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“Come on, Mom,” pleads Will Benton. The towheaded 2-year-old is eager to go to The Children’s Campus at Alston & Bird, the firm where his mother Mary T. Benton is a partner. He’s not the only one keen to get there. Wildly popular, the Alston day-care program hosts approximately 80 infants and preschoolers year-round, and it accommodates periodic drop-in or backup care for 40 more children. With classes in music, art, science, computers, language and other subjects, the facility “really is a learning environment, as opposed to babysitting,” Benton said. She and her husband — Terrell William Benton III, a partner at Hall, Booth, Smith & Slover — are impressed by “the things that [Will is] learning, the kids who he’s playing with, the experiences that he’s having.” Despite its popularity, The Children’s Campus remains the only day-care facility sponsored by an Atlanta law firm. However, that could be changing soon. While smaller firms still find on-site day care infeasible, at least three large firms are seriously considering adding it to their benefits. Why have they waited, and why aren’t more firms following suit? TAX INCENTIVES BOOST POSSIBILITIES Opened in October 2001, The Children’s Campus operates specifically for the children of Alston’s 956 attorneys and staff. In addition to providing daily child-care services, the facility is home to holiday and summer camps, enrolling up to 75 school-age children in each. Alston’s decision to open its facility was influenced in large part by an increase in Georgia’s corporate-sponsored child-care tax incentive, according to Cathy A. Benton, chief human resources manager for the firm. “Changes that became effective in 1999 allow employers who provide on-premises child-care facilities for their employees to recover 75 percent of their operating costs, as long as they run the center, and 100 percent of their capital costs over a 10-year period through credits against their Georgia income tax liability,” explained John L. Coalson Jr., a tax partner at Alston. The Children’s Campus is situated within walking distance of the Alston office. The firm leased 15,000 square feet in a nearby office building and invested $4 million to configure and outfit the space. The facility — which accommodates up to 103 children on a full-time basis — features an outdoor play area, nine classrooms, a full-service kitchen and a large multipurpose room used for recreation, holiday events and enrichment activities such as singalongs with visiting musicians. “The space is top of the line,” Mary Benton said. Will’s bright classroom features a loft and a dress-up area, where he likes to wear what he calls the “firehouse outfit.” He also likes playing on the classroom computer. Twice weekly Will and his classmates head outside to romp on toddler-sized playground equipment that, with the help of garden hoses, becomes a miniature water park in summer. Inside they finger-paint, dance and sing, and they even have “snowball” fights with paper balls. Older children enjoy karate and tap dancing classes, gymnastics lessons and field trips. The facility has a $2 million annual operating budget, according to Cathy Benton. That includes the firm’s operating contract with Bright Horizons Family Solutions, the Watertown, Mass.-based company that also operates child-care centers for Chick-fil-A, Georgia-Pacific and other Atlanta corporations. Bright Horizons staffs the Alston facility with 35 personnel, most of whom have completed training in child development. In addition to providing a stimulating environment for its enrollees, The Children’s Campus is convenient for parents. “I get to bring my daughter to school,” said Glenn G. Patton, who became a partner this year. “I usually read her one story, and she walks me to the door and says, ‘Bye, Dad!’ There’s no separation anxiety.” The facility’s extended hours, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., also are convenient, he noted. DAY CARE BOOSTING RETENTION Alston contributes approximately $500,000 annually to its day-care program, while parents of enrolled children pay the remaining costs. Per child costs range from $570 monthly for preschool care to $730 monthly for infant care, and holiday camps cost $150 per week. Three meals and two snacks, prepared on site, are included. The firm’s investment pays off in employee satisfaction and recruitment, according to Cathy Benton. “Although the firm does subsidize [the program], it is a real investment for the future because of our ability to retain such good lawyers,” she said. “This gives them the chance to be able to balance their careers with their family needs,” she explained. “We don’t have exact statistics, but we believe that we have definitely retained a few lawyers each year who may [otherwise] have left the organization because of their struggle with balance. That’s huge for us.” Studies show that replacing one associate costs firms approximately $200,000, Benton said. Savings from the retention of just three associates annually exceeds the firm’s day-care subsidy. The facility attracts talent, too. Since the program began, “we’ve received twice as many r�sum�s and applications from lawyers and staff,” Benton noted. “Almost every one of them will reference the fact that we have a child-care facility in their letters. “This generation coming out of law school is really interested in balancing work and family,” she added. The Children’s Campus “proves that the firm wants our lawyers and our employees to have a life and that family is important.” SPACE POSES BIG HURDLE Although on-site day care can give firms a competitive edge in attracting and retaining attorneys, only a handful of Atlanta firms are seriously weighing the possibility of providing it. Often, availability of space is the main obstacle, even overshadowing hefty monetary requirements. Powell, Goldstein, Frazer & Murphy is moving to a larger space this October, making it possible for the firm to consider providing on-site day care. Noting that the firm has only begun to evaluate the child-care benefit, Warren M. Krompf, chief human resources officer for Powell, Goldstein, declined to offer additional details. However, he noted that the addition would enhance the firm’s competitiveness. “We are very much a work/life type of operation, and we know that in this day and age there are two-income families, and we’re very sensitive to that,” Krompf said. “We just know that when you offer good benefits, it makes you more attractive, and you retain your folks.” “The whole issue of life balance is important,” agreed Alyson Guthrie, director of human resources for Kilpatrick Stockton. She noted that, while her firm has looked for ways to develop on-site child care, limited space has prevented it from realizing that goal. “Believe me, if I had a magic wand and was queen for a day, I would put a child-care center in our facility because we do realize how important it is,” she said. Kilpatrick continues to look for ways to provide the day-care benefit. It could lease space being vacated by a nearby restaurant, but that is not its first choice, Guthrie said. “The compelling opportunity may be to go into partnership with another large law firm that is making a move,” she explained, declining to name a potential partner. King & Spalding is moving near Kilpatrick Stockton, but Mason W. Stephenson, managing partner for the firm’s Atlanta office, declined to answer the Daily Report‘s questions regarding a possible joint venture between the two firms. Instead, he confirmed in an e-mail, forwarded by King & Spalding spokeswoman Jessica Schnack, that “Yes, King & Spalding is considering sponsoring a day-care center in association with our move.” But he added, “No decision has been made.” Among the factors affecting King & Spalding’s decision is financial equity among the firm’s U.S. offices, Stephenson said. King & Spalding has offices in four states, yet some states do not offer the same, relatively generous tax incentives that Georgia allows for on-site, corporate day care. As a result, day care could be cost-prohibitive in some locations, meaning the firm must consider the equity of offering the benefit in only some of its offices. SMALLER FIRMS AT A DISADVANTAGE While conceivable for large firms, on-site day care can seem an unrealistic dream to smaller firms. “Size is an issue,” said Kurtis A. Powell, managing partner for the Atlanta office of Hunton & Williams. While the firm has considered the possibility of providing child care, its comparatively small size — 100 attorneys and approximately 125 staff members — “makes it difficult to have a stand-alone center,” he explained. The limited number of potential users would not offset the “big, up-front investment” required for a day-care center, Powell said, adding that the benefit “just didn’t seem to be viable.” The matter is not closed, however. Although Hunton & Williams has not discussed the possibility of teaming up with another firm to open a day-care center, Powell said the firm would explore the option should it become available. Even then, he noted, available space and employee demand might not be adequate to support such a benefit or make it cost-effective. “It’s not a simple issue,” Powell said. Still, it’s something the firm “will continue to take a look at.”

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