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“It’s enough to turn me into an atheist,” complains a marketer, when asked about selecting firm holiday cards. Indeed, for every card that makes one recipient cringe, another is charmed. Here are some pet peeves � and winners. Look at Me! “What could possibly top the holiday cards we get from Jay Foonberg, who sends large glossy photos of himself with famous people like the Pope?” asks Martha Fay Africa of the San Francisco office of Major Hagan & Africa. Foonberg, whose past efforts have included self-portraits at the South Pole, cheerfully stands his ground. (He’s no stranger to marketing: His book, How to Start and Build a Law Practice, is the American Bar Association’s all-time bestseller.) Holiday cards are solid marketing devices that can generate more work from existing clients and get new ones, argues Foonberg, of counsel to Santa Monica, Calif.’s Bailey & Partners; especially for family lawyers, because many couples split after the holidays. (Foonberg also tells a tale about how a card sent to a lonely old lady prevented her suicide, but that’s just too Lifetime TV to detail.) If you do send out cards, be sure your list is current, cautions J.R. Phelps, of the Florida Bar, or you might accidently send a card to Mr. and Mrs. Smith two months after your firm completed Mr.’s probate. No Offense: Bland, politically correct cards annoy John Buchanan of San Francisco’s Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe. “Any card with a globe or the word peace or joy in 90,000 languages” drives him nuts. So does “too much foil” or “a Thomas Kinkade picture.” Consultant Ross Fishman says generic cards just get lost among all the others illustrated with “pine trees, ice skaters, ambiguously decorated snowmen, or a handicapped child’s artwork.” And not everybody likes those snowy trees drawn by five-year-olds. One marketer reports that the firm’s annual kiddie card is so hated that many partners simply refuse to mail them to clients. White Christmas: Audrey Rubin, of Chicago’s Butler Rubin Saltarelli & Boyd, gets cranky when she gets a firm portrait card with “all identical-looking white males. What a turn-off!” And You Are? Then there’s the card that arrives with “my name misspelled, or even worse, the wrong first name (Joan instead of John),” says Heller’s Buchanan. Jo Haraf, CIO of San Francisco’s Morrison & Foerster, finds “wryly amusing” the cards with dozens of signatures of people she doesn’t know. “What a waste of time and money � but they do make my secretary’s desk look festive when taped to the wall.” Indeed, signing protocols require finesse, says consultant Fishman. “Who signs those cards? How are they signed across practice areas and offices? The logistics rival Operation Desert Storm.” Darryl Cross, of Oakbrook, Ill.’s Interface Software Inc., once worked for a lawyer who insisted that 2,500 cards be sent, some to people he didn’t know, “to give the impression that he cared about them and their business.” But the lawyer ordered the marketing staff to sign his name, “because he did not have time to sign cards for a bunch of strangers.” Sweet Charity? Saying you’re donating to charity in a recipient’s name may seem like a good idea, but what if the “donee” dislikes the organization? “There are a number of ‘charity’ groups I wouldn’t give a nickel to,” says Ian Levit, of Leesburg, Va.’s Levit & James, who suggests local rescue squads instead. Gift Me: CPA Terry Lloyd resents “cheap trinkets masquerading as a holiday gift. Don’t send me a 75-cent pen.” Alternatives? Mark Pruner, of Englewood, N.J.’s RD Legal Funding, sends sturdy gifts, such as travel mugs or staplers. Holiday music CDs get applause from Hildebrandt International’s Joel Henning. Try Humor? Audra Callanan, of Boston’s Wolf Greenfield, says her firm grew tired of traditional cards, and called Al Jaffee of Mad magazine for help. “Having just gone through a copyright litigation where his work was being infringed, he had a newfound respect for IP lawyers and said, ‘Sure!’ ” You can check out the results at wolfgreenfield.com or at www.lawfirminc.com. Christmas in August? Timing may be everything, but before daylight savings was even over, New York’s Kobre & Kim had sent the 2005 Zagat Survey, with a note, “Thinking Ahead: Best wishes for the upcoming holiday season.” Others evade the mailing dilemma by opting for different holidays. Julie Pearl, of the Pearl Group, sends Valentine’s Day candy, with a note “wishing you a year of sweetness and laughter.” Reid Trautz, of the D.C. Bar, prefers Thanksgiving cards, to convey appreciation “in a genuine way, without stepping on sensitive religious matters. Plus, it beats all the other holiday/Christmas cards. “Of course, if everyone starts on this trend, I predict Halloween cards will make a huge comeback.” Monica Bay is editorial director of Law Firm Inc.

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