Top Workplaces: Small winner Kramer Rayson builds workplace where employees 'stick together'

Taking on a legal case takes a team, so you'd better like the players and the culture. Everyone plays an important role at Kramer Rayson LLP, attorney Brandon Morrow told Knox News, and that's what produces results. "There are certain things that my assistant and the paralegals do that I cannot do," he said. "I rely on them day in and day out." This team effort has paid off in big ways.

In its sixth consecutive year on the Top Workplaces list, the 48-person law firm has placed first this year in the small business category. Situated on the 25th floor of First Horizon Plaza on Gay Street, the private firm specializes in labor and employment law, corporate and commercial law, insurance defense, health care law, litigation and immigration. "We want everybody to understand that we really do appreciate their efforts," managing partner Jackson Kramer said. "And that we care about them as people and not just as employees."

While working for a different Knoxville firm, legal assistant Linda Crisp heard from a friend that Kramer Rayson had an open position. She was encouraged to apply and took the job. Almost 17 years later, she couldn't be happier. "If I found this job 35 years ago, I'd still be here," she said.

Multiple employees in the Top Workplaces survey said their colleagues make Kramer Rayson a special place to work. The company values everyone, Morrow said, "from our runners who are college students all the way up to our senior partners." Sure, it's been said a million times, but Crisp, Kramer and Morrow agree the people at Kramer Rayson feel like family. "We're happy when things are good. And when things are bad, we all stick together," Crisp said. "You tough it out through the good, the bad and the ugly. It's kind of like you're married."

In 2011, Crisp had a total knee replacement. She was nervous and had to take eight weeks off to recover. But even though she wasn't in the office, her work family was there to take care of her. Twice a week for four weeks, Crisp said, co-workers brought her food. "I was just blown away," Crisp said. "You don't normally get that. Maybe the first week, but four weeks ... that's the way they treat everybody."

The firm also shows it cares through the benefits it offers. All employees receive family health care, life insurance and a 401(k) savings plan. But the smaller benefits are equally important in making Kramer Rayson a special place to work, from free downtown parking to monthly catered lunches to family outings at Smokies Stadium for minor league baseball. "It's important to us to make sure that people feel that they have been treated very fairly," Kramer said.

Not just anyone can join a family, and a work family is no different. When it comes to hiring attorneys, Kramer said, the firm identifies and interviews promising candidates fresh out of school. The firm then offers a summer job to determine whether the hire fits in with company culture. Part of that culture is keeping things light, especially considering the emotional weight that comes with working case after case. "If you're goofing off or laughing, you won't get in trouble," Crisp said. "If someone's at your desk, they don't come by and say, 'Don't you have something to do?' Some places do that."

The informal nature of the office, as Morrow describes it, makes it easy to strike up a casual conversation with a coworker or to get advice on a legal matter. A lot of times, Morrow said, questions come up outside his expertise. "I am fortunate enough to be able to walk down the hall and speak with one of my law partners or one of our associates about a particular issue that they know better than I do," he said.

Co-workers even socialize outside work and, once a year, attorneys and their spouses go on a retreat. "It's a great chance to reconnect. Very little business gets done," Morrow said. "(It's) an opportunity for us just to come together, spend time and fellowship with one another — (to) catch up on how the kids are doing, what vacations have you all had. It is a truly enjoyable experience."

If "like a family" is overused, then "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" could be the cliché of all clichés. But both ring true for employees at Kramer Rayson. Kramer has worked at the firm 39 years, and he said the culture has remained largely the same during that time — and since the partnership launched in 1948, for that matter. The big difference? More computers. "Obviously, technology has played a big role in the way we approach our jobs and how we do our job," Kramer said. "But the interpersonal connections, I think, are still the most important part of this."

The firm doesn't have a lot of turnover, Kramer said. When people are hired they tend to stay for the long haul. Morrow has been at the firm since 2010, spending two years as a legal assistant and 10 years as an attorney. It's the only place he's worked since graduating. It's the place Crisp stayed the longest. She delayed her retirement to mid-May for the firm, just a few days after her interview with Knox News. Crisp, Kramer and Morrow can talk all day about why they love working at Kramer Rayson, but actions speak louder than words. Crisp couldn't help but tear up while talking about the work family she's leaving behind. She feels needed and appreciated at Kramer Rayson. Among her colleagues, she's far from alone in that regard.

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