In normal times, law firms would be hard at work planning their holiday parties, with some even going so far as to rent out museums or hire Michelin-starred chefs for their opulent soirees.
For example, litigation firm Susman Godfrey, with offices in Houston, New York, Seattle and Los Angeles, was famous for hosting art-studded office parties for 800 people in Houston, with a sushi bar in one conference room and a caviar tower in another.
This year, COVID-19 is disrupting plans, decimating the big, fancy affairs. But some firms are getting around the pandemic, using everything from virtual games to gift deliveries in an effort to make the party as festive as possible.
At Staver Accident Injury Lawyers in Chicago, everyone traditionally gets dolled up, and the partners treat the entire team and their families to dinner at a fancy steakhouse. This time, they’re doing a COVID-19 variation on that theme.
“Instead of all getting together, the firm is providing everyone with a $100 DoorDash gift card, enough to order the fancy steak entree and sides for the family, all delivered around the same time,” says Jared Staver, a personal injury attorney and the founder of the firm. “Then we’re all hopping on Zoom in the comfort of our own homes and enjoying dinner and wine from our kitchen tables.”
Staver says he knows it’s not the same as getting together in person, but it’s safe and he’s looking forward to trying out the new holiday party format.
Other firms are sticking with their previous holiday plans—with a twist.
David Reischer, an attorney and the CEO of Legal Advice, is going ahead at full throttle with an indoor party this year, just like last year’s bash. But it required much more planning due to COVID-19. His meeting planning staff researched several venues to ensure all guests could be 6 feet apart so social distancing rules could still be maintained. Essentially, this means for a room with a 300-person capacity, there can only be 100-150 guests.
“Unfortunately, gone are the days when it looked sad and lame for a room to appear empty, per se,” Reischer says. “Make sure to communicate with your guests about mask requirements and social distancing rules,” he adds.
Andrew Taylor, the director and founder of Net Lawman, a U.K.-based online legal document template platform, says he’s not going to worry about social distancing or any COVID-19 terminology during his office party. That’s because it will be fully remote this year, and he’s encouraging online gaming as a way to let loose and have fun while also engaging his global staff.
“I believe this is a great way to encourage team communication and unity as well, even if that makes me the target of a few virtual paintball shots,” Taylor says.
So far, the game lineup includes the Jackbox Party Pack, which includes five online games in each pack—and can be shared as long as one person purchases it. The games can be played via computers or phones without an app, and each of the seven party packs contains different games, which include “You Don’t Know Jack” and “Word Spud.”
The giving season
There’s also a way to blend the in-person and virtual party, and that’s what Maria Barlow, a Chicago-based attorney with the Barlow Law Firm, is planning to do.
This year, she’s hosting a week of giveaways for her clients and colleagues. Barlow says she’s preparing personalized items they can win and then pick up outside the firm’s office door.
She’s working through the logistics at the moment, figuring out how games will be played and the prizes distributed.
Currently, prize options are T-shirts, drinking cups, Christmas ornaments and keychains. It’s a far cry from last year’s holiday party at a restaurant or an open house, which she’s also done in previous years.
As for Susman Godfrey—the firm that has become famous, or infamous, for their lavish holiday parties—there will be neither a grand in-person party nor a traditional open house this year. The firm has taken a strict approach during the pandemic, avoiding all nonessential in-person activities. Instead, they’re planning virtual holiday gatherings, though they haven’t figured these out yet.
One thing they have figured out is that they plan on still making a difference with their parties, albeit in a different way than usual.
“We decided back in June that 100% of our firm’s usually year-end charitable giving will be to organizations that work for racial justice and will be made in memory of George Floyd,” says Neal Manne, a managing partner of Susman Godfrey. “We are also double matching—two dollars for [each] dollar given and without any limit—all charitable donations made by any of our employees personally to any such organizations.”
Danielle Braff is a freelance writer based in Chicago.