Tag Archives: holiday

Counting The “Pros” To Pro Bono Work: Law Firm Gift Giving & Tax Write-Offs

It’s the season for giving. But, instead of wrapping something under the tree, consider giving the gift of time.

Pro Bono. Three words that—in this economic uncertainty—no lawyer wants to hear.

Or maybe they do?

Pro bono is essentially providing legal services to poor, marginalized, or at-risk individuals, groups, and communities without pay in order to serve a higher purpose—the provision of justice.

Some say pro bono work is altruistic and therefore difficult to incentivize among attorneys. Economists at Princeton University, however, may disagree with this statement after a recent study.

“Molly Crockett, a psychologist at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, combined the classic psychological and economics tools for probing altruism: pain and money,” writes John Bohannan for Science magazine.

The scientist’s task? To find out who many electric shocks would be dolled out—and to whom—when money was at stake.

The pain given via electrode was deemed “mildly painful, but not intolerable.” And the price tags of each shock varied, from $0.15 to $15.

The randomly chosen “decider” in the trial was given a choice of number of shocks for money, and the shocks were either to the decided, themselves, or to another participant—although the decider always got the money.

Although we as society would like to believe that people would be willing to give up some sort of gain, financial or intrinsic, to avoid the distress of hurting somebody else, this idea has yet to be supported by previous scientific research, points out Bohannon.

In fact, the opposite result has been proven time and time again, as far back as the 1960s with Stanley Milgram, whose psychology experiments are some of the best known and widely discussed.

In 1961, Milgram sought to test our obedience to authority figures. He was motivated, in part, by the behavior of Nazi war criminals, many of whom were facing trial at that time, such as the infamous Adolf Eichmann.

Subjects in Milgram’s experiment were instructed to give a series of escalating electric shocks to an unidentified person in another room. The shocks ranged from 15 volts to 450 volts. Although the subjects were separated, they could communicate between the walls. Participants dolling the shocks could hear the (faked) reactions of their counterparts, which included screaming, banging on the wall, and complaints of heart conditions. After a while, the participant would hear nothing on the other side of the wall. Throughout the experiment, the subjects were not threatened or yelled at, rather, they were given stern and consistent instructions not to stop administering the volts.

So did they?

A (no pun intended) shocking 65 percent of the subjects followed orders and administered the final—and seemingly fatal—450-volt electric shock to the person in the next room.

But today, it finally seems possible that altruism—or at least incentivizing it within people—can exist.

In the more recent study, the results show that while participants did not like the pain of receiving a shock (they were willing to make about $0.30 less money per shock on average to receive fewer of them) people were willing to lose twice that amount, $0.60 per shock, to hurt an anonymous other less. The full results can be found online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Fifty years later, society can sigh in relief that people are more altruistic than they first seemed in Milgram’s portrayal.

For lawyers, however, Pro Bono work is not actually altruistic. On the contrary, it can provide law firms with many profitable opportunities, among them:

  • Networking opportunities for lawyers
  • A chance to bolster a lawyer or firm’s reputation
  • Enhancing a positive firm culture of team-building
  • Boosting staff morale
  • Fundraising opportunity for a firm working with charities or other endownments
  • Enhancing skills and experience of younger lawyers
  • Providing leadership opportunities for younger lawyers
  • Attracting paying clients through high-profile pro-bono work
  • Attracting young talent who value a Pro Bono, idealistic firm culture

And, in the end, Pro Bono work is at tax write-off for law firms.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) writes about tax deductions for pro bono legal services:

“Although you cannot deduct the value of your time or services, you can deduct the expenses you incur while donating your services to a qualified organization.” 

Lahle Wolfe, About.com Guide, answers all your questions about similar tax deductions She writes:

“Before listing the types of expenses you may be able to deduct, they need to meet two IRS qualifications:

  1. The expense be incurred as a requirement in order to perform the service for the organization; and
  2. The services must primarily benefit the charity and not the taxpayer (but both can benefit.)

Examples of expenses you may be able to deduct, or partially deduct, include: cost of supplies needed to provide or perform the service that directly benefited the charity; travel expenses; and other direct expenses.”

Therefore, by serving those in need—including your own self-interests—your firm can get the deductions it needs. With ample online guidance about tax write-offs for pro bono work, there’s no excuse for not offering these services to your community.

It’s the season for giving, so sign-up to give pro bono work this holiday. Do it for both the philanthropy and the profit-seeking it inspires.



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Studying Logic Better For Lawyers Than Studying Law, Judge Says

Surprisingly, the best lawyers may not be consist of individuals who dedicated themselves to the study of law.

Supreme Court Justice Lord Sumption told the UK Telegraph that it is “very unfortunate” that many up-and-coming lawyers cannot speak a foreign language and they have “much less in the way of general culture” than their predecessors.

Instead, Lord Sumption, 63, suggested that aspiring attorneys would benefit from first earning degrees in history or mathematics, and then attending law school.

Currently a judge, Lord Sumption, once had some of this common-law nation’s most powerful clients, including Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich. Today, his counsel is limited to ad hoc advice and informal guidance to future generations.

According to Lord Sumption, legal arguments are less about the law and more about correct factual analysis.

“Once you’re understood them it’s usually obvious what the answer is. The difficulty then becomes to reason your way in a respectable way towards it,” he says.

“That’s why the study of something involving the analysis of evidence, like history or classics, or the study of a subject which comes close to pure logic, like mathematics, is at least as valuable a preparation for legal practice as the study of law.”

Wise advice, but for many practicing law firm professionals, it’s a case of too little, too late. It’s impossible to re-draft your education and pedigree. So what now?

Taking Lord Sumption’s counsel, pick up a book on business, art, or literature.

Law firm’s should consider giving associates educational gifts for the holidays, such as Michael J. Mauboussin’s The Success Equation: Untangling Skill and Luck in Business, Sports, and Investing
 or even Logicomix, a comic-book about the quest for logical certainty in mathematics, as reviewed by the New York Times.

As a law firm, encourage your associates to participate in after-work book groups, philosophical seminars, math clubs, or sports teams. Your attorney’s next big legal inspiration may emerge from an extracurricular activity.

“Appreciating how to fit legal principles to particular facts is a real skill. Understanding the social or business background to legal problems is essential. I’m not sure current law degrees train you for that, nor really are they designed to,” Lord Sumption continued to tell The Telegraph.

“If you don’t have [a command of reasoning skills, an ability to understand and use evidence, and broad literary culture] you are going to find it difficult to practice [law]. If you don’t know any law that is not a problem; you can find out.”

By encouraging your associates to learn other languages, read extensively in other areas, or master other skills, you also lower the chances they’ll get burnt out on the law.

It’s time to take back productivity in your law practice… by practicing something else.


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When It’s OK (And How) To Say “No” To Your Boss

Remember Thanksgiving dinner? Your friends and family asked you to host, even though you worked a 60-hour week.

Do you recall how the following week your neighbor asked you to dog-sit while they were out of town, and the only thing their Golden Retriever ever retrieved was your shredded morning newspaper?

Finally, over the December holidays, you were asked to be a guest lecturer at your son’s school, to bake cookies for its fundraiser, and (in your spare time) to drive the school bus for a field trip to a meteor crater. Remember how–after all this–last week you politely declined your neighbor’s invitation to the second of their three holiday parties, and the world did not, in fact, end?

Sometimes, saying “no” is the right course of action. Unsurprisingly, saying “no” will not topple your house of cards.In the law firm, to spare your sanity and continue a high level of productivity, occasionally you must tell a partner “no”. But, here’s how to do it.

1. Have a valid reason to say “no”

Although white lies and fake excuses may get you out of drinking your aunt’s eggnog, it’s unacceptable in the workplace. If you must say no to an assignment given by a law partner, have a valid reason why.

For example, provide detail regarding the number of hours of work you’ve already earmarked for Senior Partner A’s project. If that’s not good enough, have a more senior attorney step in on your behalf to defend your hefty caseload.

Always use the “yes, but let me get back to you” formula.

So, “yes, I’d love to help you on this task, but I don’t know if I will be able to get to it until next week due to my involvement in Case X.” Then, follow up with a succinct e-mail that politely declines the project. More than likely the partner won’t think twice about your refusal, and just choose another lawyer on his or her short list.

2. Be firm

When declining a project, be firm in your answer. If you waffle about whether or not you have the time, the assigning attorney will think you’re unable to manage your casework.Being firm will also earn you more respect. It’s difficult to tell a law partner “no”.

So when you do, the partner will be less likely to abuse your willingness to take on projects (and work until 4am on holidays). They will respect your honesty and professionalism if you are polite, but firm.

By taking the assignment and overloading your schedule, most likely, all of your cases, the client, and your image at the firm will suffer.Being a pushover will not lead to a promotion.

3. Become a valuable resource, nonetheless

Even if you, personally, cannot handle a new assignment, perhaps your cube neighbor can. If you know of an associate who is willing to and available for work, tell the assigning attorney.

Or, if you know of a tool or online resource that can help facilitate the work at hand, write a quick note with the information. Pass it along to the attorney who eventually takes the case.

Although you may not be able to complete the task, there’s no reason why you can’t contribute.The unsolicited offer of help will show firm partners that you’re still a team player, as well as a valuable asset to the firm–even if you must, on occasion, say “no”.


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Top 5 Gift Ideas For Lawyers

Whether you have a lawyer in the family or you are rewarding your corporate Of Counsel, it’s difficult to find the perfect holiday present for your attorney.Gag or genuine, here are five gift ideas to spoil that special someone.

1. Buy a watch

Some might say a lawyer is only as good as his timepiece. Attorneys have been recognized for their pinstriped power suits and flashy watches across the ages. So, this holiday, find one that suits him or her.

In addition to aesthetic, a watch is functional. Lawyers must bill to the 0.1 hour increment. A watch won’t explain away those 0.2 hours spent online shopping, but it will certainly help a person arrive to court on time.

And, check out watch gag gifts. Now you can find “billable hour” watches and clocks.

2. Buy a book

Outside the office, it’s nice to have a reason to relax by the fireplace. Look into some of this season’s newest lawyer novels. The best part about John Grisham and Michael Connelly for a realtime lawyer is sorting out the fact from fiction.

Or, look into an Amazon gift card toward an audio book purchase. Audio books are a great way to pass the time on a long commute to and from the office. Plus, there are a variety of legal resources available in audio and digital form for those late nights where staring at a computer screen for one more hour just seems impossible.

3. Buy a subscription to a streaming music station

Music is a muse for many professionals. Lawyers are no exception. Purchase a subscription to an online radio station, such as Spotify or Pandora.

Online radio stations have mobile apps as well, which means your lawyer can also benefit from continual streaming music at home, in the car, and on the run.

4. Make a custom lawyer survival kit

No gift can bring a lawyer home sooner or in time for dinner. But, for those unexpected late nights, prepare a survival kit, including quick precooked meals, like soup, a clean shirt, and maybe even a Soduku game.

Waiting for partner approval on a brief or for jurors to return from deliberation should be met with the proper tools.

5. Whatever the gift, make it personal

Just like items on this list of gifts, lawyers are often stereotyped. In any given year, lawyers receive gaudy gavels, joke timepieces, generic gift cards. Whatever the gift, make it personal, either through a heartfelt greeting card or hand delivery.

And, consider gifting an item unrelated to the profession of law. Golf clubs, basketballs, sewing needles, or champagne are great reminders of what they say about all work and no play…


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At Home For The Holidays: Networking Tips For Lawyers

In continuation of this week’s holiday theme, mid-December begins the season of holiday parties. These festivities range from office parties, to neighborhood gatherings, to meet-ups between friends and family.

Often, the holidays are a time to increase your firm’s client list and the quality of your personal relationships within your current professional circle. Especially in a recession, there’s nothing to lose from meeting new people who work in a variety of industries.

Whether looking for a new job or recruiting clients for your existing one, lawyers should seize December days as an opportunity to network.

Luckily, the recruiters at Lateral Link already gave legal blog Above The Law a few tips for holiday party networking. Here are some highlights:

  1. “Develop and memorize a short personal introduction (your elevator pitch) containing information on who you are, what you do, and why you are here. 
  2. Make sure you are punctual — this is not the time to be fashionably late. If you arrive early to the party, you will be able to target guests you want to meet before they get sucked into other conversations. 
  3. Master the business card exchange. Keep your cards in one pocket and those you receive in another pocket to ensure you don’t mix them up.
  4. When the party is near the end, reconnect with a few key people. Make yourself memorable by taking a few minutes to circle back to those you met earlier and reiterate a talking point.
  5. Finally, remember that networking is a marathon, not a sprint. The goal of a networking event is to meet new people. Don’t ask for favors, push to get an interview, or try to secure new business. Develop enough of a rapport that you can email or call your new connection and ask them to meet for coffee or lunch. Start slow — new business relationships take time to develop.”

Go here for the full list of tips.

Meanwhile, law firm administrators should realize that the holidays are a great time for employees to be recruited by rival firms. Don’t fear networking on the part of your employees; rather, anticipate it.

Ensure your employees feel appreciated during this holiday season with notes or tokens of appreciation (even a Starbucks gift card, given with a smile and a handshake, can go a long way).

Law partners should use the holiday season to secure old clients and attract new ones. So, accept as many holiday party invitations as you can.

Also, managing partners should consider offering a holiday party for all firm partners. It’s a great way to mingle in a safe space, with spouses and children in a cheery environment. Don’t be afraid to invite clients to your home for these events. If only once a year, your professional relationships can actually benefit from some personal attention.

Holiday parties–whether hosting or attending them–need not be costly to be effective.


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Gifts & Greeting Cards To Law Firm Professionals: What Are Your Holiday Obligations?

This week’s posts have been holiday-themed because December tends to be a month rife with obligations. Office parties, vacation requests, and year-end bonuses abound, and law firm administrators and employees alike have something to worry about. 

When all is said and done, how should employees and employers express their gratitude? 

For employees, it’s important to give your good wishes to both your subordinates and superiors. For your assistant, pick up a fruit basket, buy a gift certificate, bake some cookies or even, simply, send a holiday card to show your appreciation for the year’s hard work.

Find out the names of their spouse and children to correctly address the card. And, if possible, send it to their home instead of leaving it on their office desk. Not only does this exempt your assistant from awkwardly accepting the gift, but it also adds a personal touch.

Be warned, finding out your paralegal’s home address might show them that you are, in fact, still capable of conducting your own due diligence and background research.

In addition to notes of appreciation for your subordinates, spend a few minutes to thank your superiors. Depending on the professional environment and the relationship you have with your boss, either stop by their office or send a greeting card.

Face time, especially around the end of the year, is important.

Plan to peek your head into the office of your boss right before your (or their) holiday vacation. Wish them well, add a quick comment about finishing a case project, and then say goodbye. This will bring attention to your hard work and to your sparkling personality all at once. 

In a greeting card, be brief. Don’t spoil Rudolf’s red nose by having a brown one. Stick to formalities and holiday cheer.

Now, for employers, there will be added pressure to say “thank you” to all your associates. 

Instead of wasting money on sending holiday cards to each employee, e-mail a mass “Happy New Years” message. Then, with the money you saved on holiday cards, organize a contest with a single grand prize. The contest can be trivia-based, case-related, or just for fun.

Especially at a time when year-end bonuses and raises are limited, show your appreciation in a sincere, spirited, but sparing way.


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