Holidays and Seasons, Small Law Firms

The Practice: Closing Out the Year

For those that have clients and spend their days surrounded by real people, I have some advice about year-end planning. I don’t care if you do or do not do any of this stuff, I can only tell you that it’s what I do and have done for years. Obviously, if you are part of the (“man, I hope all these idiot consultants are right”) future of law, much of it won’t apply to you.

If you’ve made some money this year, meet with your accountant.

One of my recent posts here was about my relationship with my accountant. I hope you have one, and I hope you set a lunch or meeting in your office or coffee shop in the next two weeks to discuss year-end tax planning. Next spring is a bad time to learn that you could have done some things to save yourself having to pay Uncle Sam more money. (By the way, for those of you getting a refund, you have bigger problems.)

If you’re not desperate for cash and you have clients that owe you money, consider telling them to pay in January.

What lawyer does this? You Biglaw folks have to try and collect before year’s end, so that leaves us small guys to give early Christmas gifts to our clients by telling them, yes, you will have money for that flat-screen you can’t afford, just pay your bill by January 15. Trying to get money out of clients during the holidays (read: after Thanksgiving) just makes you the one that is crushing the client’s mellow. Plus, relevant to point one here, you’ll be able to decrease your income for 2012….

No holiday cards, no staff parties.

Cards: I think it was just after the kids were back in school when I got my first “time to order holiday cards.” Your money is better spent on some 23-year-old SEO expert. I stopped sending holiday cards years ago. I don’t even look at them anymore, I just ask for a list of who sent them, and hard copies of those with personalized messages. Cards signed by the entire bunch at the insurance company or law firm deserve a special place in hell.

You want to say “happy holidays” — pick up the phone. No, not that phone with the text messaging app, the one with a wire. Maybe you can talk about next year.

Staff Parties: I’ve written about this before as well. Fine, you have a firm with lots of clients you want to party with, have a party — but tell your staff it’s optional. Please though, for the love of all that is holy, do not have an office party for the people in your office just to have a party, or some lunch where the staff looks suicidal. And I know, there are those of you that can’t think of anything more fun than a two-hour lunch or wild party with your staff. But if you’re not that firm, take the money, buy gift cards for your staff, and give them a half day off. That’s right, on office party day, give your staff $500 each (this is not their bonus), and tell them to go shopping. Yes, I’ve done this; yes, they love it.

Referral Gifts

Anyone who thought to send you a client, whether or not you were retained, gets something. Wine and gift baskets are easy, but if you want to be more creative, consider signing a coffee table book or book relevant to your practice area. Also, nothing says “it’s the thought that counts” like personalized gifts, and don’t forget the option to send breakfast or pizza to an office (these need to be coordinated with the receiving office). People who send you business like when you help make their office happy.

One other thing about gifts, if it’s been a particularly good (local) referral relationship, don’t hesitate to tell the source that you didn’t “just want to send a gift,” but rather offer to take the referral source and their significant other to dinner. Relationships need to be fed and bathed.

Time Off

December 17 is my date. What’s yours? This is the date I want to stop working for the year. No, I don’t close my office, but I don’t want to have major deadlines or court appearances after this date. Every year, I miss this date by a couple days because there are things out of my control, but I try to get close. The way I do this is to start thinking about it after the summer. When I’m in court, or talking to opposing counsel, I listen for things like, “Can we set it for December 20?” No.

Whether or not you make your date, it’s a good mental exercise to think about when you will start your holiday vacation. We all have ways to communicate and work during vacation, but if you set a date where the obligations at least can slow down, you’ll better enjoy your time off.

The Most Important Gifts

Don’t forget the people that take care of you — the guy at the restaurant that gets you in, the server at the deli who never screws up that complicated breakfast you order, the hairdresser that gets you in at the last minute, and the Fed-Ex guy that just works his ass off. My list goes on, and yours will too if you think of all the people who make your day easier. Don’t forget these people.

I hope some of you had a Happy Thanksgiving.

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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