Best Places to Work: How ‘Random Smoothies Day’ Enhances Law Firm’s Culture

October 15, 2018

Sacramento Business Journal

The Sacramento Business Journal announces the Best Places to Work for 2018. Downey Brand LLP is the first-place winner in the “large” category, for companies with 150-499 employees.

See full article below or view it online at the Sacramento Business Journal.

By Ed Goldman, Columnist, Sacramento Business Journal

Scott Shapiro, managing partner since 2014 of the 92-year-old Downey Brand LLP law firm, was only half-kidding when he said “random smoothies” were among the main reasons it’s considered one of the Best Places to Work in the Sacramento region.

He explained that among the firm’s popular, numerous in-house festivities is its annual Cinco de Mayo celebration, during which lawyers and staff members can wander into a conference room for Mexican food and margaritas.

“We rented the margarita-making machine every year and I realized we could just buy it and amortize the cost over four years,” he said. “So here we had this machine and we certainly weren’t going to use it to make margaritas year-round. So, instead, we’ll announce once a month or so that it’s Random Smoothies Day, and everyone can drop by and enjoy one. It’s surprising how a little thing like that can make people smile.”

Shapiro has been with the firm — which has approximately 95 attorneys in its Sacramento, Stockton, San Francisco and Reno offices — since 1994, “about a quarter of the firm’s life.” On a more serious note, he cited the firm’s commitment to “transparency in communicating” with its attorneys and 85 staff members on a regular basis as one of its key initiatives. “We include people in our email updates, I routinely attend staff meetings and we provide and encourage career training,” he said. “We want people to feel they’re part of something larger than a paycheck when they come to work here.”

He said that Downey Brand also encourages attorneys and staff to engage in community activities — they are active in the local Habitat for Humanity chapter and have helped build homes — and the company will even “fund our people’s involvement on nonprofit boards.” The firm also maintains an active pro bono program through which an attorney performs work and invoices an organization for it but Downey Brand may pay a sizable portion of that legal bill.

Shapiro pointed with pride at the firm’s new listings in the national Vault rankings — which are frequently cited for their credibility by news outlets including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Fortune Magazine, among others — as number 14 for Best Mid-Size Law Firm Culture and 18 for Best Mid-Size Law Firm to work for. Downey Brand’s specialties include business, litigation and natural resources.

Patty Bernard, a business legal secretary at the firm who first came on board in 1983, had no trouble echoing Shapiro’s praise. “I know everyone says this but the people here make it worthwhile,” she said. “There is such a natural camaraderie. If someone’s going through a tough time, everyone — lawyers, secretaries and other staff — rallies around them.”

She spoke from personal experience. When her granddaughter was 3 years old, she was diagnosed with cancer. “The managing partner said, ‘Go home and do what you have to do.’ They paid me for the full five weeks I was gone.” Bernard’s daughter and now 15-year-old granddaughter live with her. “That pretty much cemented my being here,” she said, choking back tears.

“I think what makes this place so special is that when our people hire someone, they choose well,” she said. “It matters how smart you are and how capable you are but I think what matters most to this firm is who you are.”

Downey Brand LLP

A law firm that offers counsel in more than 40 areas of civil practice for clients including public corporations, governmental entities, private and family-owned businesses and individuals.

Top local executive: Scott Shapiro, managing partner

Total employees: 154

Headquarters: Sacramento

What makes your company stand out from others: “Our strongest and best asset is our people. We empower our employees to work strategically, communicating clearly and frequently. We treat each other like family, which fosters a sense of ownership and a high level of client service. Downey Brand is a trusted employer and counselor, with client and employee relationships spanning decades.”

What does your company do to inspire employees and keep them engaged: “We focus on building and maintaining good relationships. We provide employees opportunities for growth and development through training, keeping them engaged, motivated and well-equipped to contribute to the firm’s continuing success. Employee input is encouraged to improve efficiency and productivity. They are recognized for extraordinary efforts with generous spot bonuses.”

What qualities do you look for in potential employees: “We look for people who are smart, talented, dedicated and who will work with our clients in mind. People who take ownership of their work and follow through. People who take their work seriously, but don’t take themselves too seriously.”

How does your company define success: “Ultimately, our success comes from doing our best to deliver success for our clients. In order to accomplish that, we work to attract and retain smart, collaborative, engaged employees who are invested in the success of the firm and its clients.”

What is your company’s toughest challenge and how do you overcome it: “Our toughest challenge has been maintaining the feel of a smaller firm as we have grown and prospered over more than 90 years. We like our informal, collegial atmosphere and work hard to preserve it with transparency, open doors, frequent social events and firm-wide recognition of individual and firm successes.”