Happiness Comes to Firms in Small But Important Perks

Sometimes it’s just the small things that matter.  When workdays stretch into worknights and the pressure to meet the quota for billable hours grows, lawyers and paralegals at the firm of Perkins Coie can often expect a little bonus.

The firm actually has a "Happiness Committee" that surprises lawyers and staff members with lifestyle perks to keep morale up and takes the pressure off of long hours and stressful pressure to keep billable hours high. 

In Perkins Coie’s Chicago office, members of the firm’s “happiness committee” recently left candied apples on everyone’s desks. Last month, the happiness committee surprised lawyers, paralegals and assistants in the Washington office with milkshakes from a local Potbelly Sandwich Works, a favorite lunch spot.

Perkins Coie is not the only firm creating additional lifestyle perks primarily designed to retain young associates.  "We’re in a war for talent," says Gary Beau, HR Director for Kirkland & Ellis.The benefits go beyond the laptops and BlackBerrys, late-night rides home, Friday beer-and-pretzel fests and sports tickets that are standard fare at many large and midsize law firms. Many of the new perks recognize a lifestyle change that law firms are just coming to grips with.

DLA Piper, the country’s largest law firm, reimburses employees $2,000 when they buy a hybrid car. Fulbright & Jaworski offers on-site tailoring and offers employees reimbursements when they buy a Suburu, Nissan or General Motors car.

Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, a 600-lawyer firm, offers employees a personal coach and psychotherapy.  O’Melveny & Myers, a large California-based law firm with offices in Asia, holds yoga classes at its Newport Beach office for lawyers and their staffs. And Kilpatrick Stockton, a large firm with offices throughout the Southeast, has a nap room in its Raleigh, N.C., office, complete with a reclining chair, sofa and travel alarm clock.

Arnold & Porter, based in Washington, was among the first to offer on-site day care, in 1995. Only a few firms, including Crowell & Morning, have followed suit — deterred, among other things, by insurance and zoning issues.

Some firms have come up with variations. Dechert, a 1,000-lawyer firm based in Philadelphia; Fried, Frank; Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison; and Fulbright & Jaworski provide emergency nanny services, in which the firm will find and send a nanny to a lawyer’s home.

While the perks are focused on keeping associates from turning-over, it’s good to see that many of the perks also apply to the hard-working paralegal who has pretty much the same billable hourly demand but no chance of making partner.  Finally, law firms seem to be "getting it".