The final word on holiday gift-giving for lawyers // Trial & Error

How to take the awkward out of buying presents for your workmates

By Atrisha Lewis

On Wednesday December 2nd, 2015


Yes, the signs of the approaching holiday season appear way too early — September is just unreasonable — but now that December has hit, it’s time to address the questions that always seem to stump lawyers: who do I have to buy a gift for at the office? And what do I buy? And how much should I spend? In search of answers, I interviewed (off the record) lawyers from a wide array of firms, practice groups and career levels to come up with a list of best practices for holiday gift-giving. May you never face gift-based awkwardness again.

Always buy a gift for your assistant. This was the one thing on which all lawyers could agree. But what to give? That gets a bit trickier. Cash gifts may be gauche in other arenas, but it seems like the conventional choice for a lot of Bay Street lawyers. Other common options include gift certificates to spas or their favourite stores, as well as nice bottles of wine or champagne (but make sure your assistant will actually drink them). Any combination of those gifts works too. There’s a wide discrepancy in spending levels among lawyers, but the common theme is that the amount should be larger the more senior you are, and the more years your assistant has worked. Since everyone likes an unscientific benchmark, the range of my interviewees was $75 to $300.

Give “down” before you give “up.” Not everyone could agree on this as a blanket rule, but a lot of lawyers at larger firms told me that they give gifts to more junior lawyers, but not to more senior lawyers. A partner at a large Bay Street firm said that he and his colleagues usually give wine or Scotch to the associates they work closely with. My favourite tip? Buy a few $25 gift cards to give to people at the firm who have helped you over the year: court filing clerks, copying personnel and cleaning staff.

In a smaller team, however, give to the senior lawyers too. While I agree that gifts should flow downwards, that rule tends to soften at smaller firms, or within a closeknit practice group. One associate at a midsize firm says that she always buys a bottle of wine for the partner she works with. Personally, I’ve given my formal mentor at the firm a very small token of thanks around the holidays. When giving “up,” the dollar amount doesn’t have to be huge. You can never go wrong with a good book.

Never underestimate the power of a small, thoughtful token of appreciation. You really don’t have to buy a gift for someone to let them know you’re grateful for all they do for you. If you want to thank someone, or let them know you care, a hand-written note or a small package of baked goods goes a long way.

Atrisha LewisAtrisha Lewis is a third-year associate in McCarthy Tétrault’s litigation group. Follow her on Twitter: @atrishalewisAnd also check out all of her past columns.



Winter-2015-cover-smallThis story is from our Winter 2015 issue.