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Ah, fruitcake. It’s the butt of all holiday gift-giving jokes, the dark, dense gift that no one really wants, but that people keep giving by the truckload. In his 1988 yuletide special, then chaste Pee-Wee Herman even built a room onto his house out of the weighty loaves that he received from well-wishers who couldn’t resist the lure of the perfect gift: so safe, traditional and festive. In fact, what three words could describe more appropriately the ultimate client gift? As conservative as the profession is, lawyers often do turn to the tried and true when shopping for clients: wine, fruit and cheese baskets, hams, turkeys — and even, perhaps, the dreaded fruitcake. And several vendors say edible gifts are safe bets for most any recipient. But breaking the ranks of tradition when it comes to holiday gift-giving can be a good thing, especially if it turns a client’s head and makes him or her feel particularly well thought of. Allan Diamond, managing partner of Diamond McCarthy Taylor Finley Bryant & Lee in Houston, knows the ultimate client gift has nothing to do with a golden brown cake punctuated by candied fruit. It starts and ends with a song. For two consecutive years, Diamond has cut his own holiday CD, specially recorded for his clients. “I have been singing my whole life,” says Diamond, who practices corporate business litigation and has a studio in his house. In 2000, he decided to make a holiday CD as a gift for some of his special clients. He cut a one-song CD, featuring “Feliz Navidad,” and sent it to about 50 clients, many of whom were in Mexico and Latin America. “I did ‘Feliz Navidad’ so it crossed the language barrier,” Diamond, 48, says. “I did it in English with some Spanish.” He received such a positive response, Diamond says he decided to cut a full CD the following year. He released a 12-song CD to a select group of 200 or so of his clients. “I sent it to people I thought would appreciate it,” he says, noting that not everyone on his client list received one. The resulting recording included hits such as “Winter Wonderland,” “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and “Silver Bells.” “It’s got all the ones that everyone hears ad nauseam around Christmastime,” Diamond says. And the reaction has been great, he notes, with some of his closer friends cracking jokes at his expense. And while there will be no CD this year, Diamond says he plans on releasing a new hit holiday CD just in time for the 2004 season. But for lawyers who don’t have the time or talent to dazzle clients with their rendition of holiday tunes, getting that “perfect gift” depends a lot on the firm and the attorney. Some firms have approved lists of gifts from which attorneys can choose. Other firms give attorneys monetary allotments for each client — depending on how big/important the client is — and the attorneys can go out and buy what they like. And solo and small-firm practitioners often are on their own — as always, huh? — when it comes to buying client gifts; there’s no marketing department to help out with the task. Scott Shibley, vice president of business sales at Tiffany’s & Co. in New York, says it’s important that whatever gift an attorney gives his or her client, it should be permanent and remind the client of the gift-giver. “There’s a movement back toward gifts that are longer-lasting and have meaning,” he says, noting that edibles, although traditional, don’t have those qualities. “I can give you a fruit basket, and you can eat it and love it. And then it’s gone.” But permanent gifts remind the recipient of whom the gift came from, he says. Most gifts can be customized somehow, he adds, by etching or engraving. And if done creatively, gifts can represent the type of year the client and attorney have experienced. A Tiffany & Co.’s sterling silver yo-yo, for example, could signify a year that was up and down economically, or a case that see-sawed. Tiffany also offers a sterling silver celebration set — party hat, noisemaker and horn — which could signify a major victory. And a Tiffany’s ornate, engraved pillbox could reflect the year of the suit that caused nothing but headaches. But in some cases, especially when the gift is being sent to a group or office rather than an individual, edibles are the only way to go. Kristin Bacus, marketing manager at Munsch Hardt Kopf & Harr, says attorneys at the Dallas firm are given monetary allotments, based on whom their clients are. The marketing department does some pre-shopping for the attorneys, and puts together a list of three or four different sample gifts that they will order for the attorneys. Inevitably, one of the gift choices is a food item, she says. When sending to a group, edible gift baskets almost always work best, Bacus says, because it’s easily shared. But attorneys at Munsch Hardt are still free to shop on their own, rather than choose from the list. “Some of them have a great idea. Their client loves brisket, so they’ll send them a brisket,” she says. “Some of them would rather spend money and take them [clients] to a nice dinner.” CLUELESS? But then there are other attorneys who, for whatever reason, need a little help. “Some people don’t have the slightest clue where to get started,” Bacus says. The firm-made gift list helps those attorneys who don’t have time to shop or who need some help thinking of ideas. Attorneys also can choose to make donations to charities, in lieu of gifts, says Mike Hainsfurther, a shareholder in Munsch Hardt and former chairman of business development. One holiday season a few years ago, instead of giving client gifts, Munsch Hardt had a coloring book created by a local artist, then donated the books, along with crayons, to children’s hospitals and charities in Dallas. The firm created a holiday greeting card using the cover of the coloring book and added a message to the clients that, in lieu of a gift, the coloring books were donated. “Gift-giving etiquette is a bit of a challenge to manage and do properly,” he says. For instance, in situations in which there is more than one person as a client, “Are you helping the relationship by giving a gift to someone and not to someone else?” Hainsfurther asks. In those situations, gifts for the group or donations work well, he says. Although being a solo does present challenges that attorneys in big firms don’t face, like doing all the legwork to find the perfect gift, it doesn’t mean having to sacrifice creativity. Jerry Simoneaux, a Houston family law solo, says he does one thing each holiday season when it comes to client gift-shopping: “I pray they like chocolate.” He orders his gifts at Chocolate Designs, where the company creates candy bars imprinted with his firm’s logo. The Houston chocolate company offers an array of chocolate-shaped items, including a chocolate gavel and scales of justice — as well as a chocolate shaped like a giant foot and a chocolate birth control pill pack, for the podiatrist client and the client who manufactures the pill, no doubt. Debbee Poch�, owner of Dallas-based Promotions N Motion, says edibles are the No. 1 holiday item. Hams, turkeys and fruit baskets are tops on the list. But even with gifts that “disappear,” such as edibles, Poch� says attorneys can add something permanent to the gift, like a cutting board with their firm logo burned into it or etched wine glasses in a wine basket. Poch� says no matter how big or small, creativity and personalization is key to finding the right gift for clients. If a client is outdoorsy, give him or her a barbecue grill, tent or hammock. The possibilities are endless, says Poch�, whose company has been in business almost two decades. So, what about fruitcakes? “I have not seen anybody do a fruitcake in years,” she says.

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