HR Feature Human Resources Management

Engage Employees with These 5 Low-Cost Amenities

Even before the COVID-19 crisis, research indicated telecommuting and a flexible work schedule were the most common employee perks law firms and legal departments offered.

Erin Brereton

Now that numerous industry members have grown used to working from home — and may still be balancing caregiving and other needs — employees’ interest in the amenity isn’t likely to wane anytime soon.

Employers, though, might find they’re facing unexpected post-pandemic revenue and budgetary challenges in the coming months, which could reduce spending on other employee initiatives.

However, as the following low-cost amenity examples prove, firms don’t need to spend a fortune to effectively influence engagement, recruiting and retention.


The majority of Rosenthal, Levy, Simon & Sosa’s 42 employees have been with the Florida law firm for a decade or more, according to Firm Administrator Lori DeMayo.

We’re not flying people on private jets or yachts,” DeMayo says. “But I’ve queried other law firms to hear what they do, and I feel like we have a really robust [employee morale program] for our size. It really helps with employee satisfaction and retention; people like to come work.”

The firm’s ongoing appreciation efforts range from sending a dozen roses on Administrative Professionals’ Day and monthly birthday celebrations to time off and a $150 gift card on employees’ fifth anniversary. Employees who work there for 10 years receive a four-person trip to Disney World, with $1,000 for incidentals.

“We definitely have to make an effort to create the glue that might more naturally occur when people are working together in the same space. It’s something we’ve gotten better at over time.”

“When interviewing potential new hires, that's very attractive,” DeMayo says. “I’ve heard from staff it makes them feel cared about, because maybe attorneys sometimes are not so good about saying great job — but people see someone else gets [a birthday or other recognition] and know their turn is coming.”

After firm members suggested Lyda Law Firm LLC start an Employee of the Month award, the firm, which employs a half-dozen attorneys, instituted one in January. An indirect benefit is that it’s helped promote positive team member interactions, says founding attorney Mark Lyda.

“The award is a public thing people actually requested,” Lyda says. “There’s no bonus; it’s just a pat on the back. It’s something that’s free and boosted morale, [and] it has encouraged employees to congratulate each other.”


To facilitate social engagement between employees, Fox Swibel began sponsoring what the 36-attorney Chicago firm has coined “frolic and detour” events about a year and a half ago, according to partner David Morris.

A randomly selected firm member chooses another employee to spend a business day together participating in cultural or other events with a firm-provided financial allowance. They later share their experiences — which have included golf, a museum visit and a trip to Las Vegas — with the rest of the firm.

“The idea is to do something fun and interesting,” Morris says. “It’s been well-received. It allows people to spend quality time together in a different environment. We’re all working hard; we, as a team, want to have people collaborate and interact on multiple levels.”

Numerous firms, including Fox Swibel, have had to pause in-person events during the COVID-19 crisis. Some, though, have sought ways to connect employees who are working from home.

“I was interviewing somebody once and mentioned the dog-friendly policy, and at the end of the conversation, she said, ‘You should have led with that!’ People love their dogs — and it’s also a symbol of believing in work-life integration and how you can bring your whole and authentic self to work.”

That’s familiar territory for Practus LLP’s 22 attorneys and 12 staff members, who have worked separately since the decentralized, virtual firm was founded in 2018, according to Co-Founder and Partner Robert Elwood.

“We definitely have to make an effort to create the glue that might more naturally occur when people are working together in the same space,” Elwood says. “It’s something we’ve gotten better at over time.”

The firm has held numerous virtual events, including BYOB happy hours on Zoom and two recent virtual wine tastings.

In the first tasting, held on a Friday at 5 p.m., the firm shipped three Italian red wines to all partners and staff. Two of the winemakers called in from Italy as a surprise. During the second videoconference, firm members, some joined by their spouses and adult children, discussed what they liked about three Spanish white wines Elwood had selected.

“Not only did we get to taste great wines, we had wonderful camaraderie,” he says. “For the first one, we simply wanted to cheer everyone up during the COVID pandemic. Everyone had such a good time that we decided to do the second one!”

While the firm’s BYOB happy hours obviously cost less, the virtual wine tastings and shipping were only about $80 per person. Both tastings, Elwood says, had close to 100% participation.

“There was much laughter and enjoyment; it was a real bonding experience,” he says. “Virtual events have been great for making everyone feel they are part of a single team, no matter where in the world they are. Our model is very different, and sometimes attorneys interested in joining us worry they'll miss the social aspects of a traditional office. They are reassured when they learn we are addressing that.”


Lyda Law Firm was able to establish a dog-friendly workplace in 2018 after moving into a coworking space that allowed animals.

Some minor logistical issues had to be addressed: a water bowl needed to be put out, Lyda says, and employees would have to find someone — potentially from another company that shared the space — to keep an eye on their dog if they were called into a client meeting.

Some now bring their pooch to the office periodically. One dog, who accompanied his owner daily, became somewhat of an office mascot, according to Lyda.

“Our view has always been people do their best work when working on things they’re passionate about and happy about their work situation. We have a lot of people from Big Law looking to join our firm as laterals; part of the appeal is the fact we have this culture. It’s been helpful in terms of keeping and attracting people.”

Job candidates may view that type of setting as a strong selling point, giving you an advantage over the competition. Attorneys ranked a pet-friendly office as the most-loved low-cost employee benefit in a 2019 Special Counsel survey.

“I was interviewing somebody once and mentioned the dog-friendly policy, and at the end of the conversation, she said, ‘You should have led with that!’” Lyda says. “People love their dogs — and it’s also a symbol of believing in work-life integration and how you can bring your whole and authentic self to work.”


Job candidates have expressed interest in Edelson PC’s high-end office amenities. Chief of Staff Kelsey McCann says candidates sometimes ask during interviews if the firm truly uses its volleyball court (it does).

However, Edelson’s unlimited time off policy is arguably one of its most notable perks. Employees in the firm’s California and Chicago offices aren’t just encouraged to use vacation time — they’re required to take a minimum of two weeks off each year.

Even during the months of COVID-19 isolation, when travel was less frequent and employees were working from home, the firm’s work-life balance commitment remained in full force — and firm members took vacation time, according to McCann.

“Part of it is the two weeks is not optional,” she says. “Our view has always been people do their best work when working on things they’re passionate about and happy about their work situation. We have a lot of people from Big Law looking to join our firm as laterals; part of the appeal is the fact we have this culture. It’s been helpful in terms of keeping and attracting people.”

Firms can package PTO options as a perk in different ways, according to Jamy Sullivan, Executive Director at legal recruiter and consultant Robert Half Legal — such as allowing employees to roll time over into the next year.

While giving employees additional time off may initially seem like a no-cost amenity, it can theoretically involve direct or indirect expenses, such as bringing on temporary help — something firms that are thinking of offering it should consider. 

An expanded PTO amenity may also not be a great fit for firms with a consistently busy schedule and billable hour requirements, Sullivan says, which could prevent firm members from being able to use the additional personal time.

“If you’re an attorney and you have that work ethic, it’s hard to take off in the midst of things,” she says.


Professional development, Sullivan says, is another low-cost amenity professionals view as providing significant value.

“From an employee engagement standpoint, when you’re interviewing for a role and also when you’re within a firm, it’s extremely important,” she says.

However, knowing specifically what instruction to offer is key. A Tilt Institute and LawVision Group survey found law firm business professionals weren’t receiving equal learning opportunities. Generation X industry members expressed dissatisfaction with the investment their organization is making in their career development in a Nimble survey. Roughly half of midsize law department respondents were unsatisfied, as were around 40% of midsize law firm attorneys.

Sullivan says some firms are talking to industry groups and colleagues about what overall services and programs they’re offering — and utilizing brief five- to seven-question monthly surveys to confidentially gauge what development and other amenities would be of interest to employees.

In addition to external and formal internal instruction, firms may benefit from a more personal development approach.

According to Morris, Fox Swibel believes it’s important to offer associates guidance in joining professional associations and other organizations that can them get involved in the community and help establish their career.

The firm also provides coaching and other types of development. Experienced senior attorneys, for instance, may help younger associates prepare to market and pitch opportunities to clients.

“We have a really good core of younger attorneys who are building significant books of business,” Morris says. “Mentoring and financial support is a key piece of the puzzle; it pays dividends to the attorneys and firm. The people we attract value that. We want to encourage people to make building relationships and marketing the firm — and their services — part of their normal routine.”

Continuing Education Course

Where Are Your Markers?

 Re-evaluating how you mark your success can make you a more effective leader. 

Monica Wofford, CSP


“Where are your markers?” is a delightful play on words that will get you thinking and maybe even making a few powerful changes. The world has certainly changed since March 2020. As a legal management professional, having little or no control over much of anything is not your normal mode of operation. There’s stress, frustration and even numbness in response to what’s going on. But what if there were a way for you to regain control and stop feeling like you’ve involuntarily entered your washer’s spin cycle? That’s where this course will get you started — it may be just the perspective shift needed during these times and all others.


  1. Describe the four most common markers that draw out achievement.
  2. Identify your main marker and determine if you still want to use it.
  3. Modify your markers while still getting credit for your efforts.
  4. Apply the marker concept to your leadership of others in the office.
  5. Recognize how to relinquish the stress from trying to control outcomes with old metrics.

1 Hour

CLM® Application Credit: Self-Management Skills

CLM® Recertification Credit: Communications and Organizational Management

As kids, we lived in a land of make-believe filled with crayons, markers and made-up realities. Markers could record a world sometimes only we could see or imagine, and no one taught us our world wasn’t just as we believed.

Maybe you chased those dreams, and your role in the incredible legal profession is filled with joy, fulfillment and glitter. But the rest of us only use our markers to fill in the blanks when we’re asked what success means. Somewhere from childhood to adulthood, markers go from coloring our world to being used to determine our success. We may still use markers, but they no longer create a colorful new reality or answers to big life questions. Instead, they tell us where we should be. In our youth, markers were just colored pens. Now, markers convey a different meaning — they are milestones of success. They show us and others whether we’ve made it. The challenge is that where we put them seems to determine our happiness.  

Where we put our markers affects our view of our position, maybe even our chosen profession, our business (if we have one), our leadership, our relationships and, yes, our progress. And that was well before the entire world went on lockdown, client flow slowed considerably and Zooming in one’s pajamas became the only viable option for connection.

The world has changed quite dramatically, but our markers have changed only slightly. Most of us are merely in a holding pattern while we wait for “things to get back to normal.” What if, instead of waiting for something outside ourselves to alter, we took a moment to consider if what we used to see as successful still meets those standards or expectations? Perhaps we can use this time to consider if our markers are still the primary tool to determine when — and if — we can give ourselves permission to be pleased and happy with our progress.

If you find yourself having rigid measurements for where you are in life or work, chances are you’ve located your markers. Success will be reached when there are X dollars in the bank or when the degree is complete. Success will arrive when Dad tells me he’s proud of how I run my business. Success will be mine when all debts are paid in full or when we have doubled profit instead of just making it. When everyone on the team gets along and respects my leadership. When we live in this neighborhood and get that kind of car.

No matter the marker, these examples tend to measure our progress toward happiness. Are we there yet? If not, happiness waits until that happens. But in reality, happiness doesn’t wait for anyone. Life moves on; so does your interest in pursuing what you once thought would produce the happy feelings — unless you lead your actions and attitude around those markers a bit differently. For the sake of your office, your firm, your partners and the morale of the team you have the privilege of leading, take a healthy look at what your key markers are and where you have them positioned. Which ones need to stay? And which ones need close examination, because you have finally realized that they are of no help to anyone?


In the spring of 2020, the world seemed to have lost its forward momentum. Agreements made were no longer kept, contracts written were simply ignored or forgiven, and progress came to a halt. Those who value the marker of progress suddenly found themselves facing an identity crisis. When you value this marker, everything’s current status is not enough and good enough doesn’t exist. The current number of clients or a beautiful office location doesn’t matter; it’s all about what’s next and what could be coming down the pipeline.

If you’re always focused on what’s next, your clients will sense it by the way you talk to them. The team you lead is part slighted, part ready to give up, part feeling not good enough and part wondering if they’ll ever measure up. Leaders often hold the teams they manage to a similar standard to which they hold themselves, but this marker doesn’t write well on most human surfaces.

So how can you tell this is your marker of choice? It’s likely you’re unable to be present and grateful for what you have. Your decisions often have you asking “Am I good enough?” and your answer will rarely be yes. You probably don’t accept or receive compliments well. If this is your marker, nothing will ever seem to be good enough to outsiders. For example: the employee grateful for the news of last year’s bonus, who then gets an earful about the state of your first-quarter targets, may begin to question your credibility.

Ambition and progress build practices; being reasonable about the speed of progress breeds reasonable, reachable expectations and confidence in your entire workforce. Both are to be considered before giving your team and clients the impression that not only is your office not yet up to speed, but that you’re looking at them thinking the same thing. Is all that progress really the only thing you’ve got going? 

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These markers are about the accumulation of shiny things, name-brand objects or anything that screams to the world that you’ve made it. But the marker of status can rapidly ruin a team’s morale. If you’re measuring success based on material things, chances are good there is distance between you and team members — not to mention a risk of outspending the revenue coming into your wallet or office.

The marker of status isn’t just about pursuing the best of the best. It rests more on the belief that without such external objects to “ooh” and “ahh” over, no one would pay much attention to the person who bought them. Blending in or feeling left out are risks those with an affinity for the marker of status are unwilling to take. In leadership, this marker will cause you to make the safe decisions. That means you may very well miss some of the most golden opportunities to excel or rise to the occasion for which you may not yet have the skills or knowledge required.

Strange as it may seem, the desire to appear of highest status — to believe success has been achieved — will set you apart from those you lead (unless your whole team uses this as a marker, too). It may widen the chasm between “us and them” and cripple your ability to see what those you lead need, particularly if your eyes are more focused on buying yourself more things.

Remember the phrase “if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything”? If you claim you must acquire status before you have value, then the marker of status is what’s keeping you from being an effective leader. And not just of your team, but of you and frankly, anyone else in your presence.


Tied to ambition and overlapping with the marker of status, the ardent pursuit of profit can create different problems. If the only metric of whether you’ve made it starts with a dollar sign, people may miss so many other factors that could be considered successful.

Profit-based markers that are unrealistic can result in not giving the team access to adequate resources, and they can breed real resentment. Spending less can result in more profit, but it can also prevent you from providing competitive salaries. Staying in search of success only measured by monetary means can also remove your ability to see people’s needs.

If furloughs or layoffs are done in the pursuit of merely boosting the bottom line instead of as a last, difficult option, you’re relying on the marker of profit at work. Perhaps spending on a team event is what will create much-needed synergy. But arguing over the cost of one-ply toilet paper versus the staff’s preferred two-ply because you’re overzealous about expenditures (true story!) is not going to do anything to build morale. Focusing solely on a singular marker like profit is not an accurate way to determine happiness or an effective way to stay in touch with the happiness you experience or convey to employees.


Bigger than an ambitious streak, the marker of power gives new meaning to valuing a title or position. It doesn’t have to be official, like office administrator or partner, but it has to provide power over something or someone. Sometimes it’s those who feel slighted by their parents or compared to a sibling who end up seeking power through approval or attention. There is a need to continuously prove prowess or ability or being better than the sibling (or whatever you are using for the comparison). But it’s a losing battle that will leave you constantly reaching for the unattainable.

In leadership, people who value the marker of power and the marker of progress behave similarly. Where they differ is when someone consistently seeks a position that others warn them to avoid, that is an ardent pursuit of the marker of power. The title has more value than their interest in the responsibilities of the actual position. Perceived power over others can be addictive, yet every pursuit of this nature originates in a reasonably deep-seated lack of belief in one’s own value.


Markers represent where we think we need to be before we can be happy — in leadership, in life, in managing a legal office, in leading a family. Much has been written about the choices we make to be happy. But these markers can still persist and make us resist the simplest of feelings.

If you can stand still and still be happy, those you lead will follow your example — not by standing still but by ironically becoming more motivated. There’s less fear, less stress and less that brings them down or freezes them in the face of distracting activity. Think of this analogy: As children, we imagined and assumed that what we drew or made up was our reality. As adults, we measure reality based on what we see, forsaking what we imagine, often believing it will just never be. We forget to just be happy. Instead, we keep our eye on the marker — that is, where we think we should be — and don’t focus on how far we’ve come and what we’re building.

With children, misplace one marker and some kids won’t notice. Misplace their favorite color? That can be a disaster. How emotionally attached are you to the markers you choose? Society may of course weigh in, giving guidance on which markers of success to choose. But the only one who gets to decide what markers mean in terms of success and satisfaction with your choices is you. Maybe we actually knew more as children — we could draw clearer pictures of what we really desired, instead of all the things we now believe we require before those things can happen. But we still have the imagination and child-like drawing skills, and as adults we have access to even better markers and crayons. Enjoy drawing your own conclusion.

Now that you’ve read the course, take the exam to earn your CE credit. Please use the information below to register for the exam. A confirmation email will be sent to you with additional details. Please check your junk/spam folder, as it may be filtered there. To register, please visit this link. Members pay $49; nonmembers pay $69. Once you have registered, please click this link to access the exam.