Untangling the California legal code is like staring at a Magic Eye optical illusion. But if you look long and hard enough, you’ll stumble upon a tiny section called 1-400, adorned in simple Latin text and curlicues.

At first glance, it doesn’t look like much, but this important attorney advertising rule happens to be the name of Pasadena-based legal marketing firm ONE400. What’s so mesmerizing about this group of renegades is that they’re upending the traditional idea of what a law firm should look like — and having a blast while doing it.

“We get excited by this bigger desire to help people,” says CEO Allen Rodriguez. “We want to help law firms become more profitable, more fun.”

Sure, there aren’t any primary-colored slides or bean bag chairs in their office, but “We’ve got something much better,” Allen says. He’s managed to build a business that adds a laidback California vibe to the importance of making buttoned-up law firms cool again. His secret? Letting the ONE400 mission bounce right off the page and into the way he treats his employees.

“Some people say the work we do is like science fiction. But it’s really because of the team I have.”

Starting with a decent wage

The question is, how do you turn a group of otherwise normal people into a group with otherworldly powers? A simple trip down memory lane. First, Allen channeled what it was like being an employee himself, which is what he experienced for most of his career in the legal industry. This simple exercise put him in the right mindframe to help him figure out what his own team might need to be successful.

You don’t need a lot of money. You just need a little creativity and a willingness to try things out for the people you work with.

Allen believes that right from the start, employees have to feel healthy and financially stable enough to successfully do their jobs. In practical terms, this means that employers need to dole out a fair living wage, or in other words, an amount that lets people maintain a quality standard of living. When ONE400 began to pull in more cash, Allen was able to lay down an even tighter foundation by mixing in performance-based bonuses. “The more you earn, the more your team should earn,” he says. Don’t look at compensation and benefits as strictly monetary, he advises, because people will become more loyal, do better work, and feel more fulfilled when their basic needs are met. “You’ll find that you’ll get back every penny and then some.”

Benefits, no fine print

Okay, we know what you might be thinking. Unless you’re Warren Buffett, it isn’t so easy to roll out an all-you-can-eat benefits buffet for your team. Hey, when Allen first began the company, it was really hard to think about offering benefits beyond actually paying people. “But you get to do more once you experience success,” he says. So he introduced health benefits gradually, as he could afford them.

If you’re still early into your business, there are ways to offer other perks, like a medical plan with a low deductible, along with dental and vision insurance (which can be fairly inexpensive when you crunch the numbers). According to Allen, you shouldn’t forget that in the beginning your situation is just temporary. And he was right. “Now, I can support my family and help other people support their families too.”

Getting creative with perks

Once the health and financial layers were laid down, Allen spun up more ways to show his team that he appreciated them. Today, he offers perks like commuter benefits to help offset the cost (and terror) of braving LA traffic. It can be used for parking, the train, some elaborate unicycle — basically any mode of transportation that helps people get to work. Another ONE400 benefit is unlimited PTO, which sounds startup-y, but it’s been a great way to light up the idea of individual freedom, an integral part of their company mission. Director of Digital Marketing, Virginia Ochi, describes it as “the freedom to have personal responsibility — the freedom to fail, to find your own way.”

The icing on the benefits cake? Allen gives everyone a travel stipend of $1,000 once people hit their one-year anniversary. According to him, what it costs is nothing compared to what people get out of it.

You can create your ideal job here.

L&D, small company style

As Virginia describes, everyone at ONE400 is a “tinkerer.” It’s the philosophy that there’s always room to adjust, edit, and play with how things have been done. “A coworker might come to me and say, ‘Let’s fiddle with it.’” The term “tinkerer” comes from the Dota 2 video game character who’s always upgrading his abilities to become stronger, explains Virginia. “That’s basically us.”

Yes, Virginia loves video games, but it also shows just how important education is at ONE400. And it doesn’t have to cost an arm, leg, or any other body part. Throughout the year, employees conduct “lunch ’n learns” where they teach the rest of the team their specialty so they can tap into their collective superpowers. They also have a set budget for personal development so everyone can attend conferences and take classes that help them polish their skills. Before every meeting, Allen says, “You can create your ideal job here and I want you to be working in that ideal job. Because I want you to be happy and stay.”

Recently, Jeff, one of the project managers, wanted to up his own development by exploring front-end software development. Allen encouraged him to pursue this passion and paid for him to take online courses through CodeacademyCode.org, and Lynda.com. After every course Jeff passed, Allen found an online program to evaluate his new skills. And for each test he aced, Allen bumped Jeff’s salary up by $5,000 to bring it closer to the salary of someone in his dream gig. Once he completed all the courses, Jeff demonstrated that he understood the material well enough to wrap it into his day-to-day duties — and as a result, was compensated fairly for his new role. Eventually, his job title was changed to reflect his new skillset as well. “I like to invest in my team,” says Allen. “We all benefit from it.”

Being down to hang

Working in the legal field doesn’t immediately sound like a party. But why can’t it be? “Just because it’s a job doesn’t mean it always has to be about work,” says Virginia.

For ONE400, hanging out is the price of fresh air. When the sun is shining, the team walks over to their neighborhood park in downtown Pasadena to play volleyball, shoot some hoops, or have a picnic. A few times, they’ve even made grilled cheese together in the office kitchen, and competed to see who had the most delicious cheese-to-bread ratio. “You don’t need a lot of money,” says Allen. “You just need a little creativity and a willingness to try things out for the people you work with.”

This year, it rained like crazy in California — Noah’s Ark, apocalypse-style. It caused a lot of flooding, but it also created these beautiful, gushing waterfalls across the state. Allen thought it was important to see the waterfalls in person. So, he took the team to a hiking path in the nearby San Gabriel Valley. Everyone woke up early and spent a few hours together just getting muddy and enjoying this natural wonder.

“There was a lot of handholding and trying to get across the stream. Depending on colleagues, that sort of thing,” he says. “And we eventually made it across.”

Kira Deutch Kira Deutch is a former Gusto editor. She has a background in publishing and content marketing for startups.
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