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Sure, lots of D.C. law firms offer free morning coffee and on-site exercise facilities for lawyers and staff. But some are going the competition one better, spending money on one-of-a-kind perks like bocce courts and afternoon teas. Still others are providing fitness and nutrition services or day care services for employees with small children. As professionals become increasingly focused on finding the right work/life balance, more law firms are providing unusual and unique office amenities. Such firms are hoping that these custom benefits will pay off in greater employee retention and productivity. R. Bruce McLean, the D.C.-based chairman of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, believes that law firms are willing to foot the bill for features like on-site day care as a way to demonstrate sensitivity to their employees’ daily work/personal life issues. “Providing day care or meals in the evenings allows attorneys and staff to be more productive. But billing a few extra hours is just a short-term benefit to the firm,” he says. “It’s more important to take time away from the office to attend your child’s school event than to stay home because the nanny got sick.” While a firm may not initially see a financial benefit on its profit and loss statement by providing unique perks, in the long run, McLean says, it sends an important message that certain values are important to a firm’s culture. And, he adds, that helps make a firm more attractive to current and potential employees. But McLean adds not all amenities are destined to be successful. One perk he thought would be a certain winner failed at Akin Gump — an in-house concierge service. After providing the service to its employees for about 18 months, Akin Gump canceled the program. “I thought people would be happy to have someone else try to find a plumber or drop off the dry cleaning, but the service was underutilized,” says McLean. Others question whether unusual or significant perks really do motivate lawyers and staff to work harder. D.C. associates are “highly motivated overachievers who work pretty darn hard” to begin with, notes legal recruiter Gabriela Kovensky, who doubts you’ll persuade an attorney to stay at a firm an extra year or two by offering, say, rooftop bocce. Still, firms continue to introduce unique perks. And legal consultants seem to agree on one thing — if firms want to provide perks that will ultimately be winners with attorneys and staff alike, the best starting point is identifying the firm culture. LUNCHING WITH TODDLERS Lunchtime at the Arnold & Porter cafeteria on 12th Street, N.W., is a bit different than at most firms. Sprinkled among the standard issue lunchroom tables are high chairs. Plus there are chicken fingers on the cafeteria menu. Parents who have children in Arnold & Porter’s on-site day care and preschool are encouraged to have lunch with their toddlers in the firm’s cafeteria. While a number of firms offer backup day care for emergencies, Arnold & Porter provides full-time child care and preschool for children from infancy to kindergarten. When Arnold & Porter moved into their current offices in 1995, lawyers there already had identified that the firm culture needed and would support on-site day care. The existing emergency day care program expanded to a full-time child care and preschool program that accommodates up to 55 children and is open seven days a week. Slots are filled on a first-come, first-served basis, regardless of a parent’s position at the firm (about three-quarters of the children’s parents are firm lawyers, the balance, staff). Those who enroll their kids in the program pay what Arnold & Porter calls “market rates” for the service, although the firm subsidizes the center in part, covering the overhead costs. Full-time, on-site day care is almost unheard of in legal circles, although it’s a bit more common in the corporate world. It’s so popular that there is a waiting list for Arnold & Porter’s cheery, custom-designed facility. “We believed that providing a day care center at the office was a win-win situation,” says Arnold & Porter partner Fern O’Brian, who has served on the firm’s child care committee since she was an associate in the mid-1980s. “Based on what we learned from other company-provided child care centers, we knew we could expect greater employee retention, a positive impact on recruiting, and increased productivity because there would be less stress over trying to juggle work and family commitments.” Several people at the firm claim that when presented with other professional opportunities, one reason they decided to stay at Arnold & Porter was the availability of on-site care for their children, she adds. Arnold & Porter partner Susan Cassidy says that benefit is one reason she’s still at the firm. Shortly after she became a partner, she gave birth to her daughter. She says the option of on-site day care made her decision to return to work easier because she knew her daughter, who is now a kindergartner, would be close by, and she could see her new baby during the day. “Without the on-site child care, I might not have decided to come back to work just a few months after I had my daughter,” says Cassidy. “But with child care in our offices, I knew I could visit and spend a half-hour lunch with my daughter during the work day and come back to my desk more focused.” In addition to benefiting her personally, Cassidy adds that, “as a recruiting tool, you can’t beat it.” Legal recruiter Kovensky agrees. She says she once spoke with an associate about considering a position at another firm. “The associate told me that unless there was a comparable day care situation involved, she wasn’t interested,” says Kovensky. Headhunter Cynthia Sitcov disagrees slightly on the recruiting benefits of firm-provided day care. Sitcov believes that the attraction, especially to new lawyers, isn’t so much the child care per se, but more what it says about the firm’s culture. Using firm resources to have a perk like on-site day care “sends a message that, ‘We [the partners] understand we are demanding a lot in terms of hours and output, so if there is something the firm can do to make your life a bit simpler, we’re willing to do that,’ ” explains Sitcov. MIND, BODY, SOUL New associates sometimes joke as they enter the practice of law that they are giving up their mind, body, and soul to a law firm. But Shaw Pittman’s “mind/body/soul” approach to professional development seems to stress just the opposite. Shaw Pittman partner Jane Roberts heads the firm’s professional development committee. About a year and a half ago, she says, the firm “began looking for a way to push the envelope to foster a culture of excellence.” After some brainstorming, Shaw Pittman came up with its Well-Being Project, a program that combines professional training with added components of fitness, nutrition, and community service. While Shaw Pittman for years has had an on-site exercise facility that includes squash courts, partner Jeff Glassie, who helped develop the holistic approach to professional development, says the program’s goal is to keep employees healthy, happy, and, ultimately, more productive. In addition to more traditional attorney-training features, the firm in the last year has started offering on-site yoga sessions and various exercise classes (which employees pay for). They also offer free lectures on healthy eating and fitness. In addition, the firm converted one of the original squash courts into a weight room, where it also holds the exercise, yoga, and meditation classes. “The founders of the firm had a tradition of athleticism,” says Glassie. “But we started thinking about ways to expand that commitment to overall fitness [as part of our professional development program] and suggested that we try to capitalize on the firm’s tradition by involving attorneys and staff in a more all-inclusive approach to being healthy people.” With the blessing of managing partner Stephen Huttler, Shaw Pittman created six different committees, covering areas such as diet and nutrition, the firm’s fitness challenge, and a speakers series. And as part of promoting healthier nutrition, the firm’s internal Web site offers a daily coupon to get a discount on the healthy lunch option offered in the firm cafeteria, such as salmon with steamed broccoli and brown rice or chicken breast with veggies and red bliss potatoes. Shaw Pittman’s chief personnel officer, Jeanine Elgin, says that while they have not yet done a study, they believe the program has created more-productive employees for the firm with relatively little expense. Last year, Shaw Pittman budgeted $20,000 to cover expenses for things such as speakers and discounts in the cafeteria. This year, the budget for the program is $50,000. Legal marketing consultant Lisa Smith of Hildebrandt International says programs such as Shaw Pittman’s are a good way to “create buzz,” as well as positive talking points in a firm’s marketing efforts. But she’s more skeptical about whether such perks are instrumental in hiring or retaining employees. “Ultimately it’s going to be about the people, the culture of the firm, and the quality of work that’s going to help in getting and keeping good lawyers,” Smith says. If firms are going to create and offer programs that are out of the ordinary, she continues, they should be relevant to the firm’s culture; if they aren’t, they are likely to fail. “For example,” says Smith, “one firm during the technology boom decided to put in foosball and pool tables. After a while, the firm realized these things weren’t really part of its culture and that it seemed silly to have them.” TEA TIME Not all lawyers are going to define their firm culture in the same way. In looking for an idea to promote a more-connected firm dynamic, lawyers in the D.C. office of New York’s Chadbourne & Parke came up with the genteel idea of having monthly afternoon teas for attorneys. D.C. managing partner Andrew Giaccia says the atrium space in the firm’s New Hampshire Avenue office was underutilized. The firm was interested in increasing communication among lawyers, and realized they could make use of the atrium for attorney gatherings. With the daily pressure of client demands and the natural desire to spend more time with loved ones, it’s easy to lose track of what your fellow attorneys are doing and experiencing, says Giaccia. So in 2001, Chadbourne created a regular, time-specific attorney gathering. For a half-hour one Wednesday a month, secretary Norma Parr, who just happens to be British, prepares a half-dozen or so different teas brewed in their own terra cotta teapots for a proper English tea time. At these monthly respites, about 15 or so attorneys show up to munch on biscuits, scones with whipped cream, and cucumber sandwiches while exchanging thoughts and ideas on their law practices. Giaccia says the afternoon teas bring people together who otherwise would have little professional interaction because of their different legal practices. While there is some intangible benefit to the camaraderie of these oh-so civilized interludes, Giaccia says they also help attorneys from different disciplines create a potential for cross-selling their areas of expertise. “It’s a terrific benefit to the firm for a very minimal effort,” Giaccia says. Plus, he adds jokingly, “It’s a great way to get some caffeine in us to get through the afternoon and be more productive!” Whether a perk like this would actually attract attorneys to a firm is a bit more questionable. “A third-year law student looking at firms may not think she’ll ever have a cup of decaffeinated Earl Grey at a lawyers’ afternoon tea, but the fact that a firm has such an event might get a person interested if they’re looking for a firm that’s trying to sell their environment as civilized,” says recruiter Sitcov. BOCCE, ANYONE? No, you’re not in Rome, but there is a rooftop bocce court in the nation’s capital. Bocce, the Italian lawn bowling game, can be found on the top floor of Venable’s Seventh Street offices, where they moved in the fall of 2003. If you’re not familiar with bocce, imagine a clay tennis court about the size of a shuffleboard deck. Venable’s D.C. managing partner William Coston says the bocce idea grew out of a desire to promote a culture of community within the firm. “When we moved into our new space in the old Hecht’s department store, we wanted to do something memorable that a maximum number of people could enjoy,” says Coston. “The best space in the building is the terrace. We wanted to have a design that would make it more enjoyable and interactive than just putting out a few tables and chairs.” Plus, Coston says there was really no out-of-pocket cost to the firm because the bocce court’s construction was included in the builder’s allowance for certain features. But why bocce instead of something else? Coston says they thought of bocce because it’s a social game that’s easy for just about everyone to learn, and you don’t need to be a great athlete to play. Even though the bocce court has been around for less than a year, Coston says hundreds have played during the workday or at firm events, including a recent political fund-raiser. In addition, Coston thinks it’s a good marketing tool. “In law marketing, you want to be memorable. It’s all about branding. The more you stand out, the better people will remember you,” says Coston. “The bocce court is a one-of-a-kind amenity, and we believe it will lead people to believe Venable is one of a kind in all aspects of its practice.” One public relations consultant who specializes in advising law firms on branding says that while a bocce court might be a nice amenity for employees, it doesn’t really work as branding. “Bocce probably isn’t going to make people think of the services offered by a law firm,” says Richard Levick of Levick Strategic Communications. “It’s a nice thing to offer your employees, but it’s not the type of thing clients are going to care about. In terms of branding, you have to focus on how to distinguish the services you offer your clients.” Legal consultant Peter Zeughauser of the Zeughauser Group says amenities work better as a way to promote firm culture. Law firms started being more concerned about creating and promoting “firm culture” in the 1990s during the early dot-com era, says Zeughauser. “Lots of people were leaving firms then, and there was a shortage of people. Firms were becoming more aware that they needed to do something to retain talented people,” he says. Providing day care is an important benefit that he says is helpful in employee retention. But according to Zeughauser, it’s harder to say whether money spent on other types of perks is worthwhile. “It’s not really possible to measure a return on investment for amenities like bocce or yoga classes. They’re really more about gestures and reflections of a firm’s culture,” he says. “People stay with firms because of the culture within a firm. So if firms can find ways to express that culture with perks, they can be beneficial to employee retention and productivity.” As for attorney recruiting, Zeughauser says, “I’m not aware of a high demand among lawyers to work at a firm where they can also play bocce. But having an unusual amenity can give a firm certain bragging rights and send a signal to clients and others that ‘This is how we show how we care about our people.’ “ Joanne Cronrath Bamberger is an attorney and free-lance writer in Chevy Chase, Md. She was formerly an attorney with Piper & Marbury (now Piper Rudnick LLP), as well as senior counsel and deputy director of public affairs of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

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