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When Winter Storms Wreak Havoc On Employee Commute, Why Law Firms Don’t Have To Suffer

This weekend into Monday, the New England area underwent a bombogenesis… now there’s a term you don’t see everyday.

The term generally refers to a storm whose minimum pressure drops at least 24 millibars in 24 hours, according to meteorologists; in layman’s words? The storm was really strong and rapidly intensifying!

Snow and strong winds were proof of the bombogenesis that bombarded most of New England yesterday. Winter Storm Mars created blizzard conditions in a large part of Massachusetts, covering the city of Orleans with 10 inches of snowfall. However, Mars did not spare other States of its tempest, hitting Rhode Island, New York, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Maine.

New York’s JFK Airport cancelled 50 flights; LaGuardia airport cancelled more than 300 flights; and airports and Boston and New Jersey faced extensive delays and cancellations, according to FlightAware.com.

Hundreds of public schools were cancelled on Friday and Connecticut alone witnessed 258 car crashes. If your daily commute was already slow, let’s face it, Friday and Monday were the worst.

All these reasons and more are why your firm should pay for your employees’ commute. When it’s cold or stormy outside, the last thing employees want to do is head to the office. In fact, the winter months most employees would pay to stay in bed.

But, with the right incentives, your firm can attract happy, productive associates to your benefit.

Retain the employees you value most.

Between heavy snowfall and gas prices, employees find it difficult to justify a long commute to work. What was once an easy freeway drive for 45 minutes can now cost employees as much as $20 extra per day.

The ability to live in safe, cheap suburb, coupled by the additional time necessary to drive to work is enough to drive away your best talent.

In order to retain the employees you value most, offer to pay their commute to work. It serves as real-money savings as well as good-will gesture.

Move your office to cheaper real estate.

If your firm is headed into the black, it may be time to move house. But finding more affordable real estate may lead to a loss in willing workers.

With the right location, the difference in rent should more than cover an offer to pay employee commuter costs.

Changing offices could be just what the doctor ordered to revive your ailing accounting. Travel stipends will limit the internal grumbling.

Incentivize your employees to work weekends.

Snowday Friday? Schools cancelled? No problem. Close up shop and move meetings to Saturday. Have the firm pick up the tab for food and transport. Friday can be spent with the kids who are home from school and Saturday will make up for lost time on the company dime. That’s something employees can stomach.

Allow the occasional telecommuting.

Bringing home proprietary or confidential client information is a real concern. It’s why a lot of firms force employees to be at the office for all casework. In these instances, use transport stipends to substitute for telecommuting options.

Provide monetary compensation—and get creative—for traveling to and from the office with extra dispensation for rush hour, after-hours, or weekends.

At the same time, understand that some weather-related (or child-related) emergencies just can’t be helped. Don’t throw a fuss when employees call out for the occasional telecommute.

Forbidding telecommuting totally will likely be ill-received by your staff.

Find a reason for hope (and savings) to transform snow days into productive, morale-raising days. Your firm, and its employees, can benefit equally from seasonal changes and tropical storms.



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Why Your Firm Should Fear Legal StartUps & How To Compete

Millennials, the group of tech-toting, flip-flop wearing adults born after 1980, have been the subject of eye-rolling. They’ve been stereotyped as expecting rewards just for participating and believing that spending long hours at the office is overrated.

Yet, legal professionals say that depiction as applied to their younger colleagues is wrong. In fact, they may work differently, taking full advantage of technology, but they’re smart and productive.

In fact, that may be why many of these young graduates interested in law are not going into law firms, at all. Millennials are forming legal start-ups that compete with both small and large, established firms in different ways.

In terms of small-firm competition, small start-up legal services companies can’t rely on a longstanding, loyal client base. Usually they must drive business, and small firms and start-ups will thus be competing among the same pool of potential customers.

Solo practitioners be wary, as well. New ideas, better comprehension of modern technology and a young mindset are assets to these start-up firms looking to represent similar start-ups in the business environment.

Take a look at your millennial competition:

1. Willing

“Founded by Eliam Medina and Rob Dyson, and backed by some of the biggest names in Silicon Valley like Y Combinator, 500 Startups and Ashton Kutcher, Willing is looking not only to change trust and estates, but the entire death care industry. Willing lets your write a will for free in five minutes, plan your funeral and after life and then connects you with the right vendors,” reports Above The Law.

“Is Willing even a legal tech company, or are they simply using a free, automated legal service — will writing — as a way to get customers?”

Well, it’s not the first time that free services have been used to bait and hook customers on related paid services. It’s a tried and true business model, so firms beware.

2. UpCounsel

How does it work? Clients answer a few questions about their legal needs, get connected to relevant attorneys who make a proposal and budget, and then interact online to complete your case.

“Matt Faustman at UpCounsel is convinced that the law firm model is going to change and he just raised a cool $10M from Menlo Ventures to prove it,” wrote Above The Law.

There’s a lot to be said for a system that makes it easier and—ah hem—pleasant to work with a lawyer.

The two examples above (get more here) explain why small or solo-practice law firms might fear the new legal kids on the block, but what do large law firms have to lose?

Properly incentivizing and compensating this new generation of lawyers is essential for your firm’s profitability, retention and key to attracting like-minded clients. When you’re losing key talent to start-ups due to hourly flexibility, superior work-life balance, or other compensation, it’s time to pay attention.

With all this venture capital and private equity money being thrown around to legal services start-ups, don’t be surprised if millennials follow the (dollar) bill.

What can you do? Consider:

  • Specific non-monetary rewards that are certain to improve job satisfaction (flexible leave or work-at-home policies, for example)
  • Tiered compensation for new associates
  • Alternative compensation models (i.e., anything except the traditional partnership model, such as including first-year associates in the profit-sharing)
  • Reward achievements, not simply hours for attorneys at every level

Need more specific ideas? Take the Center for Competitive Management’s webinar “Compensating Millennial Associates: Customizing Compensation and Rewards for Increased Productivity and Firm Profitability,” on Thursday, October 8, 2015 from 2:00 PM to 3:15 PM Eastern.

This information-packed webinar explores real-life methods for embracing the goals, expectations and ambitions of today’s millennial associates, and how to ‘meet in the middle’ when it comes to compensating this new generation.

Plus, in just 75 minutes, you will learn:

  • Surprising attitudes millennial lawyers have about total compensation
  • Who millennial lawyers are, and how they differ from other generations in terms of pay
  • Common misconceptions and truths about millennials lawyers
  • Mentoring, evaluations, and feedback tips that emphasize professionalism and increase associate self-sufficiency
  • And more!

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For The Love Of Basketball & Benefits: How March Madness Can Boost Productivity At Your Law Firm

What links the years: 2001, 2006, and 2012? Maybe a lot of things. But, one of them is a massive underdog upset during March Madness.

Basketball brackets are underway as Thursday starts the early round of the college NCAA Tournament, fondly referred to as March Madness. And, it wasn’t that long ago that spectators were shocked and awed when a Number 15 seed knocked out a Number 2 seed team. Norfolk State beat Missouri 86-84 in 2012, which meant only two of 6.45 million participants in ESPN.com’s bracket challenge had perfect records, according to ABC News.

Now that’s upsetting.

If that score of 86-84 sounds familiar, it’s because in 2006, the same score lit up the basketball billboard for an Elite Eight match-up between George Mason and UConn. George Mason won and leapt unexpectedly into the Final Four.

Nobody saw that coming.

Finally, way before the 2012 upset, there was something similarly motivating about being a Number 15 seed versus a Number 2 seed. In 2001, the Pirates showed impressive defense as they guarrrrrded against Iowa State in a 58-57 nail-biter.

It’s too early to say whether 2015 has anything in common with these three years. But, for law firm professionals, look no further than Above The Law (ATL) for your own annual March Madness bracket.

Instead of basketball, this bracket measures up 8 perks provided by law firms from around the country. On the opposite side of the bracket, there are the top perks offered in corporate America.

“If you’re working in-house, maybe you enjoy a few of these,” writes Joe Patrice for ATL.

“But most lawyers only gaze longingly at the bounty available to corporate drones.”

And here they are:

1. Frozen Eggs — We gave O’Melveny some props for its forward-thinking fertility coverage. But corporate America takes it a bit further. Apple and Facebook pay to freeze eggs. On the one hand, this would be a tremendous fringe benefit for female associates hoping to raise a family at their convenience. On the other hand, wouldn’t this just broadcast that associates aren’t going to enjoy any free time until they’re living with the rest of the Golden Girls?

2. Private Concierge Service — S.C. Johnson has a wing of folks devoted to the personal chores of its employees. This may not sound like much, but imagine the implications for an associate. Pick up dry cleaning? Check. Make dinner reservations? Check. Hide the body? Check.

3. Sit Anywhere You Want — In addition to making some top-notch cereal that you don’t have time to eat before heading to work, General Mills allows employees (in many departments) to sit wherever they want in the office. That’s antithetical to everything law firms stand for, but there’s no good reason you have to be saddled with the officemate of the firm’s choosing. Maybe instead of gutting that beautiful library for more office space, we can let more folks work in a nice space.

4. Adoption — If you didn’t freeze your eggs, maybe you can adopt. Mattel helps out with your adoption costs.

5. Dog-Sitting — Continuing on the theme, if you failed to freeze your eggs and didn’t adopt, maybe you can dress a dog up in sweaters and desperately wish it was a little person that could give your pitiful existence meaning. Cleaning up another being’s feces is the same no matter what, right? Genentech respects its employees who are doomed to living a lie.

6. Acupuncture — Facebook offers on-site acupuncture. What better way to forget that you’re figuratively being killed by a thousand pin pricks every day than to literally receive a thousand pin pricks.

7. $50,000 Car Voucher — This was the offer of Hilcorp Energy. There was a catch: the company needed to make its ambitious annual goal before employees could get their dream cars, but imagine if a firm handed something like this out if, say, a firm achieved a substantial PPP bump? Instead of firing a bunch of people… like some firms.

8. House Cleaning — Forget concierge services, Evernote will clean your house. This may be the ultimate service for the man or woman working 100 hours a week.

Vote for your favorite here.

In the meantime, consider creating your own “in-house perk” bracket by polling your lawyers and staff. Find out what matters most to them and think about funding this year’s winner.

For perk Number 7, the Car Voucher, this was incentivized by the firm, which required a certain amount of productivity in terms of new clients and profits. Take a page from their brief by offering perks to your employees contingent on performance.

The reason economists study incentives so much is that they work. As long as you pin-point the true desires of your associates through a poll or voting scheme, there’s no reason these benefits have to be dolled out for free.

March Madness is a time for play, preparation, and hard work. As a law firm, you work all year toward winning cases for your clients or increasing billables for the firm partners.

At the same time, March Madness is about the underdog. With the right incentives and perks to competition, your employees could surprise you with an unexpectedly high bottom line.

Pump, pump, pump it up! Excel that is. Microsoft Excel can re-energize your firm’s capabilities. Take C4CM’s course and in just 75 minutes, they’ll show you how this Business Intelligence (BI) tool delivers unmatched computational power directly within the application that you already know and love–Excel.

PowerPivot to Pump-Up the Power of Microsoft Excel,” is on Thursday, April 2, 2015, from 2Pm to 3:15PM.

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How To Achieve Walmart-sized Success: Boost Your Firm’s Benefits Package

On April 15, the day Americans dread, a number of news sources focused on taxpayers’ dollars in public assistance. Specifically, they highlighted the fact that Walmart workers cost taxpayers $6.2 billion in public assistance aid.

Although this number may sound enormous, it’s nothing compared to the entire public assistance bill that Americans foot each year, approximately 131.9 billion, according to welfare statistics.

It’s not surprising, then, that employees of this supergiant Walmart make up 4.7 percent of this welfare-seeking population, seeing as Walmart aims to hire low-wage workers and targets the unemployed for its job positions.

In fact, President Obama recently told Washington Correspondent Jake Tapper, “What we have done is to gather together 300 companies, just to start with, including, some of the top 50 companies in the country, companies like Walmart, and Apple, Ford and others, to say let’s establish best practices,” which includes not screening out people from the hiring process just because they’ve been unemployed for a long time.

Although Walmart denies this figure, calling it “inaccurate and misleading,” its spokeperson Randy Hargrove does stick by Walmart’s policies, stating, “The bottom line is Walmart provides associates with more opportunities for career growth and greater economic security for their families than other companies in America.”

“Our full and part-time workers get bonuses for store performance, access to a 401K-retirement plan, education and health benefits.”

For many Americans, the retirement, education, performance-based, or health benefits of a job are as or more important than the wage. So, for law firm professionals, boasting your benefits plan can be invaluable in hiring employees or retaining high-performing ones currently on payroll.

To find out exactly where the value-add of your benefits program lays, send out an anonymous survey among your employees. Ask them if there’s a health benefit, i.e., low premiums or mental health coverage, that they value over others. Ask employees what benefit is not covered that would make a difference in their day-to-day job satisfaction.

These benefits may include health benefits, discounts to gyms or spa services, professional fees and expenses, moving expenses, income security and retirement, flexibility and alternative working arrangements, parking or transportation, counseling and employee assistance programs, tuition reimbursement, or extended associate training and mentorship.

Finally, investigate your internal HR compliance requirements, from Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to Workers’ Compensation. That way, you are aware of what your firm is required by law to provide, and which among your benefits make your firm go above and beyond.

It’s only what your firm can offer employees that others are unwilling to that, in the end, will transform your small legal storefront into a giant success story, like Walmart.

If you need advice, attend C4CM’s online event, geared specifically toward HR needs of law firms, “Leave Law Intersection: Avoid Dangerous Detours on the Road to FMLA, ADA and Workers’ Compensation Compliance,” on Wednesday, May 7, 2014, from 2pm to 3:15pm EST. The event will be held by Tracy M. Billows, Partner, Seyfarth Shaw LLP.

Ms. Billows is a partner in the Chicago office of Seyfarth Shaw LLP concentrating her practice on representing and counseling employers throughout the country in the entire range of employment law matters. Her work has included the representation of Fortune 500 companies, as well as medium and small sized employers. Ms. Billows represents employers in single plaintiff, multi-plaintiff, and class action litigation matters related to employment discrimination claims under Title VII, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), and similar state discrimination laws.

Prior to her legal career, Ms. Billows was a human resources executive in the corporate community. With first-hand knowledge of the challenges faced by her clients, Ms. Billows is able to advise them in all areas of labor and employment law including employment policies and employee handbooks, training programs, and the application of federal, state and local employment laws, and various other compliance issues.

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Why Law Firms Should Give Employees A “Safe Space” To Discuss Salary & Benefits

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and are not intended as legal or financial advice.

Does this look familiar?

For businessmen or law firm professionals, the number of disclaimers, italicized provisos, or policy clarifications read on an average day can’t be counted on a single hand.

Sadly, employees learn to ignore the fine print. But, when it comes to understanding (or writing) a productive employee manual, it’s time to put on your reading glasses and pay attention.

Consider the following sample section, “Confidentiality of Salary and Benefit Information.

“Employees are prohibited from discussing their salary or wage levels and company benefits with other employees. Such information is confidential and may not be discussed in the workplace. Any employee violating this policy will be considered to have committed a breach of confidentiality and will be subject to disciplinary action, up to and possibly including termination of employment.”

Most employment contracts or manuals have similar language that’s embedded—somewhere—in type 8 font or smaller.

In fact, it’s likely that most associates already assume discussing and comparing salary and benefits packages among one another is against firm policy.

Some argue that this violates National Labor Relations Act. Read Section 7 and 8(a)(1) of the NLRA and decide for yourself.

For now, the more important questions for employers and employees are (1) Why do employers feel this salary confidentiality clause is necessary? And (2) Why are employees tempted to violate it?

The first question is easy to answer. Employers must protect their competitive advantage.

If all wages, salaries, time cards, benefits packages, etc., are kept confidential, then employees are unable to leverage this information to their benefit, to–say–secure higher year-end bonuses.

“Well, if Bob put in less hours, won less cases, and contributed undeniably inferior work product this year, then why is he being paid more?”

Law firms would be hard pressed to address every issue involving salary comparison. Mostly because Bob is an equity partner’s son. Or, because Bob has some subtle skill unseen by other associates. Or, most likely, because Bob was hired years ago and provided a salary commensurate with better economic times.

Whatever the reason, employee financial information is best kept close to the (three-piece suit) vest.

The answer to the second question is more nuanced.

First, employees are apt to ask one another about salary and benefits numbers for the exact same reason as mentioned above—employees need leverage and perspective when negotiating higher financial packages with firm managers.

However, this is not the only reason for policy-violating discussions.

A second reason employees discuss salary and benefits with one another is because law firms rarely provide a safe space to ask about retirement, financial planning, childcare, or health benefits.

Sure, employees can call the insurance agents. Yes, employees are able to discuss retirement options with their supervisor. But, what about more sensitive topics, like the possibility of expanding medical coverage to mental health, or the average bonus for first-years?

At law firms, where women are already marginalized in top positions, female attorneys are not going to ask about their options post-pregnancy for fear firm managers are already writing them out of the partnership track.

To keep associates from discussing salary and benefits with one another, managers must provide a forum to do so—without threat of repercussion—within the firm.

So, here are a few ways to obtain a balanced competitive advantage between firm employers and employees:

  1. When it comes to rewarding performance or allocating bonuses, make sure employee evaluations are level, honest, and regular.
  2. Invite insurance representatives to the firm to speak about benefits. Organize small groups of similarly-ranked employees to attend at various times throughout the day. Individuals of similar ages will have similar questions and issues. Also, small groups will help employees feel more at ease to ask questions. Finally, make these round-table meetings mandatory.
  3. Create an anonymous feedback box where employees can request additional benefits or suggest ideas for office improvements. Ensure that this box is indeed kept anonymous.
  4. Implement suggested changes at least once a year to send the message to your employees that they are heard and respected.
  5. Whatever the method, newly hired, mid-career, and soon-to-retire employees should each be give an opportunity to ask controlversial questions about salary and benefits. The forum should be frequent and safe, i.e., without fear of reprisal or any assumption by the firm.

Don’t attach a disclaimer to the respect your firm gives its employees and its remuneration for their hard work.


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How Your Firm Benefits From Paying Your Associates’ Commute

When a qualified job candidate is considering positions at two rivaling firms, often the small monetary or intrinsic benefits of one can sway the decision about both.

From better healthcare plans, superior mentorship programs, to leadership options, many benefits are monetarily immeasurable.

Not an employee’s commute, however. So, find out whether or not your firm can afford to foot these costs. You’ll be happy you did for the following four reasons:

1. Retain the employees you value most.

Especially with gas prices today, employees find it difficult to justify a long commute to work. What was once an easy freeway drive for 45 minutes can now cost employees as much as $20 extra per day.

The ability to live in safe, cheap suburb, coupled by the additional time necessary to drive to work is enough to drive away your best talent.

In order to retain the employees you value most, offer to pay their commute to work. It serves as real-money savings as well as good-will gesture. 

2. Move your office to cheaper real estate.

If your firm is headed into the black, it may be time to move house. But finding more affordable real estate may lead to a loss in willing workers.

With the right location, the difference in rent should more than cover an offer to pay employee commuter costs.

Changing offices could be just what the doctor ordered to revive your ailing accounting. Travel stipends will limit the internal grumbling.

3. Incentivize your employees to work weekends.

Now there’s no excuse not to attend Saturday morning meetings. Get your employees to return to work more readily with the right incentive.

4. End telecommuting.

Allowing your employees to telecommute has its advantages.

However, some firms are concerned about employees bringing home proprietary or confidential client information, or simply prefer employees to be at the office for all casework.

 In these instances, use transport stipends to substitute for telecommuting options.

Eliminating telecommuting totally may be ill received by your staff. So, soften the blow by providing monetary compensation for traveling to and from the office—whether it’s rush hour, after hours, or weekends.

A recession leads to lower morale. Find a reason for hope (and savings) to turn April showers into May flowers. Your firm, and its employees, can both equally from seasonal changes.


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Stuck In A Rut? Revitalize Your Law Career By Learning To Unicycle (For Example)

Sometimes it’s difficult to get up in the morning. The sweet aroma of coffee brewing is just not enough to squelch the pounding in your head caused by today’s 6am alarm.

Maybe it was last night’s late hours working, encroaching deadlines, or the unexpected morning meeting that’s keeping you down.

Or, maybe your excessive sleepiness and general lack of motivation is a sign that you’re stuck in a rut.

According to Lesly Cardec at the Levo League, you might be stuck in a professional rut if:

  • Your work is no longer challenging.
  • You can’t remember the last time you learned something new.
  • You haven’t been asked to take on something new.
  • You have lost the motivation to learn.
  • You no longer feel passionate about what you do.

If any of these statements hit a little too close to home (and can’t be classified as Friday afternoon blues), then you may need to make a change in your career choices.

But where to start?

Ruts represent negative, cyclical behavior reinforced by the inability to find a point of departure. Translation? With so much overwhelming you at work, it’s hard to know where to begin.

Simplify the problem.  What is the one part of your day with which you are most dissatisfied? Tackle one problem at a time.

If you are starting to dread mornings, introduce a new morning habit. For example, instead of rushing straight to work, try reading the paper, a book, or a blog at your neighborhood coffee shop for a half an hour. Start small. This way, when you wake up in the morning, you have an activity, storyline, or cup of Joe to look forward to.

If it’s more sleep you’re after, set a bedtime. In the same way that you put your kids to sleep, put yourself in bed, too. No matter what work has yet to be completed, your best hope for professional productivity and efficiency is to be well rested.

Be a beginner. Most people derive pleasure out of doing something new—a hobby, or project, or language, for example. So, become a beginner again. Sign up for those culinary classes or take that rusty bike for a ride. Buy your first unicycle.

If you can’t get motivated to learn, then find a partner in crime. Ask your husband or wife what hobby they’ve always wanted to do. Then, do it together. For a while, you’ll be borrowing somebody else’s enthusiasm—second-hand stoke—until you discover the exact pastime that interests you.

Choose a friend, family member, or loved one unassociated with your job. That way, you feel recharged and relaxed without feeling tempted to discuss work.

Find a career challenge. Now that you’ve identified some issues in your personal life and made active changes in your activities and routine for the better, it’s time to apply this newfound energy to your career.

What is the wrench in your chain at work? Write down as many solutions to the problem as you can think of—the crazier the better! Consider the list, and implement the simplest, most reasonable solution (after all, you do still work at a law firm, not the zoo).

Next, become a beginner. Learn about new features of your online legal research program, e-discovery software, legal apps for the iPhone or iPad, and other gadgetry. Sign up for a legal technology, innovation, or leadership conference.

At work, you’ve now solved one problem and started something new. How does that feel?

Hopefully small steps in the right direction will get you out of your professional rut. And, by improving your habits and lifestyle at home first, you may rekindle passion for your career without any professional changes at all.

Nonetheless, ameliorating aspects of your personal life will certainly help motivate you to improve your professional one, and to find a perfect balance between the two.


Interested in ideas to increase the firm’s profits as well as employee satisfaction? Try CCM’s Worklife Flexibility CD Box Set, which combines two of its most popular programs into one complete and invaluable collection, featuring: Flextime Strategies that Boost Productivity and Your Bottom Line and Telecommuting: Protect Company Interests and Increase Employee Satisfaction.

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