Law humbug? Not here. Even the crustiest litigator can go all gooey when the holidays roll around.
The National Law Journal asked prominent legal types to share their offbeat holiday traditions. Some of them described current practices; others went back to their childhoods. At first, most assumed that they celebrated just like everybody else. Upon further reflection, they realized that they indeed have some oddball holiday habits.
Here’s a look at some of their responses.
Professor, New York University School of Law
Arthur Miller once gift-wrapped a roll of toilet paper to make it look like he had more Christmas presents. Not that there weren’t enough, but the legal scholar always wants more, more, more under the tree.
“Some of the packages are faux,” he admitted. “Anything that comes into the house from Thanksgiving Day on is wrapped. If someone sends me a box of pencils, it gets wrapped,” he said. “I must confess, I’ve wrapped copy paper.”
Now teaching at New York University, Miller for decades celebrated the season in Massachusetts while he was teaching at Harvard Law School. “I’m a fanatic about Christmas,” he said. Each of his four dogs — one golden retriever (Lightning) and three bearded collies (Sunny, Misty and Stormy) — got their own stockings. No wonder he was wrapping boxes of Kleenex to augment the stockpile of gifts — it took lots of presents to measure up to his tree, which, he said, usually was about 15 feet tall.
Starting on about Dec. 10 every year, he would map out a different route each day to take on the drive home from the office to his home in Lincoln, Mass. That way, he could see a variety of neighborhood decorations. These days, living in New York, he takes walks all over the city at holiday time. During the season, “a serenity sets in, and people are nicer to each other,” he said.
Founder, The Lanier Law Firm
Trial lawyer Mark Lanier is renowned for hosting law firm holiday bashes on his 35-acre Houston property with entertainment provided by the likes of Miley Cyrus, Bon Jovi, Dolly Parton and, this year, Sting. As many as 8,500 guests attend his alcohol-free blowouts each year. When he dials it back for family-only festivities, he still celebrates in a big way. “We frequently kill our own turkey,” he said, referring to the menu for Thanksgiving. “My little girls will not participate.” Lanier and his wife, Becky, have one son and four daughters, ages 11 to 26.
Besides an array of kangaroos, monkeys, ducks and geese, his homestead has a working train that seats adults and kids and chugs in a figure-eight around the property, which is festooned with lights and holiday adornments. During the season, Lanier hosts a capella caroling in the property’s chapel, a replica of a country church from the 1st century that seats 275 people. His Christmas morning tradition is to make donuts from scratch for his family, a process that “takes three or four hours,” he said. Luckily, the kids don’t have to wait for the donuts to rise before tearing into their presents; gift-opening takes place on Christmas eve.
LAURA ARIANE MILLER
Partner, Nixon Peabody
The favorite holiday tradition for white-collar defense attorney Laura Ariane Miller comes in a bowl — Rose, Orange, Gator, Bluebonnet, Fiesta. Since 1976, Miller has seen every bowl game — either in person or parked in front of the TV — in which the University of Michigan football team has played. She received her undergraduate degree from University of Michigan. The only seasons she’s missed a game were the few times that the team didn’t qualify. She doesn’t want to discuss those dark years. For Miller, who concedes that she’s a “rabid” Wolverines fan, the game-watching needs to be a solitary experience. “It’s better for the safety and well-being of others if I watch it alone,” she said.
Chief executive, SNR Denton
On Thanksgiving, Elliott Portnoy makes sure he’s stocked up on pain relievers. Following the Turkey Day feast, about 25 of his family members and friends gather at a local park in Bethesda, Md., for the group’s annual flag(ish) football game. “The kids seem to not get tackled, but most of the adults do,” Portnoy said. Mud splatters, elbows are bruised and the grown-ups are reminded why they engage in such behavior only once a year. “It’s the most aggressive touch football you’ve ever seen,” he said.
Within a few weeks, Portnoy has fully recovered, and he’s ready for his family’s annual Hanukkah tradition. His wife, Estee, and their three children, Daniela, Noah and Josh, ages 6 to 12, take one night during the Jewish holiday to fully focus on people less fortunate. They’ve visited nursing homes, pitched in at soup kitchens, taken toys to hospital-bound children and delivered clothing to homeless people. This year, the Portnoys visited and donated to a nonprofit group that helps people in shelters transition to permanent homes. “It’s an important holiday tradition, given how blessed we are,” he said.
Director of research, U.S. News & World Report
To say that Robert Morse’s holidays are low-key would be an understatement. For the past five years, the man who devised the revered and reviled U.S. News & World Report law school rankings has traveled with his wife, Nita, from their home in Washington to Nantucket, Mass. — Nita’s elderly aunt lives there year-round. “It’s definitely cold, deserted, dark,” Morse said.
The tourist spot that teems with vacationers during the summer goes into hibernation in the winter, but Morse likes the stillness. “There is a certain beauty to Nantucket when there’s nobody there,” he said. “People there in the summertime wouldn’t even recognize it.” Restaurants are shuttered, vacation homes are boarded up, boutiques are dark. “It’s very quiet,” he said.
Managing editor, Above the Law
When the holidays roll around, David Lat and his family break out the Magic Microphone for a hard-hitting session of karaoke. “Filipinos take their karaoke deadly serious,” said Lat, founder of the popular legal blog Above the Law.
For Thanksgiving and Christmas, about 30 members of Lat’s family typically gather at his parents’ house in Saddle River, N.J. They plug the microphone into the television and cut loose. Lat’s 4-year-old cousin, Chloe, belts out a “killer version” of “Moon River,” he said.
The holidays are a combination of American and Filipino traditions, with food from both countries on the dinner table. “Turkey and mashed potatoes sit side-by-side with such delicacies as dinuguan (pork blood stew) and lumpia (spring rolls),” he said. Aunts, uncles, cousins and friends also enjoy pancit palabok, a rice noodle dish, and puto, a steamed rice cake that serves as a dessert. “We prepare a very multicultural menu,” he said.
Partner, Vinson & Elkins
Paula Hinton’s father didn’t hold back when it came to the holidays. As an only child, he wasn’t raised with a lot of Christmas chaos in the house, so when he had the chance to celebrate with Paula, her brother and their mother, he went full throttle. “My father loved Christmas more than anyone,” Hinton said.
Her father, who was an attorney with a general practice in the small town of Gadsden, Ala., sought out the gaudiest, most over-the-top decorations he could find, she said. One year, when the family realized that they were without an angel for the top of the tree, he went out and bought one. Hinton was about 11 years old at the time. He came home with the ornament, a blond, buxom gal whose hands not only lit up when plugged in, but whose ample bust also shone bright. Hinton said that the angel is still tucked away in her mother’s attic. “We called her daddy’s little Christmas stripper.”
Dean, Georgetown University Law Center
The holidays wouldn’t be complete for William Treanor and his family without a vigorous game of bowling.
Until this year, Treanor spent the holidays in the New York area. He taught and was dean at Fordham University School of Law. During the holidays, he and his wife, Allison, and their two children, Liam and Katherine, would take a day and head over to suburban New Jersey, where the couple grew up. First was a ceremonial hike through the woods with Baxter, their Cairn terrier-poodle mix. “He’s a city dog. It’s a real treat,” Treanor said. Then came the bowling. Introducing their children to the sport that was a big hit with Treanor and his wife growing up was important, he said. Treanor admitted, however, that he is a terrible bowler. This year, they’ll be in the Washington area for the holidays. “We’ll be coming up with some new traditions,” he said.
Partner, Seeger Weiss
Stephen Weiss thought it would be easy. His wife, Debra, was bogged down with running holiday errands in New York and needed him to pick up sufganiyot for the first night of Hanukkah. The jelly donuts are a holiday mainstay for the Weisses and their children, Alex, 17; Samara, 14; and Jason, 7. “It was the one thing she wanted me to do,” he said.
Little did he know how rare the sweets become on the Upper East Side of Manhattan as the Jewish holiday approaches. “I stopped at a dozen and a half places, including Dunkin’ Donuts,” he said. Out of options, he trudged homeward with trepidation to confess to his wife that he wasn’t able to do the one task she had asked of him.
Half a block from their apartment, however, he spotted a fellow delivering boxes of something into a bagel shop. “What are those?” he asked the man. “Jelly donuts!” came the reply. Disaster averted.