Branching Out

General

Over the past years, I have often contemplated opening a satellite or branch office. I feel like I have successfully developed my practice in one geographic area and could replicate my success in a different neighborhood. Chicago and its surrounding suburbs are huge and I focus my client development in a relatively small portion of southern Cook County. What follows are some of the pros and cons I weighed when considering opening a new office.

The first question you need to answer is why do you feel a branch office would be a benefit? Would it benefit your existing clients? Would it attract new clients? What client(s) would benefit the most from an additional location? For me, I wanted an office which would be more convenient for clients to meet. My advertising and marketing efforts, though targeted to my geographic location, sometimes extend well beyond my neighborhood. Additionally, I wanted to increase my territory through broadened advertising, so a convenient location for these new clients was a consideration. If your office is downtown, consider a suburban satellite office. Much of my firm’s success stems from the fact that many clients do not want to go downtown to see their lawyer. If your practice requires a lot of court appearances, consider a satellite office near the courts where you frequently practice. Clients will appreciate this convenience.

I was very close to opening a satellite office when I began to realize how many of clients used the internet. I am able to scan and e-mail documents to many clients, so being physically available was of diminishing importance. We also do more and more intakes over the phone and internet without the client ever having to come to the office. In the end, I decided that a satellite office may increase foot traffic and be slightly more convenient, but not worth the drawbacks.

Drawbacks

You can only be in one place at one time. With my current office, when I am on trial or vacation or otherwise out of the office, it does not run as efficiently as when I am there. Let’s face it. When the boss is gone, people may not work as hard as when they know the boss is around. Having multiple locations means dividing my time. I believe that more than one office will not be as efficient due to my absence. There are ways to account for this, but I considered this a serious negative in coming to my decision.

You also have to take into consideration additional office overhead. Rent, utilities, phone service as well as office furnishings and supplies all cost money. The biggest cost is staffing a branch office. Ideally, you would have someone there during business hours. Fortunately, you can come up with a fairly accurate budget for what a new office would cost. To reduce these monthly expenses, consider entering into an office-sharing arrangement or rent space from an office leasing company. This can keep your expenses down while still offering you a physical presence.

Access to client files

Access to client files can be another drawback. My office is cloud based and almost entirely paperless. This makes opening a satellite office very easy when it comes to sharing client and firm data. I came to this realization many years ago when I took over the second floor of my building. My staff which work upstairs are physically separate from the staff which are downstairs. We communicate through instant messaging on our network as well as share all electronic client files. The fact that we can walk upstairs doesn’t detract from the difference in location. My upstairs staff could be in a different office or even a different state, and we could function electronically without a problem. There is no reason to have physical access to each other or client files. For this reason, opening a branch office would be easy for me.

If you are not yet at this point in terms of a digital office, you must take into consideration having access to physical files. You will have to take into account physically filing paper in physical files and having access to these files. This is a serious drawback to opening a satellite office. Consider it yet another reason to move toward a digital office.

Positives

There are several positives to take into account when deciding to open a branch office. First, you already have your systems in place and you will not have to reinvent the wheel. Branching off can be an important step in growing your practice. Opening a new office addresses your lack of space in your current office. Almost every lawyer I know is running out of space in their current location. You cannot continue to cram more and more into your limited office space. You are probably invested in your current location and moving your whole office just to get more space is not an attractive proposition. Opening a new office is a way to address this office space crunch. Finally, opening a new office likely will increase your business. The question is will it increase it enough to justify the drawbacks discussed above.

In the end, I opted against opening a satellite office. It is still something I contemplate periodically and I don’t think I have come to a final decision. Give serious consideration to the pluses and minuses when opening a branch office. If you want to run your thoughts by me, always free to contact me.