• Tarter Krinsky’s GOAL program sponsors employees’ activities to enhance professional life

• Firm’s aim: to motivate employees and create atmosphere for them to grow, Alan Tarter says

Debra Bodian Bernstein worried what her boss would think when she asked whether the law firm would pay for her to take improv classes.

ButTarter Krinsky & Drogin LLPdidn’t reject her idea as silly. It paid for classes forBernstein, counsel with the firm, and committed to hosting a team-building workshop put on by the improv theater group.

Tarter Krinsky paid for Bernstein’s classes through its Go Out And Learn program.

It started about five years ago to encourage all employees, including non-attorneys, to pursue a professional goal that could be achieved within a year. The firm helps refine proposed goals and then sponsors them,Alan M. Tarter, the firm’s managing partner, told Bloomberg Law.

Other Firms

Other firms also provide unique benefits, but a recentBig Law Business surveyfound that benefits aren’t always distributed evenly to all staff.

Alston & Birdoffers attorneys on-site massage therapy and a smoking cessation program;Cravathoffers private banking; andQuinn Emanuel‘s Global Experience Program provides associates up to $3,000 in travel and living expenses to work out of another firm office for two weeks,according toBloomberg Law.

But firm benefits can disproportionately benefit attorneys. Big Law Business’s survey of parental leave policies at 44 AmLaw 100 firms, for example, shows that attorneys receive more benefits than staff.

Lawyers who are birth-mother primary caregivers receive an average of 17 weeks paid parental leave. Staff average nine to 11 weeks, depending on their employment status, according to the law firm survey.

Tarter Krinsky’s GOAL program applies to “every single person at the firm,” not just lawyers, Tarter said. The firm has always had an inclusive atmosphere, he said.

Good for Business

One of the program’s “core purposes” is to create an atmosphere where everyone can grow individually and professionally every day.

“It’s a good thing to do and it’s good for business,” Tarter said. “If you feel your firm’s behind you, your colleagues are behind you, there are no ceilings, you’re going to be a motivated employee,” he said.

It’s also a “huge boost” for retention, Tarter said.

First GOAL

Hagit Marcovich-Federwas one of the first employees to take part in the GOAL program and a trailblazer for the program.

Marcovich-Feder is a senior compliance administrator and paralegal in the firm’s labor and employment practice group.

She works on wage and hour investigations for employers that are being investigated by the Department of Labor for fraud, such as underpayment of employees.

Marcovich-Feder became a certified fraud examiner in 2013. Fraud examiners help uncover business fraud and are generally accountants or government employees, Marcovich-Feder said.

Having the certificate has added credibility to her professionally, “which leads to investigators allowing me to do the audits on the clients’ behalf,” she said. It has opened a lot of doors for her professionally, Marcovich-Feder said.

If the DOL were to do the audit it would take a lot longer, she said. This way, the clients are happier because the case is resolved much faster.

The CFE skillset is “incredibly valuable” and “gives us an edge over our competition” in that area, Tarter said.

Several attorneys, including partners, have followed in Marcovich-Feder’s footsteps and earned the CFE certificate, he said.

Other GOALs

Like Marcovich-Feder, Bernstein wanted to augment her skills.

Her original idea behind taking the improv class was to to help her think on her feet to improve her courtroom skills. But the skills it helped sharpen the most—listening to and collaborating with others—are useful in any situation, Bernstein told Bloomberg Law.

The firm has sponsored other novel employee goals, including :

• golf lessons for a partner who felt inhibited about golf outings with clients;

• an Italian tutor for an attorney who works with Italian clients; and

• a research assistant and time off for an employee who wrote and published a book on legal internships.

The project is purposely unstructured and there’s no set budget, Tarter said.

And once an employee has completed a goal, they can apply for the firm to sponsor them for another.

Tarter Krinsky tries to support the employees to make their goals work. If someone needs to leave a little early to get to a class, for example, the firm will pay them for the time they would have worked, he said.

Ultimately, the firm may lose some employees who have gained a new skill set. But then you “have a friend out in the marketplace,” Tarter said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Melissa Heelan Stanzione in Washington atmstanzione@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens atjkamens@bna.com