The Benchmark: Cross Gunter Witherspoon & Galchus Putting People First Into Practice

by Arkansas Business Staff  on Monday, Sep. 23, 2013 12:00 am  

Jess Sweere, Amber Bagley, Missy Duke, Donna Galchus, Cindy Kolb, Steve Bingham, Rick Roderick of Cross Gunter Witherspoon & Galchus.

The law firm of Cross Gunter Witherspoon & Galchus focuses on places to work with most of its clientele. It guides businesses and employers through the legal labyrinths of workplace issues such as union matters, discrimination, compensation and immigration status.

Recognizing that they should practice what they regularly preach and defend, the offices of CGWG decided a decade ago that their workplace culture needed to be different and reflect their values. “We found,” says attorney and managing director Richard Roderick, “that the same things we believe in here in our firm are the kind of things we’re advising our clients on as far as having good employer relations go.”

The changes made at the three branches – in Little Rock, Fort Smith and Springdale –transformed CGWG into looking nothing like the stereotype of your typical law firm.

One of the first differences one notices is the team attitude, shown even in the way the office is physically organized. “It’s not like someone works off in their cubicle or their office and nobody ever sees them,” says Roderick. “I can walk through many a law firm and all you see are closed doors.

“You can walk through our office right now, and it would be rare for you to see a closed door. That’s just our culture.”

Roderick also emphasizes that “the team” includes all staffers — attorneys, paralegals and directors. “We stop and talk to one another,” Roderick says. “If there’s a problem in one area because someone is gone for the day, someone else is always close by who’s going to cover for them. Everybody knows that.”

CGWG also does things differently in the way it makes money — a sensitive issue at most law firms — with billing practices that charge clients not always by the hour, but by using a team approach to the job so clients aren’t totally dependent on the availability of one lawyer.

“Younger attorneys, more inexperienced attorneys are supposed to live in the library and crank those hours out, stay up all night,” says Roderick. “We’ve been down that road before over the course of our evolution. We’ve gotten away from that. We recognize that it’s important to have a work-life balance.”

Perhaps the most novel way Cross Gunter employees and associates conduct their business is by not being tied down to a Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.- 5 p.m. work schedule.

Employees are offered a flexible schedule, meaning they can work 10-hour days for four days and then enjoy a three-day weekend. And the time they come into the office doesn’t have to be locked in either.

“If it’s more convenient for somebody, to come on in at nine o’clock, then we’ll work with them and try to allow them to work later in the day. We adapt,” says Roderick.

Roderick says it all goes back to the firm’s objectives being accomplished by a team effort. “We really let the employees tell us how they thought they might make it work,” he says.

The flexible scheduling was first noticed by CGWG at one of its client’s offices. But the initiative and implementation has come from the firm’s employees.

“We said, ‘If we’re going to make it work, every-body has to be willing to be flexible,’ ” Roderick says.

The way CGWG has conducted its business has been recognized with citations and merit awards. The firm was honored in 2012 with the Alfred P. Sloan Award for Excellence in Workplace Effectiveness and Flexibility. CGWG was also recognized last year by the American Psychological Association as one of nine entities to earn a Best Practice Honor, a repeat of a similar honor in 2011.

CGWG has also received recognition at home, garnering the Ambassador Award in 2011 at the Governor’s Work-Life Balance Awards. And in 2007, Arkansas Business recognized the firm with a Business of the Year award in the Category II division.

“We’re not an eat-what-you-kill law firm,” says Roderick. “We pass work around together. It goes to what we stand for and what we represent.”

Fitting In

Having an office in one of the most bustling parts of Little Rock is helpful for Cross Gunter Witherspoon & Galchus in getting out into the community, but its location adjacent to the Museum of Discovery doesn’t lend itself very well to expansion.

But it’s that tight space that has led to some creativity in making the workplace more comfortable.

Business manager Julia Strickland says one of the firm’s goals is to not offer “cookie-cutter” type benefits that no one will use. So during an employee meeting, the idea of having a fitness center came up. But how do you accomplish that when the installation cost isn’t beneficial and besides, there isn’t any space anyway?

“Since there wasn’t a workout facility or some type of gym nearby, we came up with the idea of the gym across the street at the Marriott Courtyard,” says Strickland.

After an agreement with the hotel was made, the law firm employees now had a gym they can utilize almost any time they want.

The law offices did see one expansion: a new shower. Not only can staff refresh themselves in a familiar environment after workouts, but it’s also there for any worker who wants to save gas and bike to work.



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