Biglaw, Holidays and Seasons, Midsize Firms / Regional Firms, Money, Paralegals, Reader Polls, Secretaries / Administrative Assistants, Shopping, Shopping For Others, Small Law Firms

Holiday Gifts for Your Secretary / Administrative Staff: Open Thread

If you still need to do holiday shopping for a lawyer or law student in your life, we’ve got you covered. Just check out our ATL Holiday Gift Guide (sponsored).

What about holiday gifts for secretaries or administrative assistants? In the past week or so, our lawyer readers have been writing to us seeking guidance.

With all due respect to Marin’s hilarious list, secretaries do not want “scented candles, Josh Groban CDs, or Cirque du Soleil tickets.” They want straight cash, homey.

But how much cash should you give? And what, if anything, should you give to paralegals and other support staff you work with? Let’s discuss, then take a few polls at the end….

We’ll start with secretaries (who haven’t had an easy year, based on the epidemic of secretarial layoffs sweeping through Biglaw). You should give them cash or a cash equivalent, like an AmEx or Visa gift card. As a legal secretary once quipped, “if you decide on giving gift certificates [to specific stores], I sincerely hope your next bonus will be paid in the same currency.”

As for amount, the rule of thumb in New York — as we’ve discussed here and here — is to take your seniority year and multiply by $100. So if you’re a third-year associate, for example, give your secretary $300. Partners, you’re probably talking four figures (but you can afford it).

In non-NYC markets, gifts tend to be smaller. Here is what we wrote back in 2008 (but perhaps adjustment is needed for inflation): “For those outside of New York, your little gift bundle of holiday joy can stay in the $100-250 range, with junior associates giving about $100, mid-levels giving about $150, and senior associates giving $200+.”

Do people actually follow these rules of thumb? Some readers seem to find the amounts high. Here are the results from our 2011 reader poll (but note that this did not distinguish between New York and elsewhere, or Biglaw versus non-Biglaw):

If you don’t follow the “$100 per year of seniority” rule, it’s probably safe to at least spend in the $200 to $300 range. But this issue can vary a lot depending on what city to you work in, what type of firm you work for, and other factors. Here’s some good advice from Kat Griffin of Corporette:

When I was in Biglaw, the general rule around the office was to multiply your class year by $100. (So: A fifth year would pay his secretary $500.) But this secretary gift amount is very much a Know Your Office kind of thing, because when I suggested this ratio to my readers over at Corporette, they pretty much fell on the floor laughing — but then, they’re from all around the country. So ask around — the bottom line is that you don’t want to your secretary to be wildly undergifted compared to everyone else and get upset about it.

You can also supplement your cash gift with a non-cash gift that you think your secretary might like. As Griffin puts it, you can “throw in a plant, a bouquet of flowers, or perhaps a lunch out.” Just don’t view that other gift as a substitute for the benjamins.

As for paralegals, here’s an idea we previously raised: “Groups of lawyers who work on different matters get together and pool money for gifts to the paralegals who work on each matter.” But getting gifts for paralegals does not appear to be mandatory or even expected, at least according to the ATL readership surveyed in our 2011 reader poll:

Accord Kat Griffin:

[H]oliday gifts are not expected for paralegals (but then, I would hope that’s because they’re getting a bonus the way lawyers do, but that probably varies widely from firm to firm). If you worked closely with one paralegal, consider taking him or her out for lunch.

Finally, what about staffers in addition to administrative assistants and paralegals? Here is what Griffin suggests:

[A] law firm is so much more than just lawyers, secretaries, and paralegals, isn’t it? Consider passing a general card around the office for the guys in Duplicating, the Steno staff, the Library crew, the mail room — all the other departments that keep the business running (and who can wreck your life if they happen to hate you), and possibly having one trustworthy soul collect money to eventually be placed in the card…. You will be remembered if your name isn’t on that card.

Some firms already do this. But if too much pressure is placed on lawyers to contribute, or even to contribute a specific amount, backlash can result. Here is what we heard from a tipster at Cleary Gottlieb, which takes up a collection for non-secretarial staff from its associates (technically “voluntary,” but in practice, people feel pressured to donate):

Have you ever covered the “Elf” program where Cleary asks its associates to donate $100 each for the support staff (such as people in the mailroom)? People wonder whether it is more appropriate for the partners to be giving holiday gifts to the support folks.

If associates are “elves,” then partners are “Santa Claus” — which suggests that partners, not the associates, should be doing the heavy lifting on holiday giving to staff.

Let’s update our polls to give our readers some guidance. Note that we’re breaking down the secretarial gift question into New York and outside New York. Please take the poll that applies to you. Also note that the question says “secretary / secretaries” because some lawyers have multiple secretaries — e.g., a primary secretary and a backup secretary. This question seeks the TOTAL amount of giving, to all secretaries, from a given attorney.

NEW YORK LAWYERS: Approximately how much are you spending in total on holiday gifts for your secretary / secretaries?

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NON-NYC LAWYERS: Approximately how much are you spending in total on holiday gifts for your secretary / secretaries?

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How should a lawyer deal with holiday gifts for the paralegals she works with?

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Readers, what are your thoughts on holiday gifts from lawyers to their secretaries, assistants, paralegals, and other support staff? Please discuss in the comments. Happy Holidays!

Earlier: Pls Hndle Thx: What Secretaries Want
Assistants and Holidays: Some Hints on Gift Giving (2012)
Holiday Gifts for Your Secretary / Administrative Staff: Open Thread (2011)
Holiday Gifts for Your Secretary / Administrative Staff: Open Thread (2010)
Making the Holidays Happy for Your Secretary / Administrative Staff: Open Thread (2009)
Further Thoughts: The Time for Giving (to your Secretary/Administrative Staff) (2008)
The Time for Giving (to your Secretary/Administrative Staff): Open Thread (2008)

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