A Present from your Lawyer
October 2, 2017 10:45 AM   Subscribe

I'm a family lawyer, and I've been thinking about starting to give gifts to my clients for the conclusion of their cases. Is this a terrible idea?

If this isn't a terrible idea, what sort of thing might be appropriate?

My guidelines:
Not alcohol or food, since I don't generally know about their diets.
Not too flippant, since I don't want to minimize the emotional effects of finishing a divorce or custody dispute.
$25 or less.
posted by freshwater to Shopping (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You should check your state's ethics rules first. There may be some restrictions on gift-giving between lawyer and client, though the majority of the rules concern the reverse transaction.
posted by praemunire at 10:55 AM on October 2 [5 favorites]

Personally I would find this a bit weird and icky, and at the conclusion of some kinds of actions it might be even worse than that.

I’d suggest a well-worded letter thanking them and referring to kind thoughts (I.e. not a standard boilerplate one) would come across better if I were receiving it. Not many lawyers do this or appear concerned with the effect that legal action has on a person. The last letter is usually the bill or a covering letter with final paperwork enclosed.
posted by tillsbury at 11:04 AM on October 2 [21 favorites]

I'd want a relevant book or other reference, with information I could use that you, as a lawyer, know to be reliable. So, if you were helping with something child or family related, maybe a book on the current best practices in wills and trusts, or powers of attorney, or, less family-related, something about local government.

Another idea: you have three non-controversial charities you are considering giving to each year, and you talk to each client and let them vote on which they think you should support. Bonus: you are also helping these charities by word-of-mouth support, and it makes people feel good to know that there are people acting altruistically in the world (and to do something altruistic themselves by helping you give directly).
posted by amtho at 11:14 AM on October 2 [6 favorites]

Do not give them a gift. Ethics rules make gift-giving fraught, many clients will take it the wrong way, and some of them will find a way to put it into a review of your practice in a way which will be read negatively.

Here's what you can do: offer to take them to a nice lunch at the end of the case. Might cost a little more than $25 but it's clear client entertainment under the ethics rules, much less problematic area than gifts, and it's extremely hard to misrepresent in a review or to be taken the wrong way by the client.
posted by MattD at 11:24 AM on October 2 [9 favorites]

I don't like this idea - maybe for the successful completion of an adoption or some relatively non-fraught/joyful case? But in most cases I think people would want to put their family law case behind them, and probably wouldn't want a trinket (or even a gift card that's going to sit in their wallet until they use it) to remind them of it.

Maybe think about what you're hoping to achieve with these gifts and whether there's another way to achieve that goal without giving a Thing.

(If you absolutely love the idea of a gift, you could go with a floral arrangement.)
posted by mskyle at 11:32 AM on October 2 [2 favorites]

(1) Often the divorce or custody battle isn't really "over" when you close the case. Months or years later there will be other issues for many of your clients and when they arise, having a thing sitting on the mantelpiece celebrating the end of their legal problems might feel complicated.

(2) People might not really enjoy having a physical reminder of their ex around the house, even if they're very satisfied with your legal services and never have any other legal issues.

It could sort of work if you generally present as a warm quirky kind of lawyer and the gift is a small symbolic consumable item that won't haunt them forever, like a candle, with a heartfelt personal message.

I have worked with a lawyer who gave copies of a book that he wrote about his field to clients. That was not terrible or unprofessional.
posted by redorangeyellow at 11:35 AM on October 2

I was planning to say that we wanted no reminders of our experience with family law, no matter how meaningful the intention, but amtho's comment above about giving a gift of some sort of resource for the future has changed my mind. I wonder if this may be exempt from ethics rules as well, as it's less of a gift and more of a practical component of your business relationship.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 11:36 AM on October 2 [2 favorites]

I know you say no food, but I think a restaurant gift card is a good idea. Choose one with a reasonable variety of options that also allows takeout. It lets them celebrate in their own way without having a tangible reminder around. I know I'd appreciate such a thing.
posted by metasarah at 11:46 AM on October 2

I personally dislike gifts from people I have business relationships with. I feel like if they can afford to buy me gifts, they are charging me too much. Since I just gave them money, I'm basically paying for whatever gift they give me. I especially hate birthday cards from insurance agents, car dealers, etc.
posted by FencingGal at 11:51 AM on October 2 [49 favorites]

I would really hate that. I'm not paying you so that you can spend the money on things I don't even want in the first place. A short note with their last bill/retainer refund would be okay but not necessary.
posted by halogen at 12:22 PM on October 2 [5 favorites]

My lawyer concluded his business with me with sweet sweet silence. I would be annoyed by a gift, to be honest.
posted by 41swans at 12:49 PM on October 2

Don't, please. This will be misinterpreted or resented more than it will be appreciated, for all the good reasons suggested above. Don't even send the "well-worded letter thanking them" suggested above. At the very most, put those clients from whom you hope to get some future business on your holiday card list, and scribble some personal note in the card.
posted by beagle at 12:51 PM on October 2 [2 favorites]

I think the gift from a lawyer seems strange, especially if you haven't yet been paid the entirety of all invoices. A pleasant, concluding letter is probably sufficient.
posted by KatNips at 1:07 PM on October 2 [1 favorite]

I went through a divorce and this would have weirded me out. I would have thought the message was "yay, we did it!" as if we'd worked on a project together. After the court appearance, I went out with friends, drank myself into a stupor and cried myself to sleep. I would absolutely not want a physical thing to remind me of that day. I would throw it out.
posted by AFABulous at 2:33 PM on October 2

Aside from all the reasons above I once worked with a realtor to sell my house. Day after my contract was signed with the realtor I found a full price buyer. There was no showing of the house, it was never listed and the realtor did nothing more than the paperwork. Her cut was $8,000.

"Easiest sale I have ever had!" she said as she handed me a $40 dollar gift certificate to Pizza Chain.

"You should be buying me a bottle of Johnny Walker Blue." Was my response.

Moral: if I spend 4 figures and you do your job and feel good about giving me $22 I'm going to be more insulted than if you gave me nothing.
posted by ITravelMontana at 5:20 PM on October 2 [12 favorites]

A free follow-up should I ever need it? Waive the fee for half of the last appointment? Feed me something nice at the last appointment?

Otherwise I feel like the huge amount I’ve parted with (or am still in the process of parting with) is going toward the gift fund.
posted by kapers at 8:11 PM on October 2 [1 favorite]

Despite quite liking my lawyer, I would be uncomfortable with a gift from her, and lunch would be so awkward. The book idea is good, though!
posted by bighappyhairydog at 9:09 PM on October 2

I'm not nuts about the book idea. It could be seen as encouraging your client to not use your services in the future, and instead do it themselves. And you also don't want to get into a fight if the client does go it alone and it gets poorly, and then tries to blame you for the bad legal advice in the book.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:15 AM on October 3

The wise have spoken. I won't start making things awkward with presents. Thank you all!
posted by freshwater at 9:23 AM on October 3

I work for an environmental non-profit. For a donation of $25 (or more) we plant a tree in honor of the donor's choosing. We have a lawyer whom I assume to handle estates who does this multiple times a year. He gets a letter thanking him for his donation, and the bereaved family gets an awesome, heartfelt letter* explaining the meaning behind the gift.

I know we get calls from the families asking to visit the trees from time to time.

*Full disclosure: I write the letters.
posted by frecklefaerie at 12:54 PM on October 6 [1 favorite]

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