2020 Is Not the Year to Put Holiday Cards and Gifts on Autopilot

Gift giving will be a bit more complicated this year for law firms, so start planning now.

With fewer people in offices this holiday season, the usual routine of having partners, associates, and paralegals sign the same card and send it off to someone’s workplace might not be an option. A nice electronic card may not be your first choice, but combined with the selective use of gifts, this can be an effective way to stay in touch without creating a hassle.

Mail delivery may also be impacted, so take that into account when setting your deadlines. And the addresses you have on file won’t be very useful if they mostly include now-empty office buildings. This year, it’ll be important to have your key contacts’ home addresses, and to obtain these without crossing any professional boundaries, you should simply ask your clients and referral sources for the best mailing addresses for them right now.

Your firm may need to pay more attention to cash flow due to the pandemic’s economic effects, so getting a jump-start on the process presents a great opportunity to set a more formal budget too.

As you reach out this year, it’ll be important to have special sensitivity toward anyone in your network who may have contracted the virus, lost a loved one, been furloughed or laid off from a job, or been displaced by any of the recent fires. This is a valuable moment to show that you and your firm are there to help.

This is a particularly good time to consider comforting treats like baked goods and non-perishable food for those stuck at home. Making a charitable gift on someone else’s behalf can be a good alternative that bypasses the need to locate a mailing address. This is especially useful if you happen to know a certain cause that person is passionate about. Be mindful also of those who have been taking care of school-aged children or elderly relatives. In difficult times, a thoughtful, personalized message combined with a gift card can be appropriate.

Although shifting work routines and family responsibilities are requiring a lot of us right now, efforts to connect will be especially meaningful this holiday season.

Three Rules For Law Firm Holiday Gift Giving

If your law firm is planning to do this holiday season what it did last holiday season, please reconsider. Gift giving is a way to recognize and reward those who have been unusually important to your business by giving them one of your most precious gifts—your time and individualized attention. Too many lawyers view the process of giving gifts as yet another non-billable task that should be completed with bloodless efficiency. This misguided approach confuses gift giving during the holiday season with sending out bland, mass produced, forgettable cards.

Holiday cards have their place. When an attorney or law firm wants network with hundreds or thousands of people, a standardized holiday card can be a cost-effective and reasonable way to convey a safe and pleasant year-end greeting. There’s nothing wrong with it. But such a card is not a gift. And if you want to stand out and cultivate and strengthen relationships, there is no substitute for a gift.

Rule 1:  Gifts Are For VIPs

Every firm and every lawyer within the firm has VIPs. These are the 20 or so key people who most contribute to an attorney’s or firm’s financial success. Most commonly, VIPs consist of your best clients and referral sources. But VIPs aren’t necessarily lawyers. The firm’s banker can be a VIP. The gatekeeper who works for the client or the spouse of the client may also be a VIP. If you haven’t done so already, the first step in the gift-giving process is to identify your VIPs.

Rule 2:  VIPs Deserve Personalized Gifts

Too many firms send the same standard gift to every client. Typically it’s a bottle of wine or fruit basket. And when I’ve asked lawyers how do they know the client even drinks wine or likes the kind of wine you sent them, too often I get that deer-in-the-headlights look that is a sure giveaway that the gift was at best mediocre and at worst offensive to the recipient. A good gift doesn’t have to be customized, but it should be personal. It should show that you spent time thinking about the recipient and you have paid enough attention to sense what they like. So the second step is to brainstorm what gift each VIP would like and that would be appropriate.

Rule 3:  A Good Gift for a Business VIP is Rarely Expensive

One test of how well you know someone is whether you can buy them an inexpensive gift that they will really appreciate. Such a gift really requires you to pay attention. That’s what makes them great gifts.

Moreover, buying a gift that is perceived to be too expensive can be counterproductive. It risks making the recipient feel awkward or that you are trying to curry favor. This is particularly an issue for in-house counsel or government lawyers, many of whom are required to report to their employer gifts that exceed a certain monetary value. And nothing says happy holidays like forcing your VIP to fill out a bunch of forms or spend time thinking about returning your gift.

It is hard to generalize about how expensive is too expensive for a particular VIP. Last year a client of mine sent a gift of a bottle of single malt scotch that cost in excess of $200. But my client knew the recipient for many years. Most importantly she knew that the recipient was a connoisseur and that there was something about that bottle that the recipient would appreciate that had nothing to do with its price. That particular bottle was related to a specific conversation that took place months earlier.

I also know of a situation where a $15 thermos received rave reviews. A member of the media had mentioned that in the course of his frequent travels he struggled to find a compact travel thermos that didn’t leak or lose its heat. The VIP mentioned that he had heard about a particular brand of thermos but couldn’t find it. So the gift-giver took the time to find and deliver the sought-after travel thermos. It wasn’t expensive, but it showed that the giver had paid attention and sent a gift that was specifically intended for the recipient.

It’s fun to give such gifts and see the reactions they trigger. And most of all, no one succeeds by themselves, and the folks that have most contributed to your business success deserve a gift that truly reflects your appreciation for their efforts on your behalf. It’s not too late; you still have time in 2015 to get this right.