By Amy Halpern Early one Thursday afternoon, there was a friendly knock on legal assistant Tara Fahimi’s office door. Someone was stopping by to take her order for lunch the next day. Every Friday, the law firm of Bregman, Berbert, Schwartz & Gilday brings in food from area restaurants and picks up the tab. Before the pandemic, most of the 32 people who work at BBS&G—attorneys, administrators and support staff—would sit around the large conference room table in the book-lined library and enjoy their lunches together. Now the food is delivered to everyone’s desk. There are no cubicles at BBS&G—even before COVID-19, everyone had their own office. Fahimi will never forget the firm’s lawyers “schlepping boxes from down the road” when she and attorney Adam Moskowitz transitioned to BBS&G in the summer of 2020 from a boutique firm nearby. “They were literally taking a hammer and nail and [helping] us hang up stuff in our office—they wanted us to feel welcome,” she says. Paralegal Victoria Dewey recalls the weeks’ worth of meals the firm sent over after her ex-husband died. “You don’t find too many firms like this firm, where your personal life is first,” she says. “And because they are like that, it makes you want to be even a better employee.”
By Amy Halpern One afternoon in August, Matt Bergman was finishing client calls from the deck of his 39-foot boat, docked on the South River in Edgewater, Maryland. He wasn’t on vacation; for him, it was a regular day at the office. Bergman is a partner at Potomac Law Group, which has functioned remotely since its founding 10 years ago—long before the pandemic sent practically everyone else scrambling to work virtually. Though PLG maintains a receptionist and some “as-needed” office space in D.C., “the firm is roughly 98% virtual,” says Marketing Manager Melissa Meierhoefer. Today, the firm has 125 attorneys and a support staff of about 30. Nearly 20% of its people live—and work—in Montgomery County, she says. Bergman, who lives in Potomac and keeps a small office in Rockville, joined in 2019, after two decades of traditional law firm life. He says he’d had enough of office politics and “bureaucratic red tape,” and loves that PLG’s virtual structure means less money spent on expensive office space and fancy conference rooms. “I can pocket 80 cents of every dollar instead of 30 cents of every dollar,” he says. Founded in 2011 by attorney Ben Lieber, Potomac Law Group initially set out to attract working moms looking for more flexible schedules. But Lieber, a former associate at D.C.’s Covington & Burling, says men are just as drawn to the work-from-anywhere paradigm. Today, 65% of the firm’s lawyers are male. “Back when my son was in high school playing soccer, I could go watch his game for 45 minutes in the afternoon and come back,” Lieber says. “I think a lot of people value that, and that’s part of what draws them here.”
By Amy Halpern The lobby of Bethesda law firm Lerch, Early & Brewer is a serene expanse of tans and grays, with glass-walled conference rooms and panoramic views. It’s hard to imagine the space hosting an after-hours karaoke lounge, Hawaiian-themed aloha night or a giant Jenga game. But a custom system allows the glass dividers to slide back against the outer wall. Several evenings a year—in non-pandemic times—the conference tables are stashed and the space becomes a place for everyone from partners to support staff to cut loose. Often, there’s live music and door prizes. Accounts Payable Manager Ana Lopez says it’s fun to see unexpected people let their guard down, but it’s the day-to-day friendliness of Lerch Early and its 114 employees that she appreciates most. “Even though they’re attorneys, I’ve always called them by their first names… it’s never been Mr. So-and-So or Mr. Whatever,” says Lopez, who just celebrated her 20th anniversary at the firm. Lopez’s immediate supervisor started at Lerch Early right out of high school, and the firm covered the tuition for her college degree. “The way it works for staff is they help you out with half of whatever course you are taking [so long as it’s related to your job at the firm] and if you get an A or a B, they reimburse you for the other half.” Lopez says she receives occasional calls from recruiters trying to lure her to other firms, but she always turns them down. “I’m not looking to work anyplace else,” she says.
By Amy Halpern Thirty years ago, Jeff Schwaber, an associate at a large Baltimore law firm, was assigned to a case in Montgomery County. For the duration of the trial, his supervisors arranged for him to “bum an office” at a small law firm across the street from the Rockville courthouse. “They didn’t know me from a hole in the wall,” Schwaber says of the attorneys at Stein Sperling, where he set up shop for six weeks, but they were friendly and eager to make suggestions and help him with the case. Soon he thought, “These guys really enjoy each other, they really have a good time,” he says. “And professional happiness helps breed professional excellence—I could see that, and I wanted to be part of it.” A few months later, Schwaber left the Baltimore firm and came to Stein Sperling as a fourth-year associate. Today he’s managing partner. Nearly a third of the firm’s 124 employees have been there for at least 10 years, Schwaber says. “In an increasingly transient profession, this lack of turnover is something we are quite proud of,” he says. Darla McClure started as the firm’s receptionist when she was 21. “Every step of the way they were just very encouraging,” says the 50-year-old, who became a paralegal, went to law school at night, became an associate, and now is a principal of the firm and head of the employment law group. During all that time, she never considered leaving the firm. “There was never any reason to,” she says. “They’re good to their staff…they want to see them succeed.”