By Catherine Spearnak
Working as a lawyer can now be fun, says appellate attorney Johanna Schiavoni of San Diego.
She’s played table tennis in the conference room of Enrich, located in Bankers Hill, and read tempting books housed in a small glass bookcase in the corner of the large open space of the plush office.
But she said the new co-working space for lawyers is not all fun and games.
“We have a brain trust of different attorneys here,” she said. “It’s nice to have other smart, ambitious dedicated people around who are also fun.”
Enrich is the brainchild of Amanda Allen, an attorney who encountered many bumps in the road after trying to start her own solo practice working at home after six years at a law firm.
“It was very lonely. A little bit isolating,” the 34-year-old mother said.
Allen looked all over San Diego, and while she found some wonderful work spaces, nothing exactly fit the needs of the young lawyer. So she decided to launch her own space.
“I’m trying to find a niche between the old law school firm model and the way I think people are going to start working in the future, which is in a more community-oriented environment,” she said.
Co-working began in the Bay Area about 20 years ago when groups of techies began congregating in apartments and lofts to create a computer community. The concept grew, and now industry leaders like Apple and Google have captured the idea. Employees have back-to-back spaces, sit in comfy chairs, and consult with their co-workers.
Co-working was born.
Allen said co-working has really grown in the past five to 10 years, but has taken a long time to reach the lawyering business. In her research for Enrich, she could only find two other legal co-working spaces in the country – in Denver and New York City.
“We offer our attorneys the support but not the big law firm culture. I wanted a place where people could work independently yet maintain the community,” she said.
It also helps solo practitioners – lawyers with their own practices – cut down on costs.
“The practical reason I joined Enrich was I had the opportunity to split the overhead and keep the expenses down,” said soloist Nikolas Djordjevski of NTD Law, who practices employment law.
“It’s kind of like I’m working at a law firm, but I still have my own business, too,” he said.
But Djordjevski also likes the law firm feel, as well as the beautiful, casual environment of Enrich.
“It’s not dry and stuffy like a law firm,” he said. “I also like to be in a place surrounded by other very intelligent attorneys.”
Enrich offers solo practitioners eight private offices, and seven co-working spaces for a total of 15, but Allen said the office could expand to accommodate 25 attorneys. There is a large conference room that converts to a pingpong table, and a raft of enjoyable, non-legal books.
Besides creating a beautiful, colorful open space for Enrich, Allen’s heart seems to be in creating a community atmosphere. Enrich offers quarterly health classes, and also focuses on nutrition, cutting back on stress, and ergonomics.
“We’re really encouraging lawyers to live healthy lives because if you’re going to be a lawyer, it’s hard work,” she said.
Allen also offers classes in business development and financial success. Allen learned from her own try at working from home and having her own practice that developing a clientele was harder than she thought.
“I knew how to be a lawyer, but getting a client base and keeping a client base was much different,” she said. “It was something that was so important to me that I wasn’t going to wing it.”
Allen thinks her co-working model for attorneys is a concept that will grow. Because she’s had such success since her March 1 opening, she’s already thinking of expanding from her 3170 Fourth Ave. office space.
“A lot of attorneys do enjoy working from home, but they also want that community, that sense of being engaged,” she said. “I think we are seeing a paradigm shift in the way lawyers work.”
—Catherine Spearnak is a San Diego-based freelance writer. She can be reached at email@example.com.