I was recently speaking with one of my colleagues about law firm life, and I related how every firm at which I worked (except the firm I currently run with my brother) had a lottery pool. Essentially, a law firm lottery pool is when employees around the office pool their money, usually around five dollars each, to buy a bunch of lottery tickets as a group. If any of the tickets hits big, the people in the pool share the winnings, and if any of the tickets hit a smaller prize, the money is rolled over or is used to buy donuts or other treats for the office. My colleague told me that the law firms at which she worked never had a lottery pool, and this made me miss this institution at all of the shops I worked at earlier in my career.
The first law firm I worked at was a Biglaw shop that likely had over a hundred employees in the office. The lottery pool was a big deal at this shop since everyone — from the top partners who were making crazy sums of money annually to the part-time file clerks — participated in the lottery pool. The firm even had a system in which attorneys who were not in the office regularly could put money into a “bank” so that these funds could be deducted for payments into the lottery pool if they weren’t present to pay up when collections were done.
The person who ran the lottery pool had a sophisticated operation, and she made sure to scan and email the lottery tickets to everyone so all the people in the pool knew they would get a piece of the action if any of the emailed tickets won. This office also ran a March Madness pool and I believe a Super Bowl boxes pool, but the lottery pool was probably the biggest office extracurricular activity that bonded everyone together.
The next firm I worked at did not seem to have an office lottery pool. I expected after starting my job to be approached about joining the lottery pool, but the conversation never occurred, and I just figured the firm did not have a lottery pool. This was a smaller shop, and there were only around 30 people in my office, so maybe there was not enough people to have a robust lottery pool.
Then one day, I noticed one of the secretaries exchanging money with a paralegal, and keeping things on the down low like they were involved in a drug deal (well, maybe not, but I’m trying to be dramatic!). It turns out that the secretaries and paralegals ran their own lottery pool, and they didn’t invite attorneys to participate. I often joked about joining the lottery pool to secretaries and paralegals (I wanted in like Andy Bernard wanted in on the Finer Things Club) but they refused to allow me to participate in this underground lottery pool.
The last two firms I worked at had the same lottery pool situation since one firm was formed when attorneys split off from another firm. This office had a great lottery pool setup. The lottery pool was basically the main job of the person who ran this operation, and she took her job very seriously. She also ran a “bank” so that people not present in the office could participate in the lottery pool, and she was diligent in telling people that they only had five or 10 dollars left in the bank and they needed to contribute more money when banked funds was running low. She would buy the tickets and email a scan of the tickets to all of the people who participated in the lottery pool that week. The person who ran this pool always used smaller winnings to buy additional lottery tickets, but she was diligent in classifying some tickets as “rollover” tickets, so people in the previous pool would be entitled to winnings from those tickets.
From my experience, lottery pools can be a great way to bond an office together and link attorneys and staff from the most senior partner to the part-time file clerks. However, people running lottery pools should keep a few things in mind. Individuals should ensure that everyone in the pool knows that they are in that cycle’s pool and which tickets are associated with the pool. It would be crazy if a law firm was embroiled in litigation over an office lottery pool (such litigation is not uncommon) and people should use best practices to avoid this from happening.
Perhaps most importantly from my own experience, everyone in the office should be invited to participate in a lottery pool. Of course, if individuals have a small pool with friends, they should not need to open this up to everyone. However, lottery pools can be a nice way to unite all of the people who work in an office and help build the culture of a firm. As a result, it is always better if everyone in any office is permitted to participate in a law firm lottery pool.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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