Seasons Greetings! We at Above the Law wish you all the best.
See how easy that was? Sure you can get fancy, like our Holiday Card Contest finalists, but sometimes the simplest solutions are the best.
What you don’t want to do is get yourself in so deep you end up telling cringe-inducing anecdotes that subtly remind your staff that they are all your little Bob Cratchits….
This memo is from a year ago, but its message rings just as true today: partners are rich and most law firm employees are not. Look, this guy is certainly no Ebenezer Scrooge. Unlike the Dickensian precautionary example, this partner is trying to share holiday cheer with his employees. But his holiday message to the employees of a firm that suffered some hefty layoffs a few years ago rings a tad insensitive.
It comes to us out of Philadelphia, specifically the firm of Montgomery McCracken. Firm chairman Rich Scheff sent a standard holiday message to the office and shared some beautiful memories fresh from the Ghost of Christmas Past:
The earliest Christmas I celebrated was in 1973, when I was a freshman in college. My roommate (now a federal judge in New Hampshire) was from Massachusetts and I would spend Christmas with his family about 30 miles or so northwest of Boston. It was cold, there was always snow on the ground and we went from house to house on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, all over the community, stopping to see his family friends and relatives, having a bite to eat and a short, or long, drink everywhere we stopped.
See, that’s super sweet. A nice story about people of all faiths (or, you know, two) coming together to enjoy the spirit of the season and embrace family tradition.
And I love our traditions today more than anything. For Hanukkah, we always make latkes — my grandmother’s recipe, handed down to me as a boy. I’d stand on a chair next to her in the kitchen watching her grate the potatoes and onion and listening to her repeat the recipe each time we made them. I can still hear her voice telling me to be careful not to skin my knuckles and to make sure I didn’t get burned by the oil.
That’s also delightfully cute. It’s important for partners to share something personal with the office. Authority can be distancing and lead to miscommunication and resentment. This is nice.
Oh, wait, it goes on:
For Christmas, we spend a weekend in New York at the Palace Hotel, go to Serendipity for a terribly caloric lunch and incredibly decadent desserts. We see a few shows and the Rockettes, wait in line to get into FAO Schwartz, we go ice skating at Rockefeller Center, wander the streets and stay up too late and get up too early. We even get the same chocolate cake at the Palace for dessert after the show.
Um… no. Not begrudging this guy a nice weekend at the Palace, but outlining a weekend straight out of a romcom to people making between much less (associates) to significantly less (staff) is ill-advised. Stick to the potato pancake anecdotes.
On the home front, we always get at least two trees, sometimes three, and I do my best not to hit the chandelier in the foyer…. I did that a few years ago and it wasn’t pretty — crystals flying everywhere smashing on the marble floor. For $25 bucks, we have the trees delivered and set up — I’m just not taking that risk with the chandelier ever again.
Our landscaper decorates outside and she is a perfectionist — the work she does is simply spectacular, but a bit pricey. So, notwithstanding the medicine I take, my blood pressure spikes every time I see her bill. All that being said, she really does a great job even though my oldest son says the lights are so bright on the pear tree that he’s confident it can be seen from outer space.
Partners enjoy a massive income disparity relative to the rest of the firm, and it’s easy to mistake one’s own situation for everyone else’s, but at the end of the day, partners really just aren’t similarly situated to most everyone else at work. Now, we’ve had some chuckles at his expense, but Rich Scheff’s heart is in the right place. Unlike Scrooge, whose misadventures teach us to embrace the Christmas spirit, Scheff’s misadventures teach us to have an editor willing to tell you some hard truths about the risk of alienating the audience. Maybe, like in the book, he’ll wake up and this little embarrassing episode will all have been a dream.
So the real question we have for any Montgomery McCracken tipsters out there: Did this year’s holiday message learn from the past?
(The full email we received, courtesy of an irate recipient at the firm, is available on the next page….)