the choice to go solo?

If you are considering opening your own law practice, or if you have already made that decision and are just looking for “the perfect location”, what you need to do is consider all the aspects of being a solo practitioner, giving greater weight to those more important to you and less weight to the not-so-important ones and use those parameters to guide your thought process. Only then will you be able to truly make an informed decision on the matter.

I wish I could give you the street address of the perfect place to open a law office, but I can’t. No single spot is going to be good for every possible type of attorney. What I hope I’ve been able to do is point you down the path toward finding a location that’s best for you.

One comment

  1. Baltimore has a downtown?