Company: Finnegan,
Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner.

Offices in Washington and Reston.

Employees: 761 locally; 974

For many prospective students, the decision to go to law school means taking on a hefty burden of debt.

But not for future attorneys at Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, a law firm that specializes in patent and trademark work. Finnegan has a generous reimbursement program that covers 100 percent of staffers’ law school tuition.

To qualify for the reimbursement, employees must work as “student associates” while they attend law school. These positions are typically part time, and the firm bills clients at a lower rate for the work.

“I signed some checks for Harvard and Stanford in the past year that nearly made me choke,” joked Barbara McCurdy, managing partner. But “the benefit for us is that we attract really excellent talent.”

Erin Sommers is an associate at Finnegan’s Washington office who got her law degree from Georgetown University. She started at the firm as a technical specialist with no legal experience, but she eventually wanted to go back to school. The reimbursement program, she said, helped make that possible.

“For me, it was a great way to start my career in the legal field,” Sommers said. “It certainly provided the financial benefits to me that made it possible for me to have a family and do things like that outside of work.”

Finnegan also offers a chance for tuition reimbursement for non-attorney staffers, but the program is structured differently. To receive full reimbursement, the employee must get an A in the class. A Bis eligible for 80 percent reimbursement and a C is eligible for 60 percent.

This setup is “an incentive for the employee to do as well as possible with their course work,” said Dawn Ibbott, director of human resources and administration.

Terra Liddell was hired by Finnegan in 2002 as a graphic designer, but she wanted a master’s degree in business and management.

Since completing her degree, she has been promoted twice at Finnegan, and is now senior marketing manager.