Holidays and Seasons, Small Law Firms

The Practice: It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like a Non-Biglaw Christmas

If you’re a newly departed Biglaw lawyer, that silence you hear is the absence of the email from the firm’s office manager asking you how many Christmas, sorry, “holiday” cards you need to send out this year. And if you’re in the first year or so of your own practice, I bet you can’t wait for the prize — your first shipment of gold embossed “HAPPY HOLIDAYS FROM THE LAW OFFICES OF LOOK AT ME I HAVE MY OWN CARDS” holiday cards.

Christmas down here in solo and small firm land is much different. There are fewer meticulously planned escapes from the firm’s boring holiday “party,” and there’s no more relying on “the firm” to spend the bucks on gifts for its clients and referral sources. Now they’re your clients and referral sources, so make a list, and check it twice….

Do not send out cards

Cards are for sheep. They’re meaningless. I don’t know what others do, but I ask my assistant to make a list of incoming cards while the actual cards go on some wall or ledge to let visitors think people like us. The only cards I see are the ones with personal messages. No personal message, I don’t see your cute “Santa slipped and fell down the chimney” card. You want to wish someone happy holidays? Pick up the phone. Yeah, the phone. Think about it. Who does that? Who calls and says, “I’m just calling to wish you a happy holiday season and the best for next year”? No one. So start dialing. Maybe you’ll have a real conversation about something.

Do not take your staff out for lunch

Your staff does not want to hang out with you. Not even her, the secretary who you think loves you and thinks your wife is awesome for giving her those stupid baskets of bath salts for Christmas. Your staff wants two things for the holidays — time off and money. I know, you think it’s cool to take them to that great steakhouse you go to three times a month, but is it really fun to watch them quietly and uncomfortably drool at a restaurant they’ve never been to and couldn’t afford unless you were paying for it?

The happiest I ever saw the staff in my office? The Friday before Christmas they arrived at work, were given gift cards, and told they could leave at noon and spend the rest of the afternoon shopping. Think about it — money and getting away from you sooner than expected — it makes you the hero.

Do not have an after-hours office party

Please tell me you don’t think your “office” wants to stay past 5 or 6 p.m. to have a drink with you and eat those disgusting “pinwheels”? If you must have a party, have an open house. Invite the neighbors in the building, non-annoying clients, good referral sources, and do it at 3 p.m. Tell the staff they can leave early or stay for the party.

Spend money on those who made you money

Someone put a few thousand bucks in your pocket and you’re going to send them a stupid gift basket with boxes of peanut brittle and chocolate mixed with crackers and olives? Or let me guess, you think everyone wants something with your name or firm logo on it?

Grow up.

If you want what’s-his-name to remember you next year, break the bank. Alcohol, gift cards to restaurants, rinse and repeat. Don’t be cheap. No one owes you crap. And do not, under any circumstances, send one of those “I made a donation in your name” cards. Get your tax deductions elsewhere.


In little solo and small firm land, we still call them “Christmas” bonuses. We give them before Christmas, unless we have no soul and don’t care if we burn in hell. Bonuses are checks, not gift cards to Target. One week’s pay is a good starting point.

I love the holidays by the way. Really.

Brian Tannebaum will never “get on board” at the advice of failed lawyers who were never a part of the past but claim to know “the future of law.” He represents clients, every day, in criminal and lawyer discipline cases without the assistance of an Apple device, and usually gets to work (in an office, not a coffee shop) by 9 a.m. No client has ever asked if he’s on Twitter. He can be reached at

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