A Little Something Extra

There is something in all of us that appreciates getting something for nothing. Madison Avenue knows this. Retailers rely on it. While it may be illusory, we are inevitably taken in by the thought that that extra ounce of shaving gel, or that two-for-the-price-of-one sale on generic vitamins really does mean that we are getting something for nothing.

It's the same in our business. How many of us are walking around with a complimentary calculator or calendar from a realtor or a stationery supplier. Maybe even a digital clock or a pen that a favorite marshall or stenographer dropped off during the holidays.

The something for nothing we like to receive most, though, are unexpected gifts from grateful clients. While those fitting that description, at least in my practice, are few, there are rare occasions when someone delivers something to the office that just makes you feel good and, at least for a moment, restores your faith in humanity.

There was a time, way back when, when some clients actually paid for legal services with the fruits of their labors. Some senior members of the bar talk about receiving eggs, vegetables or even chickens as partial payment. That doesn't happen so much any more.

There are, though, exceptions. A number of years back I represented several young men who worked in a necktie factory. Somehow I managed a halfway decent result and, lo and behold, the following day I received an odd-shaped box containing four dozens of ties, each dozen with its own pattern and every tie a different color. There are still people in my office who occasionally wear one of these freebies, now almost completely out of style. In the back of my car there's a fancy satin warm-up jacket with my name embroidered on the front and the logo of a roofing company on the back. At home in a closet next to some paisley bell-bottom pants is another jacket from a hockey league I represented years ago.

Recently I've represented a client who, like clockwork, every other Friday drops off four long, tasty links of kielbasa and a jar of spicy mustard that everyone in my office devours within minutes. And one of our lawyers has done such a good job for a client that we all enjoy a monthly delivery of assorted baked goods.

There's a satisfaction that comes from getting client gifts. It's a kind of Sally Field moment-You like me. You really like me! We all appreciate being well thought of.

My favorite client gift, though, is the box of cigars I receive and have received for each of the last ten years on the anniversary date of a lucky acquittal for a true gentleman who more than deserved that result. That experience, I confess, has corrupted me a bit. I have been known on occasion to inform clients who mouth sentiments of gratitude of the particular brand of cigars I favor. [Punch Rothschild, Maduro, if you're interested or, perhaps, grateful].

That ploy has not always worked out quite the way I expected. I once represented a difficult client who faced allegations which, if true, called into question his integrity. An allegation of a low class act by a low class individual. His interaction with me could have lead one to suspect the allegations were well-founded. Nevertheless disaster was avoided. His gratitude, he claimed, was unbounded. Whatever could he do to show his appreciation? Anything. Anything I wanted. I demurred. It wasn't necessary. No, he insisted. Well, if he really wanted to he could get me a box of Punch Rothschild Maduros. They come in boxes of 50, I explained. But he really didn't have to. Getting a good result was reward enough. No, no, he again insisted. A box of 50 Punch Rothschild Maduros it would be.

Weeks went by. Nothing. I crossed it off as an offer uttered in the flush of victory. The gratitude had obviously dissipated as had the offer. Imagine my surprise, then, when I returned to my office one day and saw on my chair a bag from The Owl Shop, New Haven's landmark tobacconist. Inside was, you guessed it, a box bearing the Punch Rothschild Maduro logo. Wow, I thought, this guy hadn't forgotten. He really was a lot classier than I'd given him credit for. What a swell guy. I had surely misjudged him.

I picked up the box with anticipation. Strange, I thought, there was no cellophane wrapping. Stranger still, the tax stamp seal was broken. No matter. Then I lifted the cover. Mystery solved. I was the lucky recipient of 47 of my favorite cigars. My client's gratitude could not overcome the limitations of his character. He apparently needed the other three more than I did.

Well, it is the thought that counts and, after all, I did get something for nothing.