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Wednesday night is Yoga night at the New York office of White & Case. On Thursday nights, attorneys and staff practice Tai Chi in the cafeteria. Pilates and Tae-bo may be next. Health seminars and on-site monitoring of cholesterol, blood pressure and weight are also offered in the 1,700-lawyer firm’s wellness program, which kicked off in September. The firm says more than two-thirds of its employees have participated so far. “It’s one of the most well-received programs we’ve ever had,” said firm chairman Duane Wall. Though not uncommon in the corporate environment, wellness programs have been relatively slow to arrive in the high-pressure, time-sensitive world of corporate law firms. But with obesity now considered a major public health issue, and diets like Atkins and South Beach garnering enormous media attention, many firms have decided to put employee fitness on their agendas. Washington, D.C.’s Arnold & Porter recently launched an incentive program that will pay associates and staff members a $200 bonus at the end of the year if they have exercised about three times a week over the year. The firm also holds health and fitness fairs and is looking into on-site fitness activities. James Sandman, Arnold & Porter’s managing partner, said his firm was always looking for ways to enhance benefits as a means of attracting and retaining employees. “There’s a higher sensitivity to the competition for talent,” he said. “These are quality-of-life issues.” In the long run there is also hope that encouraging fitness among employees will lower health insurance costs. Suzanne Wamba, the benefits director of White & Case, said the firm spent $11 million on health insurance in 2003, and it just saw its premiums rise 30 percent. Wamba would only describe the cost of the firm’s wellness program as a “six-figure sum.” The hope, she said, was that greater physical well-being would lead firm employees to rely less on prescription drugs, a major factor in insurance costs. Weight control is a significant part of all such programs, and Wall said his own 25-pound weight loss from last spring spurred him to look at fitness programs for firm employees. White & Case will pay Weight Watchers program fees for any employee who meets targeted weight-loss goals. HEAVY DEMAND Michael Sullivan, the chief administrative officer of Pittsburgh-based Kirkpatrick & Lockhart, said that demand for weight-loss assistance was one of the reasons the firm has decided to proceed with establishing a wellness program. The firm is now circulating questionnaires for lawyers to choose activities for the program’s rollout in the fall. “Coming from a place like Pittsburgh, it’s probably even more of an issue than on the coasts,” said Sullivan, referring to the abundance of ample waistlines in the 740-lawyer firm’s home office. Medical programs like on-site cholesterol and blood pressure monitoring also get high marks from participants, especially for convenience. “It’s stuff that you really wouldn’t remember if you had to do it yourself,” said Judith Levine, a third-year associate at White & Case. Kenneth G. Standard, the president-elect of the New York State Bar Association and a special counsel in the New York office of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, has written and spoken extensively on quality of life within the legal profession. He said health and fitness programs at law firms made sense because the practice has become more demanding and stressful in recent years. But Standard said he had mixed feelings about firm programs. “It’s an interesting message that the firm has some concern about their basic, most valuable resources,” he said, “but it also says people work so hard the firm needs to remind them to take care of themselves.”

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