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Partners wearing chef hats and serving breakfast? It’s just one example of low-cost or no-cost ways law firms deliver non-salary compensation to their employees. Staff retention, after all, is an increasingly hot topic among legal administrators both in and outside of Connecticut. “It’s probably one of the biggest subjects we review,” said Gail Faherty, president of the local chapter of the Association of Legal Administrators. Faherty, who works at The Haymond Law Firm in Hartford, talks frankly about the subject. “It’s not our job to make people happy,” she said. “It’s retaining good, qualified, skilled employees.” “We have to be a much more employee-friendly environment,” added Mac Perkins, administrator at Hartford’s O’Connell, Flaherty & Attmore. “Part and parcel is these non-cash things. A lot of it has to do with the workforce community of single moms and all the things you have to do to accommodate them. They have the toughest row to hoe as single-income earners.” SIMPLE, BUT EFFECTIVE Friday night happy hour is a simple, but effective, retention tool that has worked for the 20 years Carol Smith has been a legal administrator. She currently runs one at the New Haven law firm of Susman, Duffy & Segaloff. The drinking lamp is lit at 4:30 p.m. and the entire staff can help themselves to soft drinks, wine and snacks. “It gives us a sense of community, of family,” Smith said. “We share our week with each other and what we’re going to do on the weekend. It’s got a tremendous amount of benefit for a small cost.” The firm, which has 35 employees, also celebrates birthdays at monthly parties, orders pizza in on snowy days, hosts a summer outing and throws a holiday party. Smith said her firm wouldn’t normally be described as “cozy, cozy.” The partners, associates and paralegals, for example, usually eat lunch separately. But “when it comes to all the socializing, everybody does get together,” she said. As a result, when big projects have to get out, people are more willing to work together. The biggest benefit to the firm has been staff retention. “I don’t have a revolving door,” Smith proclaimed. “We have a good reputation for being a good place to work. For retention, it’s a great way to keep your staff.” Veronica V. Tiedt, the administrator at the Louden Legal Group in Hartford, is one of three certified legal managers in the state. The immediate past president of the local ALA chapter, she is an education officer for the regional ALA. Her firm, Tiedt said, makes a point of celebrating employees’ anniversaries. For each of the first four years from an employee’s date of hire, they get to decide where to order lunch from, and then serve as the guest of honor. At 5 years, the office closes and the staff goes out to lunch. At 10 years, the staff goes out to dinner. “The key is they get to pick the place. It has great bonding potential,” Tiedt said. Her firm, which employs eight people, also has “Mountain Days.” Basically, she and the managing partner, Wm. Bruce Louden, spontaneously decide the staff needs time to shop during the holidays or a reward for working hard — and then close up shop for the afternoon. The employees are paid through 5:30 p.m. “That reaps volumes,” Tiedt said. “It’s a surprise when you add that element. It’s really appreciated.” GOING THE EXTRA MILE Other popular perks utilized by law firms include: benefits for part-time employees and domestic partners, flexible spending accounts, mass transit or parking reimbursements, days off on birthdays, closing early during the summer, and telecommuting. Job sharing, where two part-timers split up what would otherwise be a single full-time position, is also increasingly widespread, as are on-site or off-site day care. Some firms also cover additional day care costs when employees have to work overtime — even when the employees are earning overtime pay. In addition to traditional retention tools, Louden Legal Group goes the extra mile by featuring support staff on the firm’s web site. Tiedt said it’s mainly done so clients know the person they are dealing with over the phone, but it has a side benefit, as well. “It makes the employees feel like they’re more part of the firm. It makes them feel more appreciated,” she said. Partners in white chef’s hats are a big hit at the Hartford office of Bingham McCutchen during staff appreciation week. “It’s just a matter of being creative � and showing we’re trying to do some nice things,” said firm administrator Paul Mandell, president-elect of the local ALA chapter. Another highlight that week is a day Bingham employees all bring their children to work. The children’s bios and photographs are printed up, and events are scheduled with them in mind. Bingham, which employs about 150 people in Hartford, also offers its employees a group plan for homeowners and automobile coverage. It doesn’t cost the firm anything and employees can save money on their insurance. Like other law firms, Bingham offers health fairs where employees can have their blood pressure, cholesterol and weight screened, and receive flu shots. “It makes people know that you care,” Mandell said. First aid training is offered and the office is stocked with an automatic defibrillator and oxygen in case of emergencies. The firm is also big on social events, he said. Halloween and holiday parties are held each year. Groups of employees also attend Wolf Pack hockey games or Rock Cat baseball games. In addition, Bingham employees can take advantage of the firm’s memberships in various cultural institutions and wholesale clubs. “We try to pass everything along we can to our staff,” Mandell said. At the Haymond firm, Faherty said flex time is a popular perk at the 45-employee office. Each week, an employee can take two hours out of their schedule and make it up during the week. If the time isn’t made up, the employees aren’t paid for the hours. Time is given without the firm asking what it is for. “It gives enough flexibility, but it allows people to be accountable for their schedule,” she said.

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