The holidays: A time for playing nice... and eating peanuts

Lisa Henderson-Newlin, The Levison Group

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! That’s right. I’m talking about the holiday season, but I doubt it’s for the reasons outlined in Andy Williams’ beloved holiday tune, unless he was singing about pigs in a blanket and egg nog. If so, that song just became a whole lot more meaningful. With the holiday season comes holiday parties, and with holiday parties comes food, drink, and an excuse to cancel that deposition on Friday morning. (Who schedules a deposition on a Friday morning anyway?)

Being a lawyer this time of year is always a unique experience, and I suspect it’s different than most other professions. Not only does it seem like lawyers throw more holiday parties than anyone else, we also bring the parties to a whole new level. Instead of a few appetizers, we have a room full of them. Instead of a nice bouquet of poinsettias on the table, we put the entire bush on the table and surround it with holly and mistletoe. Instead of a bucket of ice, we bring in an ice sculpture of the Lady of Justice. (Okay, this last part is an exaggeration, but something I’ve always wanted to do).

Not only do we have amazing holiday parties, the sheer quantity of parties on our calendars is astounding. (Or maybe that’s just my calendar since I’m such a popular gal.) Instead of one all-encompassing holiday party, we tend to divide each gathering up into specific categories to allow for maximum soirees. Do we combine a client party with the office party? Of course not! What about the attorney-spouse dinner with the staff luncheon? That would be madness!

I suspect this failure to combine activities isn’t because we don’t want to introduce our spouses to the assistants who make us productive. (However, I still try to keep my husband away from my assistant for fear he will break the news to her that I won’t go into anaphylactic shock without a daily serving of a caramel macchiato from Starbucks.) Rather, I think the reason we separate each event is because we want to ensure we cram as many festivities into a one-month time frame as we can. We’re overachievers that way.

Overall, the lawyers’ parties are the place to be, and not just because there’s free valet parking and an unlimited amount of spring rolls (although that certainly helps). For a profession with an unfortunate reputation of being ruthless and coldhearted, the holiday season is a great reminder that lawyers aren’t the villains we are frequently made out to be. Although some in the outside world may consider us sharks, we really are just a group of minnows swimming around looking for the fondue table. In actuality, we really do play nice in the proverbial sandbox. In this case, the sandbox is a rented conference room at the Marriott, but the metaphor still stands.

What I like best about the holiday season is the collegial atmosphere it brings to the legal profession (and the wide variety of party peanuts). When your job is to handle and resolve conflict on a daily basis, it can be difficult to let things go as soon as you walk outside the courtroom. Yet somehow, the presence of a fat guy in a Santa suit and socks filled with candy seem to make those disagreements melt away, at least during the month of December. I’m not sure it would have the same effect in July.

The holidays also allow us to take a step back and see each other as people instead of just the person on the other side of the case objecting to continuances. The personal side of being a lawyer and interacting with our peers during the year can sometimes be lacking, but during the holidays, it seems we all get to know each other a little better. Learning your opponent’s son wants a Playstation 3 for Christmas makes it a little easier to lose that Motion to Dismiss to him. (It also provides a great reason to invite yourself over to his house for dinner and a few games of Mario Cart.)

So as this holiday season comes to a close, I hope we can all remember to bring a bit more holiday cheer to the profession in the new year. Although our clients may not always see eye-to-eye, and we may be forced to battle the issues out in the courtroom, we’re all just people doing a job. And if we seem to forget that during the year, there’s always the pictures from the parties to remind us we aren’t as heartless as people think we are (and also to remind us the new associate wasn’t kidding when he said he was allergic to peanuts).

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Lisa Henderson-Newlin is a member of the law firm McAnany Van Cleave and Phillips. Contact Under Analysis by email at comments@levisongroup.com.
© 2013 Under Analysis L.L.C.

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