- Associated Press - Sunday, November 2, 2014

BALTIMORE (AP) - Renting or purchasing office space, buying furniture, paying for phone lines and Internet access - those are just the beginning of the costs of opening a law firm.

Dan Miller, a Baltimore medical malpractice and personal injury attorney, has a solution for cash-strapped solos and small firms: rent space in his office building, and pay one monthly fee for an all-inclusive package with a downtown address.

“When you’re a solo, you’re thinking, ‘How can I afford all those things?’” said Miller, of The Law Offices of Daniel J. Miller LLC. “When you’re in a shared environment, you can.”

Miller had been renting space in the former Baltimore Commercial Bank building at 26 South St. since he started his own practice two years ago. He purchased the building in May.

For him, the choice to buy was a simple one, but now he hopes to attract tenants who will fill the seven remaining empty offices.

“I said to myself, a lot of people who go out on their own fail. One of the main reasons they fail is they take too much overhead and are not able to manage it,” Miller said. “To me, it just makes sense - you’re putting money away for the future.”

Although he’s heard of large firms renting out their extra space, Miller said he doesn’t know of any other attorneys or law firms that have purchased a building with the intention of renting out offices and creating a work environment geared toward lawyers.

Pat Yevics, the Maryland State Bar Association’s director of law office management assistance, and Katherine T. Sanzone, executive director of the Baltimore City Bar Association, each said they didn’t know of any lawyers who have bought real estate in downtown Baltimore with the plan of renting out the extra space.

But Yevics said it’s not an unprecedented concept. The key is finding real estate worth investing in, she said.

“You just need the perfect space in a great location, and the comfort level that you will be able to rent that space out,” Yevics said. “Some attorneys have to be near a courthouse; some practice settings need to be near a bus stop.”

Part of the reason Miller’s approach isn’t more popular among lawyers may be the risks involved, as well as the administrative duties required of a landlord, she added.

Prime real estate downtown is scarce and pricey, compared to surrounding areas like Towson and Bel Air, a factor that may also deter lawyers from investing in their own office building.

From the tenant’s perspective, Yevics said, it’s fairly common for lawyers looking for office space to rent “business suites” to save money.

“I think that’s kind of the same theory, and I know there are a lot of newer and younger lawyers who have gone that route, simply because there’s not a whole lot of startup costs,” Yevics said.

However, Miller said his plan is nothing like the typical rent-a-suite setup. Rather, he plans to charge a flat rate of $1,500 to $2,500 a month, depending on the specific office a tenant prefers, and include in the price everything from the phone systems to use of the building’s gym and sauna to the resources of its law library, which is located in the former bank’s vault.

Not only does renting an office suite usually not include all of these benefits, Miller said, it’s impersonal - and clients can tell the difference.

“Everything’s à la carte,” he said of the suites. “When people come in, they know it’s not your office.”

Plus, Miller said, tenants at his building would have the added benefit of being surrounded by those who understand the demands of the profession. He shares the space now with The Law Offices of Marc Seldin Rosen, a small firm, as well as with Lee H. Caplan, a solo practitioner. Both were already renting there when he purchased the building.

“Part of the lure is being around peers and being part of a bigger group,” Miller said. “It’s a very cohesive environment, and I want to keep that.”

Although Miller doesn’t have a specific goal for when he hopes the last seven offices will be filled - “Yesterday,” he joked - he is confident the amenities he’s offering will draw renters in. If he’s successful, he said he may consider repeating this model with other buildings in the area.

“It’s a turnkey operation, and it’s less expensive than going out on your own,” he said. “We’re offering something that really is not being offered right now.”

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Information from: The Daily Record of Baltimore, https://www.mddailyrecord.com

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