The Office Share

We do not offer a salary. Rather, we offer an office, experienced staff and all the latest software and equipment necessary to conduct business. Your name would be added to the letterhead, along with the other associate attorneys and you would be a part of the firm. You would be supplied with business cards.

*GASP* My own business cards? Really? Well golly gee whiz! I’m a gonna be gittin down to a real lawyerin’ now!

I fucking love these classifieds. It worries me that law schools are putting these up on their career sites as legitimate opportunities when a few years ago you wouldn’t see these ‘opportunities’ outside of Craigslist. I must admit though, I smile everytime I see them. I can’t help it. It’s the same bemused smile I get when I surf past the latest Nigerian Prince trying to transfer money to me in my spam folder. I wonder who could possibly be so gullible as to fall for one of these situations. But I suppose in the current market, the glut of new grads and the plummeting value of the ESQ will always push a few people to try their luck with the smarmy positions these advertisements offer.

I’m sure if you are a naive attorney or a non-lawyer you may be asking what is wrong with the office share situation? In theory, nothing. In fact, this is how many smaller law firm partnerships begin (or used to in a by-gone era). Which is why it is the perfect setup to bilk you out of some money before you figure it out. But what does this look like? Here… Watch this. This is a random video on the intertubes apparently from several years ago, but it gives you a taste.

So how does all of this work? The theory is, you, the aspiring new attorney has very little cache or cash and if you can’t get someone to hire you into a partnership firm as an associate then one of the few options open to you is to hang out a shingle and go solo. But that involves paying rent for officespace, furniture, office supplies, maybe a secretary if you are really going all out… In other words, money you don’t have considering you are likely floating pretty close to bankrupt anyway. So theoretically if you team up with other mostly broke individuals, you can pool your money and get all of the above.

I’ve seen it when it works, and when it works it is still horrible. The officespace is sparse because no one wants to invest money into making it look nice because everyone who is there is working solo on a shoestring budget. The offices are a revolving door of attorneys because once you have made any minimal amount of money you get the hell out and find a real office / job. I’ve also seen the whole imputed partnership debacle; I was in court when attorney #1 who was representing a husband and wife combo intentionally put the wife on the stand who then claimed responsibility for the husband’s crime. He knew full well that he was creating a conflict in his clients when he did it. The court obviously continued the case and made the wife get separate counsel. And who showed up as her counsel? The guy sharing the office with the attorney #1. The fun issue started up when the prosecutor asked who the “& associates” were on each of their business cards since they were claiming to be solo, but shared an office and expenses and a secretary and a whole mess of other things. Let’s just say the judge was none too happy with the situation. Since you are likely dealing with broke and desperate attorneys, you are very possibly also dealing with a lot of malpractice (yes, generalization, but often true). The officeshare attorneys will take on any case regardless of the specialty or difficulty and hope to hell that a legal stationery store / Hot Docs template (which is well worth a mention in a future installment of this blog) will have a contract / legal looking paper they can buy for $2.50 and sell to you for much more before they usher you out the door and you have the opportunity to question whether you got your moneys worth. (for non-lawyers out there… do you think I am joking? I am not, sadly.)

But hey… that could just be an outlier. What else is wrong with it? Well, most of these ‘opportunities’ you see are offered by one person who requires that you split your fees with them. That there is a minimum hourly fee, that in addition to all of this you pay a monthly maintenance / rent fee to cover costs and materials, that you work under their nameplate, oh, and you don’t draw any salary — it’s just whatever you can bring in yourself and don’t expect any clients from the officeshare overlord. But hey, you can work from home! You don’t even have to show up! Why you don’t even have to work, just make sure to send in a monthly check to pay for the honor of being solo under someone else’s name.

Work from home. Work as much or as little as you want. Basically, the more you look at the situation, the more it looks like multi-level marketing in a law firm setting. But hey, don’t take my word for it. Just look through some of the ads on craigslist, or now featured on your law school career site.

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