Exchanging Holiday Gifts at the Office? Read These Legal Career Tips First!

The holiday season is upon us and while you probably have a good idea what you'll be getting your friends and family, you may be at a loss when it comes to gift giving at the office. What's an appropriate gift for your supervising attorney, the one person you know who might have just about everything? How much money do you spend? Should you add employees outside your core group, like the firm's front desk receptionist, to your holiday gift list? What about the IT specialist who provided much-needed law office technology support during the trial preparation stage of your last case? Before you make a mad dash to the mall this Black Friday or fire up your laptop come Cyber Monday, these legal career advice tips can help you navigate the ins and outs of holiday gift giving at the office:
  1. Do your research. If you're new to the firm and not quite sure if holiday gift giving is part of your firm's culture, ask around. Your organization might have a policy that limits or prohibits gift giving or it could have monetary guidelines or spending limits in place. In some offices, managers might give gifts to staff-level employees but they may not expect to receive anything in return, while in other offices, gift giving is not customary. If you're in doubt, check with your firm's HR department. 
  2. Be mindful of sensitivities. Be mindful of the gift recipient's background to avoid any cultural taboos. For example, you wouldn't want to give a Christmas tree ornament to someone who pratices Judaism or a gift certificate from your favorite steak house to a vegan.
  3. Consider a group gift. If you're struggling with the challenge of what to get your manager and how much to spend, you're not alone. And let’s face it -- we’ve all seen how individual gifts to the managing attorney can turn into a “one-upmanship” competition among coworkers. To avoid this common pitfall, consider teaming with your colleagues to present a group gift -- something thoughtful, not too personal or too expensive -- or donating to your supervisor's favorite charity.
  4. Select client gifts with care. Make sure you're aware of any policies your firm or a client's company has about giving or receiving items from those outside the firm. For example, some companies ask that employees do not give or accept presents that are worth more than a certain monetary amount in order to avoid the appearance of impropriety. Also, don't purchase costly client gifts assuming you'll be reimbursed. Your company may not have a client gift reimbursement policy or they may already have purchased items that are to be given to all of the firm's clients. 
  5. Steer clear of gag giftsI must admit that I look forward to our team's holiday luncheon/white elephant gift exchange every year and start roaming the aisles of my local Walgreens weeks in advance looking for low-priced "treasures" to swap with my coworkers. But you'll want to make sure you're clear on your team's "Secret Santa" or gift exchange guidelines to avoid supplying a gift that could be perceived as insulting or inappropriate. And if you want to opt out of the gift swap this year, that's fine too. Just be sure to give your coworkers advance notice so they can plan accordingly.
  6. Show your appreciation. Be sure to let your legal assistant team know how much you value their contributions. Consider gift certificates, personalized office items such as monogrammed photo frames, pre-paid tickets to the movies or tickets to a local concert or sporting event.  
  7. Be thoughtful in your selection. While gifts don't have to be be expensive, select an item that shows you know something about that person's interests or hobbies. Let your gift convey your appreciation and respect for the recipient. In keeping with the season, it’s truly the thought that counts.
  8. Don't feel pressured. It's not necessary to always purchase presents for your colleagues or professional contacts. Low- or no-cost tokens of your appreciation such as homemade preserves or a holiday card with a personalized message are good alternatives. And, if you receive an unexpected gift from a coworker you didn’t buy a present for -- don’t panic. Simply thank them graciously for thinking of you. Perhaps invite them to coffee or lunch in the new year -- and make sure to write a reminder on your calendar to do so in early January.