Ideas from the Front

Small-Minded


Visitors to the new Charleston, W.Va., office of Pullin, Fowler & Flanagan might be surprised when they enter the building. Along with the latest in law firm design and technology, they’ll see and hear children—lots of them.

Child care was a big issue for the firm’s employees, says partner Victor Flanagan. So when the firm moved its office to a new, larger building, the lawyers decided to add a day care center and preschool for children up to age 6.

“The single biggest problem we have with our staff is parents worrying [about] or having problems with day care,” Flanagan says. “It’s often not the parent or the child who is sick; it’s the baby sitter.”

Open since June, the Bright Beginnings Development Center is a joint venture between the firm and the Kana­wha Valley YMCA. Firm employees—lawyers and staff alike—get first dibs on half the center’s 42 spots, and they also enjoy discounted rates, thanks to a firm subsidy. The remaining spots are reserved for the general public.

Ultimately, Flanagan says, the firm hopes to create another facility on its property for older children. Currently, those children are bused to after-school activities at a YMCA facility less than a mile away.

Catering to the bassinet set also made sense for Des Moines lawyer Kristine Corcoran Frye. When she acquired extra office space, she decided against leasing it out in favor of turning it into a playroom.

She says it’s nothing fancy: It’s filled with an old couch and toys from her home. She also bought two television sets with built-in DVD players, a video game console, and some arts and crafts materials. But it’s enough to keep her daughter occupied during breaks from classes and on afternoons when she’s stuck at mom’s office after school. And it’s really come in handy for clients. Often they prefer after-school or evening appointments, Frye says, and they will ask if they can bring their children along. “I say, ‘Sure, just park them in the playroom.’ They do not get it until they get here, and then they say, ‘Wow.’ ”

Building Blocks of Good Business

For Panama City, Fla., solo John Green, a father of seven, providing a children’s space was a given when he bought his own office building. In a conference room, there are computers loaded with educational software, plus small toys and art supplies. Accommodating kids, Green says, is “a business basic”—something that just seemed like the “right thing to do in the everyday practice of law.”

Janet Frickey of Lakewood, Colo., agrees. She’s turned a vacant alcove in her reception area into a play area complete with toys, crayons and coloring books. Most of Frickey’s clients come to her with workers’ compensation, Social Se­curity and disability issues. They appreciate that they can bring their children along, she says, yet still have a serious meeting that’s relatively distraction-free.

Frickey’s only regret was not being able to put together an on-site day care center for the many members of her staff who have young children and no good care options. San Francisco lawyer Wendy Bemis is already planning such an option for her firm, even though she and her law partner do not yet have children. The two are moving to new office space this year, and it will have room for a fully staffed nursery. “I am getting to the age where I want to have kids in the next 10 years,” she says, “and I do not want family to be something that I cannot do because I am practicing law.”

Bemis hopes the on-site nursery also might give the firm an edge in recruiting. “If I were being recruited,” she says, “I’d like to work at a place like this.”

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