February 2014 Bar Bulletin
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February 2014 Bar Bulletin

The Virtual Truth: Seven Factors to Consider Before Opening a Virtual Law Practice

By Stacey L. Romberg

 

As I write this, I am sitting in my virtual law office - more specifically, a spare bedroom in my townhouse that has been converted into an office. My attire, admittedly, is quite casual: black running tights paired with a t-shirt.

Tonight, I'm attending the annual Washington Women Lawyers dinner in downtown Seattle. I'll need to change clothes at some point, but for now I'm quite comfortable. My cat, Roger, snoozes contentedly downstairs on the sofa. The tea kettle simmers in the kitchen. And, consistent with the stereotype of a home office, the washing machine spins away while I work.

I opened my virtual law firm in 1999 after an eclectic first decade of legal work, which included five years in Washington, D.C., writing legislation for the U.S. Senate and working as a registered foreign lobbyist, and then a move to Seattle to work both in private practice and as a pro-tem magistrate.

When I started my solo practice, a woman operating a law firm out of her home conjured up images of someone fitting in a few hours of work before picking up the kids at school and driving them to soccer practice. Some attorneys assumed, and a few verbalized, that my practice was not "serious" and that a home-based law practice could never survive on a long-term basis.

In reality, a home-based law office is often a smart option for lawyers starting a solo or small-firm practice, or changing the physical environment of their existing practice. Far from lacking in seriousness, a virtual practice can be cutting edge, technologically savvy, environmentally conscious and profitable. If you are contemplating the merits and drawbacks of a virtual office, you should consider the following.

Factor 1: Legal Requirements

Are there any legal constraints regarding home-based businesses that might impact your decision? To ensure that your business model is in compliance, it's important that you check all state and local legal requirements.

For example, the City of Seattle imposes various restrictions on home-based businesses in order to reduce the impact of commercial activity within residential neighborhoods, such as limiting business deliveries to one per day on weekdays. Make sure you feel comfortable with any restrictions before you proceed.


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