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  • Sally Azarmi

New coworking and shared workspaces are popping up all over England and Wales. But can they work for law firms? Sally Azarmi outlines the benefits she’s found since she started coworking

Management of overheads can make the difference between success and failure for any firm. The greatest of those overheads is often the cost of premises.

The most surprising thing for me has been my clients’ reactions. So far, everyone has loved the building

Even in today’s world of paperless, mobile working, a firm’s premises can be a major part of its identity, influencing the clients it attracts. For me, when I set up my firm six years ago, registering my home as my working address wasn’t an option, and I wanted to have control over my premises and identity. The options back then were very limited. I opted for serviced offices in the City, which were expensive and which tied me in for 12 months. As a sole practitioner with one employee, it was also a lonely affair, as we rarely saw the occupants of the other offices.

But now, things have changed. In 2016, I moved my firm’s head office into a WeWork serviced office. I work in a modern and innovative building designed to accommodate communication, networking and creative thinking. I have access to extensive meeting rooms as well as my own office, with all modern facilities (and unlimited tea, coffee, beer and cider!). I share the building with hundreds of other entrepreneurial businesses, and am connected to them and similar buildings across the globe through an app, and there are daily events I can take part in. I can even bring my dog into work if I want to! Plus, the rent is affordable, and I’m only tied in for a month at a time.

You can choose to have an office or hot desk – I have an office. Offices are priced according to the number of desks you have. You always have access to a meeting room which can be rented by the hour (and a certain number of hours are included free in my contract each month).

WeWork has 287 locations in 77 cities in 23 countries – and this is just one of many communal or coworking space providers and buildings across the world.

WeWork describes itself as ‘a shared community space’; it designs its buildings and runs its communal events with this sense of community in mind, and also has a community team which leverages connections in each site and ensures ‘members’ are having the best possible experience.

 Being in this shared space, I feel that my firm is on an entirely level playing field with the largest of law firms

The company explains: ‘People are moving to cities, seeking community, purpose, and the opportunity to create their life’s work. There has been a macro shift toward a new way of working and living – people are focused on meaningful connections and being part of something greater than themselves. At WeWork, we seek to support and accelerate this positive change. 70% of our members collaborate and 50% of our members do business with each other. This proves how effective our spaces and app are at bringing people together.’

Ah, I hear you say, but surely this can’t work for a law firm! What about security, what about post, and what will our clients think?

Well, I have lockable filing cabinets in my office which house the few files I have now, as pretty much everything is cloud-based. When I leave the office, I simply lock it up behind me.

Post is an issue, as the building receives post, but there are no facilities for sending it. Having a good post office near the building has been invaluable.

But the most surprising thing for me has been my clients’ reactions. So far, everyone has loved the building – some now even look forward to seeing me! They like seeing the many different young businesses and people milling about and the energy of the building. Some clients have even decided to move their businesses into similar buildings.

I can even bring my dog into work if I want to!

The entrepreneurs in the building are young, many probably half my age, but seeing the millennial generation run their businesses and connecting with them has given me great insight into the changing world that I am trying to provide a service to. You can also enhance your client base from within the building – although I would not recommend relying on the businesses in the building alone for work. If you are looking to go into a building like this, it should be for the overall experience.

If you think coworking is only for the edgy entrepreneur, you would be mistaken. Large, well-known law firms are now also moving their employees into these buildings, as well as blue chip companies – I expect so as not to miss out on the opportunity to grow with start-ups which may become future tech giants. Being in this shared space, I feel that my firm, with its two employees, is on an entirely level playing field, in terms of its areas of specialism, with the largest of law firms.

If you like a quiet environment and prefer the traditional ways of working, this is not for you (the music in the toilets alone may prove unnerving!). But if you’re a start-up, small firm or sole practitioner, and would like to save on your premises’ costs, grow your network and get an entirely fresh and interesting take on your working life, I would recommend it wholeheartedly.

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