It is hard (maybe impossible) to really understand the culture of any organization without experiencing it; however, we are giving it a try below:
Committees: We have many committees – so many committees that Pat Duval has joked that “we need a committee on committees” to keep track. Part of the reason is that we are thinking ahead – as a very small firm committees are fairly pointless; however, there is a moment (usually discerned in hindsight) where you clearly should have had a recruiting committee (for example) in place, but you didn’t, with concomitant embarrassment – we are doing our best to think ahead.
The other reason is that the committees give many of the attorneys at the firm (as opposed to just a few) a chance to participate in running the firm. Indeed, all of our committees (except the management committee) have associate (as well as partner) participation. We have seen possibly the biggest lament from associates (as well as partners) at large firms that they “don’t feel part of anything” and they feel “like a cog in a machine”. Participating in the committees gives the attorneys real input into the firm and alleviates this lament.
Associates Committee: The associates committee (like the other committees) is partially comprised of partners and partially associates. We are proud to note that this committee has responsibility for such important items as associate reviews, associate compensation and making recommendations to the partnership for associates to be promoted to partner. For full disclosure, we would like to give the credit for this excellent idea to Latham & Watkins (Bruce Stachenfeld and Pat Duval worked there previously and were impressed with the way it worked at that firm and, therefore, incorporated it here).
The Wine Committee: This committee (also known as “wine-dot-com”) evolved in an interesting way. For many years the firm had sent out corporate gifts to its client of wine from a supposedly “avant garde” wine club in California. Foolishly, however, we had not sampled the wine. Apparently it was not that great – in fact, unbeknownst to us our clients had been pouring it down the sink (or worse) for years but were too polite to tell us. Finally, one of our clients broke the news to us that we were getting notoriety for our wine but not in the way we wanted. The firm immediately sprang into action – appointing (of course) a committee of internal wine-aficionados. Although it did kind of start as kind of a tongue-in-cheek idea, the committee now spends a great deal of time sampling wines through wine and cheese parties and has its own slogan “We will leave no wine untasted…..!”
Annual Firm Outing: In most companies everybody (except maybe the boss) would rather gnaw their arm off than attend a corporate outing. Well, at Duval & Stachenfeld, we don’t know whether to be proud or embarrassed that one of the main highlights of our year is our 3-day firm outing. This has historically been at a swanky hotel in Florida (usually at a Ritz Carlton) and consists of three days of relaxation and fun (interspersed with a surprisingly competitive game of beach volleyball). There is a rumor that the high point of the event is the managing partners’ speeches on Sunday night although that has not been confirmed yet. All attorneys (and their significant others) are invited and, amazingly, attendance has been close to 100% every single year!
Associate Compensation: Money is not everything but it is important to virtually everyone – certainly no one wants to be underpaid. In that regard, the firm is pleased to be able to report that every year since it was formed it has matched (or even exceeded) the compensation paid by the top New York firms to their associates. The bottom line is that we need top-quality associates at our firm – they work very hard to help the firm succeed (often sacrificing their personal lives to do so) – and we see no reason why top quality associates should not earn top dollar.
Firm meetings: Monthly we have a firm meeting to which all attorneys are invited. We of course discuss goings on and things like that. However, we also report on how the firm is doing financially (in keeping with our values, we allow every attorney at the firm, including all associates and all partners, to know exactly how the firm is doing every month). Also, we usually have a discussion of one of our firm values – i.e., its genesis, its relevance today, etc. One of our great challenges is keeping our values from becoming just words on a page in a drawer somewhere; this challenge multiplies itself greatly as we grow. Firm meetings are only a small way to do this, however, it is something we do because every bit helps in this goal.
Some Marketing Items: We have a culture in which all partners are encouraged to seek out clients for their other partners. We even have a saying about it: “Find a client for your partner today!” to remind us to keep this in mind for our marketing efforts. However, this saying is fairly useless without its counterpoint, which is “Your partner’s client comes first!” to remind us not to do what many have done before, which is put your own clients first and give second-class treatment to clients found by your partners. Okay, we admit these sayings sound a little silly, but they get the point across. At present we are pleased to be able to say that our partnership really works as a team – we seek out clients for each other and when we find them we all fall all over ourselves to give these clients super treatment.
Honor and Integrity: Anyone can claim to have this – and many have made claims to honor and integrity in the past without having even a shred of it. We here at Duval & Stachenfeld are trying our best to achieve unimpeachable honor and integrity whatever the cost. Two of our values embody this – “plain unvarnished honesty” and “do the right thing even when it hurts”. No one is perfect all the time, but we try to follow these values all the time, including both the way we treat the outside world and the way we treat the people who work at the firm. There really cannot be any exceptions to this.