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By Robert W. Denney
Just about everyone in the legal profession realizes that today's law firms face a major challenge in attracting and retaining top-quality people. Most firms have recognized they need to do more than increase compensation. Many now emphasize other factors such as professional development, mentoring and flex schedules. A new concept, however, goes much further.
Three Atlanta-based firms are providing child-care facilities for the children of their lawyers and support staff. Back in October 2001, Alston & Byrd became the first firm in Atlanta, and perhaps in the country, to take this innovative step. And just earlier this year, another child-care facility opened in midtown Atlanta, jointly sponsored by the firms Smith, Gambrell & Russell and Kilpatrick Stockton. Both of these facilities, managed by Bright Horizons Family Solutions, are top of the line.
The center sponsored by Alston & Byrd has a capacity of 105 children. With both full-time and part-time staff, it also offers summer programs for school-age children.
The facility sponsored by Smith, Gambrell & Russell and Kilpatrick Stockton, called the Bright Beginnings Child Development Center, will accommodate up to 120 children when completed. It includes a full-service kitchen as well as a large multipurpose area for recreation and other activities. At both centers, the focus is on more than just day care—it is also on child development and early education.
Like many innovative ideas, however, these facilities didn't come to fruition overnight. They involved a lot of planning and hard work on the part of the three sponsoring firms, along with a little bit of luck.
Five years ago, Alston & Byrd's HR director Cathy Benton was exploring how the firm could offer child care but, for various reasons, she wasn't having much success. Then the State of Georgia increased its tax incentives for employer-sponsored child-care facilities. This changed the picture dramatically, so with the full support of the firm, she was then able to work out an arrangement with Bright Horizons to manage the center.
The impetus for the other center came in the summer of 2004, when a lawyer (and mother of three) at Smith, Gambrell & Russell suggested the firm explore the possibility of providing day-care services for the children of its lawyers and support staff. Once again the timing was fortuitous. The firm had been exploring for some time new ways to recruit and retain high-quality people. Bright Horizons wanted to expand its presence in the Atlanta market. And at the same time, Kilpatrick Stockton was also interested in offering a program for the children of its partners and employees.
A lot of hard work still remained. But with the support of management in both firms, Sandra Moss Mallory, SGR's director of administration, and Alyson Guthrie, Kilpatrick Stockton's chief HR and operations officer, made it happen. One of their selling points was that, by joining forces so to speak, each firm could make the center available at a significant discount over prevailing market rates for comparable care.
To say the centers have been well received by the lawyers and staff at these firms is a huge understatement. The Alston & Byrd center is booked to capacity, and the other center is already almost full, with just a few places reserved for the children of the Bright Horizons staff.
One SGR lawyer, who recently had triplets, says: "I am thrilled to have my children so close by when I am at work and can even join them for lunch." Another lawyer says: "I'm proud to be working for a firm that's dedicated to helping its lawyers and staff achieve a balanced life and career."
This looks like the start of a peachy trend that will give new meaning to the statement some firms make that they are "family-friendly."