Best Places to Work: Downey Brand Wins 1st Place in “Large Companies” Category

October 15, 2021

Sacramento Business Journal

The Sacramento Business Journal has announced it’s Best Places to Work honorees for 2021. Downey Brand is the top honoree in the large-company category, for businesses with 150 to 499 employees.

Read the full article below or online here.

By Lauren Katims, Contributor, Sacramento Business Journal

This year, Sacramento’s largest law firm Downey Brand LLP, celebrated its 95th year in existence by serving the community with 95 monthly gifts.

Each month, employees collaborated with a different charity. The firm collected blankets and socks for HomeAid Sacramento; they gave accessories and clothing to women reentering the workforce, and in the fall, they prepared 95 meals for firefighters in Northern California.

“It’s been a good team-building experience,” said Cindy Snook, head of human resources, about the firm’s 186 employees who work in the Sacramento, San Francisco, Stockton and Reno offices.

Celebrating milestones became a theme for Downey Brand, while employees worked remotely during the Covid-19 pandemic.

One birthday tradition that originated because of the pandemic, where each employee decorated a letter cutout that, placed together through photographs, spelled out special birthday messages for colleagues, has been so popular that it’s now a permanent tradition. Longevity bonuses continue with employees who work for 20 years getting a month paid sabbatical—one secretary recently celebrated 40 years.

And winning cases are a companywide event with a decorated office beverage cart.

“We’re thinking of creative ways to have that human touch,” said Snook, who continues to check in with employees and ensure everyone feels connected. “It’s really important right now…something everyone is craving.”

Now, as the firm is encouraging associates to come back to the office, partners are also focusing on ways to keep employees engaged through a more flexible workweek.

A few months ago, the human resources team sent out a survey to gauge how people felt about coming back into the office. The results were clear: the majority of employees, from support staff to attorneys, wanted to spend some of their work week at home.

“We took that to heart,” Snook said. Employee satisfaction is important to senior partners, who know that private firms run the risk of losing young associates to the public sector, where hours tend to be less demanding.

The firm implemented a hybrid model, three days in the office and two days at home.

Understanding all aspects of what young lawyers expect in their workplace is a priority, said Snook, because the firm views its associates as future partners.

Aside from continuously updating workspace equipment and technology, the firm prioritizes communication about more in-depth issues like diversity and sexual harassment. “Everybody cares about each other,” said Snook. “Not just the quality of work we put out for our clients, but about each individual person.”

The firm, which represents clients in business, natural resources and litigation matters, is seeing results: Downey Brand continues to grow—20 people onboarded on Oct. 1, said Snook, including new associates in the San Francisco office, who will expand the firm’s natural resources representation.

“We are really excited about that,” Snook said, about adding to their team at a time when many companies are struggling to grow. “We run it like a business, but we are one big family.”

What do you do to make your company a great place to work?

“We endeavor to hire, recognize and reward the best talent at all levels of the firm. We continually evaluate our resources and work with our employees to ensure they have all the tools they need to do their best work. We do fun stuff like swag giveaways, impromptu beverage/treat carts and parties. Most importantly, we give everyone a lot of flexibility to manage their work and personal lives in ways that work for them and for the firm.”

Has your workforce returned to the office or will it in the future? How are you handling the return?

“Many employees choose to work in the office regularly because it works best for them. Others continue to work largely remotely for the same reason. Over the summer we encouraged people to spend more time working in the offices for purposes of collaboration and culture building. Although we have established target dates for a more regular return to the office, we have remained flexible with those dates as necessary. We are continuing to employ enhanced cleaning protocols, Covid screenings/contact tracing of visitors to the firm, wearing masks indoors where required and asking employees to respect others’ preferences concerning social distancing.”

Are you requiring vaccination or regular Covid-19 testing of your workforce? How are you handling that?

“Our Covid Prevention Policy complies with CDC and Cal OSHA guidelines. We are not requiring vaccination or regular Covid testing; we are actively encouraging vaccination, providing time off to be vaccinated and confidentially documenting employees’ vaccination status. We are continuing to require wearing face coverings indoors in common areas and instructing all employees to adhere to established prevention and mitigation measures.”

Have you added new employee perks or benefits in response to the labor shortage?

“Not specifically in response to the labor shortage, but recent new perks have included free snacks and beverages for those working in the office, a more relaxed dress code and continuing to allow remote work a few days a week by all employees whose job duties can be accomplished outside the office, whether or not they were permitted to work remotely pre-pandemic.”

Have you changed how you recruit talent in light of the labor shortage?

“Our approach is generally the same, though we are more actively recruiting talent through all available channels and trying to think creatively about how to attract candidates.”