There are certain professionals who typically receive gifts on an annual or otherwise regular basis. For instance, many people give a gift to their doorman or mail person around the holidays, and people regularly provide gifts to other professionals with whom they are close. Clients also sometimes provide gifts to lawyers, and although this is in no way expected (and lawyers need to follow ethical rules), receiving a gift can be really special for legal professionals.
There are certain situations in which clients are more likely to provide a gift to a lawyer. Perhaps the most common reason a client would provide a gift to a lawyer is after the lawyer secures a victory or completes a project for a client. If a client received a particularly good result from a lawyer, it is possible that a client will think that a lawyer should be rewarded with a little something extra. This helps memorialize a victory and can help lawyers and clients solidify their connection.
Earlier in my career, I worked for a partner who handled a number of high-profile cases. Many of his former clients provided him gifts to celebrate victories. Some of the gifts were pretty particular to the case at hand, and I seem to remember that this partner had a model train in his office that was gifted to him by a client whose case involved trains. Another partner I once worked with showed off a trophy that his client had made up conveying that this lawyer was a rock star for securing a victory for that particular client.
Some of the gifts provided to former partners with whom I worked were pretty luxurious. One partner told me that he was gifted a bottle of brandy worth over a thousand dollars by a doctor client of his after successfully defending a medical malpractice lawsuit. Other lawyers I have worked for got treated to really expensive dinners, and if I remember correctly, vacations as a result of securing a victory for a client.
Another situation in which clients sometimes give gifts to lawyers is when the attorney goes above and beyond for a client in a situation. Of course, being paid is enough of a reward for lawyers, and there are many painstaking parts of being an attorney. However, sometimes clients want to give lawyers something extra to make up for discomfort or other burdens borne by lawyers.
One time, I was handling a closing for a client, and the closing was much more complex than usual. There were title issues, and COVID-19 and other factors made it more difficult to get the necessary municipal approvals for the closing. I probably spent twice or maybe three times more energy on this closing than usual, which I was fine doing. Closings are sometimes luck of the draw, and some closings are super easy while others are more difficult, and it is impossible to predict which closings will be simple and which may be complicated.
In any event, I think my client felt bad that I had to work harder than usual, and the client sent me a really nice gift basket. It was completely unnecessary, but it felt good to be recognized by my client for my hard work. It is not too uncommon for all types of professionals to be gifted items if they are working especially hard for someone, and this can also occur with lawyers.
It is also not uncommon for lawyers to be gifted items around the holidays. As discussed in a prior article, lawyers routinely receive gifts from vendors around the holidays, and this makes the holiday season a little more cheerful. Clients do, although less frequently, sometimes provide holidays gifts to their lawyers. I once worked at a law firm that handled a huge portfolio of work for one client. Even though we owed a lot to this client, it was the client that sent us holiday treats every year. One year, I distinctly remember this client sending a bunch of pies to our office along with a note thanking the firm and its lawyers for all of our hard work the previous year. Lawyers usually need to give gifts to clients and express their gratitude for the patronage of clients, and it meant a lot to have a client acknowledge the hard work of our firm and give us treats that made the holiday season even better.
Of course, clients should never feel obliged to provide gifts to lawyers. I once had a boss who said that clients will rarely give you a pat on the back, and it was enough of a reward just to be paid by a client. I agree with this sentiment. However, some clients do provide gifts to their lawyers in a number of situations, and this can positively impact the attorney-client connection.
Jordan Rothman is a partner of The Rothman Law Firm, a full-service New York and New Jersey law firm. He is also the founder of Student Debt Diaries, a website discussing how he paid off his student loans. You can reach Jordan through email at email@example.com.
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