By Amy Halpern When Bill Schwartz joined fledgling Highline Wealth Management in 2008, he didn’t expect the six-person Bethesda advisory firm would grow into one with 14 locations nationwide and more than 150 employees. All he knew was that the folks at Highline were more supportive than those at the huge wealth management firm where he had worked. Today, Schwartz is a managing director in the Potomac office of Highline’s successor company, Wealthspire, which is now headquartered in Manhattan. Most of the people he worked with in the organization’s early days—first in Bethesda, then in Rockville and now in Park Potomac—are still with the firm. Robin Dobbs, a senior vice president who joined in 2008 as the ninth employee, says that unlike at many wealth management firms, employees at Wealthspire work as a team—not in silos. If someone wants to focus on business development, the firm will back them, she says, and “if you just want to be a kick-ass client service person, you’re not necessarily told you’ve got to go out and bring X amount of business into the firm.” Schwartz adds: “Anybody can have a bunch of great snack food in the cafeteria...or have great office space or can have X or Y or Z benefit that can be super cool…but having people that are actually looking out for you…and want to help you succeed…that to me makes it a great place to work.”
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 In 2018, the Brown family—which has owned Aldon since its founding in 1947—brought in new management. Now, “there’s a lot more support, there’s a lot more training…people get listened to,” says Leslie Gutierrez, who joined Aldon as a leasing agent nearly a decade ago. Aldon, which has 58 employees, owns and manages residential and office buildings in Bethesda, Chevy Chase, Washington, D.C., the Carolinas and Texas. These days, the entire organization—from site-maintenance staff to leasing managers to the corporate team—gathers to “kick off” the first quarter and meets again for an end-of-year “rally.” Since the start of the pandemic, most of the events have been virtual, but everyone is still able to chat with CEO Todd Bowen and learn about the operations. There’s “more structure, better technology and a lot of transparency,” says Gina Junio, vice president of human resources. She describes staff gatherings as “parties with a purpose” because so much information is shared by management. Benefits have also improved, Gutierrez says, including the addition of “floating holidays,” an employer-funded health reimbursement account and a flexible spending account. “My plan is to continue to grow and learn,” says Gutierrez, now a community marketing manager.
By Amy Halpern Marcela Compagnet-Orellana, the human resources director at the Rockville nonprofit EveryMind, says there’s a running joke that “nobody would say anything” if an employee wanted to take off on National Margarita Day (Feb. 22). Employees at EveryMind, which provides mental health counseling and support, get nearly 50 paid days off a year—18 holidays, 12 sick days, 10 vacation days, three personal days, two mental health days, and one day each for volunteer work and to celebrate their birthdays. And taking time off is encouraged, Compagnet-Orellana says. “If someone isn’t using their PTO, their supervisors will tell them to do so,” she says. Indrani Dial-Maraj, a manager of crisis prevention and intervention services at EveryMind, often answers the phone for four different hotlines. She says she encourages each caller to engage in their favorite self-care activity right after they hang up. The self-care “action plan” Dial-Maraj discusses with her callers is part of the training she received when she joined EveryMind 17 years ago. She says her employer follows the guidance in supporting its 90-plus employees, making their mental well-being—their self-care—priority one. “If they don’t do it for us,” she says, “what example are we setting for anybody else?”
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.”