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PhiLAWdelphia Greatest Hits: Choosing Gifts for Support Staff

December 13, 2011

From time to time, PhiLAWdelphia will be reaching into the vault to dust off some of its greatest hits over the years. Just in time for the holiday rush, we bring you a holiday season essential–“Shopping For Your Secretary,” by John Encarnacion, a former YLD cabinet member.  And, while you’re at it, consider shopping for a few other people with whom a friendly, respectful relationship can pay big dividends.

Photo courtesy of The In Vivo Blog

It’s a difficult question that most of us face annually at work this time of year.  No, not how many more hours do you need to bill the rest of the year to make your quota.  Rather, what do you get your secretary (and other support staff) for the holidays?

There’s never an easy answer or even basic guideline that applies to all.  Each person’s secretarial situation is different.  Some attorneys have two secretaries who work part time.  Others have a secretary in name only and must do most of their work themselves.

I have run the gamut at my firm in terms of secretarial situations, starting off with two secretaries, then having secretaries who felt pressured to do the work of the sharing senior attorney, to having a part time secretary who worked four days a week, to finally having a full time secretary for the past four and a half years.  It’s been rather a pleasure to have a secretary who is extremely competent and helps me get my work done properly.  In speaking to some friends, I know that others are not quite as fortunate.  As such, I always have to make sure that the holiday present properly reflects my gratitude.

So here are my own personal guidelines I’ve used in terms of secretarial and support staff gifts:

·         Check with peers in the office – I ask my friends in the office in similar secretarial situations on what they give, and that provides a nice starting point range.  But make sure to ask those in very similar situations, rather than just anyone in the office.  Some of my firm’s satellite offices, due to the smaller size and closer relationship, have developed their own gift guidelines that apply only to that office.

·         Don’t get shown up – Try, if possible, to coordinate with an attorney who shares your secretary and figure a price range of the present.  You can even possibly do a joint present to keep things fair.  Otherwise, you may find yourself giving a “lesser” present, inadvertently hurting your secretary’s feelings.

·         Keep first time gifts conservative – If you’ve just started at your firm, as I did when I was a first year, or if you’ve only started your secretarial relationship in the past couple of months, give a fair but not excessive gift.  Something around $50 or so would be considered more than fair, in my opinion, for such a new relationship.

·         Increase, and never decrease, the amount of the gift through the years You can always increase the amount of the gift, but you really can’t decrease it as time goes by.  If you find out after a year or so that your relationship with your secretary is not terrific, but you’ve already set a bar of $100 holiday gifts, then you’re stuck with giving at least that.

·         Ask your secretary for ideas – It doesn’t hurt to ask your secretary for ideas for presents that she (ignoring, for our purposes, the less than one percent of secretaries who are male) would want.  Feel free, though, to ignore suggestions such as Jimmy Choo shoes, Dolce & Gabbana handbags, diamond jewelry from Tiffany’s, etc., unless you really, really owe your secretary big time.

·         Thoughtful gifts are good, gift certificates are almost as good – I have not always been a proponent for providing cash or gift certificates as presents for weddings or for secretaries.  Still, it’s not always easy to find something specific for your secretary that she will definitely appreciate.  So, while it’s not exactly the most creative gift idea ever, a gift certificate serves the purpose of giving your secretary a chance to buy exactly what she wants.  You can even pick the specific store (e.g., Macy’s, Sephora, One Liberty Place) so long as your secretary can and would go there.

So that’s what I consider for getting my secretary a Christmas present.  I get my law clerks presents as well, albeit on a lesser scale.  I would love to hear other ideas for presents for secretaries.  And for those shopping for me, I will be happy to e-mail my wish list.

For more ideas, check out out this post from the Greedy Associates blog on findlaw.com
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