Seyfarth Shaw is putting its own spin on Big Law bonus season with a payout that is meant to be more spiritually than financially rewarding.
The firm on Tuesday announced it will give out six “scholarships” worth $4,000 each to allow two partners, two associates and two staff members to pursue an individual “inspiration project.” Seyfarth is encouraging its employees to be creative in what types of activities they apply to receive funding for, but the money is meant to be focused on health, wellness, lifelong learning or a community impact. The firm did not suggest the program was meant to replace traditional year-end cash bonuses.
The program is part of a broader effort, dubbed SeyfarthLife, to promote employee well-being and emotional health at the firm. That initiative has involved resiliency training, lessons on how to work more efficiently and community-based events. The firm says participants in the program have reported a 23 percent increase in well-being and 17 percent increase in emotional health.
Ariel Cudkowicz, a Boston-based labor and employment partner and member of the SeyfarthLife committee, said the passion project program is an effort to provide organizational support for a commitment to its employees’ individual development. He gave some examples of what he said people might propose: A two-week trip to Bhutan to study mindfulness. A trip to build homes in an impoverished country. A trip to help rehabilitate an area suffering from a natural disaster.
Anyone seeking a firm-funded vacation or lessons to become a scratch golfer are missing the point of the program, Cudkowicz said.
“Our thinking was to encourage people who had a lifelong dream or passion that would be beneficial to them both as an individual but would also let them bring back to the organization a story, an experience or an adventure that would resonate with people,” Cudkowicz said.
One hindrance to the program for staff could be that the scholarship, if it involves spending time away from the office, requires them to use their personal time off.
Seyfarth was an original signatory on the American Bar Association’s pledge to improve the mental health and well-being of lawyers, which launched in September with 13 firms. Seyfarth’s broader SeyfarthLife initiative began about four years ago, Cudkowicz said.
One of its initiatives involved resiliency training from Life Cross Training. Cudkowicz said that training taught him techniques to manage the stressors in his work day, which for him involved being inundated with emails.
Cudkowicz also practices meditation, which he said was part of the mindfulness and resiliency training he undertook with Life Cross Training.
“That discipline for dedication—that ability to calm my mind—has been very helpful to be able to manage stress as it hits me throughout the day,” Cudkowicz said.