Fernando Fischmann

The small steps that encourage big changes in commitment

13 January, 2016 / Articles

When Latham & Watkins decided to challenge its lawyers to become fitter, they knew they would have to offer some incentive for attorneys to leave their desks. Enticing them with charitable donations and competition with their colleagues helped.

The firm gave lawyers step trackers from Fitbit in the spring and created activities ranging from lunchtime walks and stair climbing to kayaking and bubble football, to make the lawyers think about their health. The more steps they accumulated, the more the firm would donate to the charity of their choice. The effort raised a total of $60,000 for Save the Children, Doctors Without Borders and other charities.

“One of the biggest challenges for our profession in particular is the amount of time folks spend at their desk,” says Mark Goldberg, the firm’s global wellness manager. “Which is why it’s so important to get people moving.”

Latham is one of the few law firms to employ full-time health professionals to focus on the health of its staff.

It is another way that a profession, notoriously unwilling to experiment, is pushing the boundaries. Submissions to the 2015 North America Innovative Lawyers report included examples of firms exploring possibilities, from creating practice areas to seeking input on business management and developing new-style teams.

Some firms, such as Dentons, are creating technology companies to produce and encourage new products. Others, such as Latham and Crowell & Moring, are pushing their people to encourage different mindsets and effect change in the law firm culture. Crowell has set up InnovationLab, an online tool for staff and lawyers to share their ideas on how to improve the firm as a business. The suggestions are posted internally, and individuals are able to comment or hit a “like” button to express their support.

Since its introduction last year, InnovationLab has received more than 160 ideas. Those that have been implemented include stand-up work stations and automatic cell phone reimbursement processing. The firm is considering ideas that range from public speaking and leadership training to improving new client and billing forms and dry-cleaning services.

Law firms, including Latham and Pillsbury, are also seeking to stay in the vanguard of developments in banking and technology through their new practice groups.

Latham launched a financial technology practice in July 2014 when it hired Vivian Maese, formerly general counsel and corporate secretary at BIDS Trading, an electronic equities trading platform. Her expertise focuses on technology and financial services regulation.

The Latham team uses resources spanning the firm’s financial institutions, corporate, emerging companies and technology transactions practices to bridge the divide between Wall Street and Silicon Valley, targeting a sector that includes entrepreneurs, tech start-ups, top-tier banks, venture capital and private equity.

The firm’s roster of clients includes Blockchain, portfolio companies held by banks including Kensho and Context Relevant, and innovative companies including Indiegogo and Street Contxt.

By creating the group, the firm has won new client mandates, and is getting in at ground-level with start-up companies that have the potential to provide business for years to come.

Latham is collaborating with Empire Startups, a FinTech community facilitator in New York, to host monthly meetings for the community that include incubator programmes, master classes and expert panels. It has also launched an interactive client programme that allows the various companies it advises to share knowledge and foster partnerships that can lead to deals and economic development.

Pillsbury began a similar group in late 2012, now called its digital currency and blockchain technology team, by representing clients in the bitcoin industry. The firm decided to act for young companies that, while unable to pay legal bills at that stage, have since grown into established forces driving the group’s revenues.

When the firm began advising clients in the sector, there were no specific laws on digital currency because the area was so new.

Pillsbury helped create policy in New Jersey and has given evidence to the New York Department of Financial Services on digital currency regulation.

At Latham, the benefits of the health challenge might not be as readily apparent to the business, but it is another way of keeping lawyers committed to their job and in touch with colleagues, Mr Goldberg says.

Keeping lawyers healthy “has an impact not only on their general duties but also creates a more positive environment in which to work”, he says.




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