Coworking Podcast Interviews Chisel Founders
Remote Office, a podcast about coworking and the future of work, recently invited Chisel Creator France Hoang and Director Tom Craig to talk about how they decided to open a coworking space, what the industry looks like in DC, and more.
Listen to the podcast here, or read the transcription below.*
Meet Chisel – Coworking For Lawyers
How did you decide to enter the coworking industry?
— France —
We’re here in DC, which has the highest per capita population and the highest raw number of lawyers in the United States. Our firm [FH+H] has been around for a little over seven years now, and we’ve always been entrepreneurial – not afraid to try new and innovative things.
As we were building out our new offices, one of the things that occurred to us was that there was this empty space in the market – while coworking had been tried for a number of different industries, mostly technology, no one had done it in the DC area for lawyers.
The practice of law was changing as well, and we saw there was a space for something less than a law firm but more than a Bar Association. We thought Chisel, both as a coworking space and as a community for entrepreneurial lawyers, would be well received here.
— Tom —
Most lawyers are actually solos or in small firms. A lot of times in the marketplace, we focus on the big law firms, when the fact is most lawyers aren’t in that situation, and coworking has appealed to those lawyers, but an ordinary coworking space doesn’t meet some of their specialized needs, especially when it comes to things like client confidentiality and the types of space lawyers like to work in. It’s also the ability to be around and work with other legal professionals instead of being in an environment of different kinds of professionals.
Our hope is that Chisel is a way to address all of those concerns while providing lawyers the kind of coworking environment that other professionals already enjoy.
Do individuals need to meet certain requirements to join Chisel?
— France —
In order to be a member of Chisel, you have to be an active member of a bar association or work for a member of a bar. In other words, we want practicing attorneys and their staff.
Our focus is on three different types of lawyers. One type is the solo lawyer. Those tend to be lawyers who are more junior or not as experienced, who are obviously still great lawyers, but they’re just kind of starting out their solo practices.
Another group is, the small law firm – the one, two, or three partner law firm that maybe has a small staff of one or two associates, a paralegal, and a receptionist.
The third group is interesting – it’s lawyers who belong to other law firms but who want a place to practice law when they’re not at their home law firm. For example, maybe they’re a senior partner who lives in Virginia whose law firm is located in downtown DC, and they are allowed to work away from the office, and when they choose to do so, perhaps they prefer a place in Virginia.
What kinds of events does Chisel host?
— Tom —
We have a variety of events because one of the things we’re trying to do with this space is to provide some added value to people who use the space. We have a dedicated event space right in our office, so we don’t have to leave here to have events.
So we host a variety of things – we have a series on government contracting for lawyers who have a practice in that area; we have outside speakers come in, like we had an outside speaker in this week to talk about exit strategies for small businesses; we have speakers coming to talk about private equity investment and other transactional issues.
So in general, we have a variety of events to enhance people’s professional knowledge. At the same time we do networking events where we’ll have happy hours and other events where people can come and just mix and meet other lawyers.
What is the coworking landscape in DC/Virginia?
— France —
We’re the very first coworking space solely dedicated to lawyers in the Greater Washington Metro area. We’re located in Tysons, which is part of the greater DC area. There are nationally about four or five active coworking spaces focused on lawyers, but we’re the first in the DC area.
The coworking community as a whole in DC is very vibrant. There are over a hundred coworking spaces, and some of them like Chisel are beginning to become specialized. For example, Capital Post is a coworking space largely focused on veterans. There’s a coworking space called Eastern Foundry that’s largely focused on government contractors. There’s another space called Hera Hub, which is for women.
How do you attract lawyers to Chisel?
— Tom —
We use a variety of methodologies, but a lot of it is simply networking and referring lawyers that we know, and people already associated with Chisel reach out to lawyers they know.
At the same time, we do have an advertising campaign, which is principally social media based. We are also reaching out to the lawyers we know at law firms to take advantage of, as we discussed earlier, some of the big law firms’ partners sometimes need space outside their location to work out of.
Do you help Chisel members bring in new clients?
— France —
What we do here is we provide the infrastructure for people to practice law, but under the bar rules there are certain things we can’t do. For example, we can’t treat them like a member of our own firm because then under the bar rules, they would consider them a member of our firm. For example, we don’t share lawyers, we don’t provide full receptionist services, and we don’t do business development.
However, we do have programs that teach lawyers how to do business development, and we certainly encourage networking and referrals between our members, but we don’t do any sales or business development on behalf of the Chisel members to grow their practices.
Where do you see Chisel in 5 or 10 years?
— France —
We have our current space, and we’re going to make that successful and grow and hopefully reach full capacity here in the not-too-distant future. I think there could be additional spaces in the DC area because, like I mentioned, this is the highest raw numbers and per capita population of lawyers in the United States. There are other cities where there are equally dense population of lawyers where the space and the concept could work – so that’s from a geographical growth perspectives.
From a services growth perspective, we’re in phase one, which is providing a coworking space. Phase two is building a great set of programs that supports the lawyers who are in a space. For instance, teaching them how to grow a practice, teaching them how to run a business, giving them opportunities to network, and really creating a community of entrepreneurial lawyers – which doesn’t really exist right now because you’re either in a law firm or you’re not; there’s nothing in-between that’s meaningful.
Eventually, the service we’d like to provide is creating an ecosystem where we have these Chisel lawyers, paralegals, and associates where they can have a place to work, network, learn, and then engage in work with one another so that, for example, if you’re a partner who needs an associate on a case, instead of hiring an associate, you can look inside the Chisel ecosystem and hire from there for your one matter for the legal help you need.
*Questions and answers have been slightly modified for clarity.