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Why is it not surprising that the award for the most grossly excessive law firm Christmas party goes to … a Texas plaintiffs’ lawyer? Mark Lanier is relatively young — at age 40 — and a noncombatant in the lucrative tobacco wars. But he’s playing with the big boys, gross-excess-wise, when it comes to his eighth annual holiday bash. This year’s plans include a petting zoo, carnival rides, an entrance by Santa in a hot-air balloon, and — by god — a private concert by Diana Ross. Ross’ fee alone comes to $225,000. Top that, Joe Jamail! Clearly, Lanier has done very well. He has notched hundreds of millions in verdicts and gained recognition as one of the country’s top trial lawyers. Starting in 1993, he decided to share his good fortune, inviting family and friends to the Lanier estate to hear a big-name musical act and eat barbecue flown in from an Austin joint. As Lanier’s fortunes have soared, he and his 11-lawyer firm, Lanier, Parker & Sullivan, have heaped more and more extravagance onto the basic music-and-barbecue format. What has remained constant — the point of all this, you might say — is the eminence of the invitees. At press time that list included both of Texas’ U.S. senators, the Texas attorney general, plaintiffs’ lawyers from more than 15 states, and a bevy of state and federal judges, including everyone that his firm has appeared before in court. In total, 2,500 partiers are expected to show up for the December 10 event. Call it sweet revenge. As an associate at Houston’s Fulbright & Jaworski in the 1980s, Lanier would dutifully show up at the firm holiday prom, make polite conversation, press partner flesh, and make a quick exit. He found it as dull as his practice at Fulbright itself. To be sure, Lanier was not big-firm material. He is boisterous, sports a goatee, often wears jeans, and fancies himself a rock ‘n’ roller. So once Lanier was out from under Fulbright’s heavy thumb, The Party began to take shape. Lawyers and judges now beg for invitations. Lanier boasts that he has the best firm Christmas party in the country. Pressed, he says it’s at least the biggest. The truth is, though, he’s not even sure of that. “If I’m wrong,” he says, “someone just needs to tell me what the number [of the biggest party] is, because I’ll beat it next year.” Competitors would be wise not to take up this challenge.

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