Poll: Holiday Presents for Administrative Assistants and Secretaries

A number of readers have written in asking about holiday presents for administrative assistants. We tend to agree with Above the Law’s advice last year — cash is the way to go for holidays. Still, we thought we’d poll people to see what they’re giving (and how much):

In general, our understanding of administrative assistants/secretary bonus compensation runs like this:

  • for birthdays, give flowers — this alerts the rest of the office that it’s the secretary’s birthday (and gee, doesn’t s/he have a great boss for getting her/him such swell flowers?)
  • for unfortunate events, give food baskets — for example, if your secretary breaks her leg or her grandmother dies, it would be rude not to send something to the hospital or to her home — and food is better than flowers because it recognizes that your secretary is probably too overwhelmed to be cooking right now
  • for service above and beyond secretarial duties (anything from watering your plants while you honeymoon to covering for you while you interview elsewhere), give gift cards, plants, take him or her out to lunch, or give him or her a more personal gift
  • for year-end holidays, give cash — by itself.  As we said above, we agree with the AtL thread last year, and have heard that you should give your secretary $100 for each year you’ve served your company or firm (so, a sixth year would pay $600, regardless of how long you’ve had your secretary — although we’ve heard some people cap that at $500) — on the theory that this is additional compensation to them for the year, and no one appreciates getting their paycheck in the form of a really amazing pair of shoes or a gift card to a fancy restaurant.  (We’ve heard time and time again that this is true for Big Law firms — we must admit, we don’t know what the rules are for smaller firms and other industries.)

Readers, as always, please comment — what will you be giving this year?  Do you agree with our theory of secretarial compensation?  What would you recommend doing if you had your secretary for less than a year?

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  1. I chose just cash because it was closest, but actually, I usually get my secretary a gift certificate because giving cold hard cash seems, well, cold and hard. I do Amazon.com often because they stock everything from electronics to housewares, Saks b/c it’s nearby for the fashiony secretary, this year my secretary is pregnant, so maybe something child themed.

    I used to have a wonderful secretary that I was very close to, and whose gorgeously elegant tastes I was very familiar with — so I would get her a designer handbag or similar b/c she was worth it and b/c she loved that kind of stuff. My current secretary, not so much.

    I don’t buy the $100.yr rule, unless there is a cap. We have two backup secretaries in addition to the main secretary who expect gifts as well, so…

  2. Is the gift supposed to function something like a bonus? I think my firm gives the secretaries bonuses already. I also don’t think I as an associate should be responsible for paying my secretary–the firm should be doing that already. Rather, isn’t it a gift appreciating someone’s hard work? I think a Visa gift card that functions like cash is better than a check for the reasons Elaine stated–it seems less cold and hard but still provides all the functionality of cash. I think I’ll probably go with that and a box of holiday candy or coffee or something so it looks like I put some effort into it.

  3. I think cash is much better than a gift card. Gift cards are always such a pain in the neck to use. Make the trip to the bank and get nice large bills so that you don’t have to stuff the envelope with cash.

  4. Also — I don’t do the $100 per year thing. I work at a big law firm, and I think I gave $100 my first year, and then $100 again my second year to a secretary I’d had for two months. Not sure what I’ll do this year…$150? Is that cheap?

  5. Anonymous :

    $100 per year?? A fifth-year should give $500 to his/her secretary as a Xmas gift? Is this a joke? I am in BigLaw, and this may be more than my bonus this year.

    Am I the only one to think this number is outrageous?

  6. The $100/year thing seems like too much, especially if you consider that most secretaries work for several associates and a partner or two. I don’t think that rigid rules like 100/yr are followed by most people anyway – they just give what they think is appropriate and what they can afford.
    Since I just started at my firm, I’ll just do a $50 Visa/AmEx card and maybe some chocolates as well.

  7. I have worked in NY, London and CA, and I’d say the $100 per year rule is rare. I do like to appreciate my secretary if she (sorry, it’s always been a she) has worked hard for me.

    For all you scrooges who say, “Isn’t the firm supposed to pay my secy?” please remember that firm bonuses are TINY, and this year, at many firms, will be nonexistent. You make MULTIPLES of what your secretary makes. If she’s ever saved your booty, or does anything worthwhile, say thanks. And really actually look her in the eye or write a real card and say “Thank you.” It’s the honorable thing to do.

    Those same scrooges are the type that stiff waitstaff, screw their doorman and don’t pay their dogwalkers (or similar service people) that really make a difference. Don’t be a scrooge at the holidays!

  8. I usually give a personal present and cash or a gift card. Last year it was a gift card to an airline because she visits family three times a year, and I know that’s her biggest personal expenditure. But I must say I don’t pay $100/year, that would be $1400, while I like my secretary I think that’s excessive. I usually give her a giftcard/cash in the $100 to $200 range depending on how the year went, and about $25 worth of personalized gift (last year earrings and a scarf) along with a card, of course. I’m not at Biglaw, and I don’t know a single partner who gives that much.

  9. I did a box of chocolates plus $100 cash last year; will probably do the same this year.

    She got me a really nice personalized gift (lawyer accoutrement type stuff).

  10. Cash = lame. Spend the equivalent on a gift that they would actually appreciate. If you are sitting here thinking ‘how in the hell would I know what sort of gift my secretary would actually appreciate’ my advice to you for the new year is: get to know your secretary a bit better. It’s NOT that hard.

  11. 5000 gift certifcate to Linens and Things

  12. Give your secretary $100 and she’ll never stay even 5 minutes past her shift to help you. I was support staff before I went to law school and your secretary’s loyalty can and should be bought.
    I would never give less than $500 on both her birthday (plus flowers) and Christmas. This ensures that my filing gets done on a daily basis, no floater complains when assigned to me, and I never ever miss an important message. I’m a second-year. Yes, that’s pretty much my bonus for the year, but good help is worth the money.

    • Are you hiring? :) I am a paralegal, work for two partners and two associates and NOTHING at holidays after 6 years of service. I am so loyal i would appreciate a starbucks gift card.
      Seriously though, you sound like a fantastic boss.

  13. The hundred dollar thing is definitely regional (read: NYC). I read that ATL article last year and about died laughing. In my midwest BigLaw office, standard is $50 from young associates (not per year; TOTAL). Keep in mind that firm culture, associate compensation, and cost of living for your city will — and should — affect what is appropriate. I make a hell of a lot less than someone working for my firm’s NYC office, and therefore it makes no sense that I would follow the NYC standards for gift giving.

    Last year, I tried really hard to give a personalized gift to my secretary (I was a 1st year associate at the time, so I had only been in the office for about 4 months). I spent about $75 all told, and put a lot of thought into it (asking around with other secretaries about what she might like). I ended up choosing two bottles of nice wine of her favorite vintage, along with lots of edibles to go along with it from whole foods (cheese, crackers, fruit), and two holiday wine glasses. When I gave it to her, she went on and on about how her dog would really love the food items (she didn’t mean to be offensive, that’s just really what she planned to do with the gift — I was, nonetheless, offended).

    This year, I have a different secretary who would continue to ignore my work even if I paid her $1000. She’s a nice lady, but she has never saved me/covered for me/etc. She’s getting $50 in cash and a card. Period.

  14. I doubt anyone but partners are really thanking their secretaries for all the hard work they do. Most associates make very little use of their secretaries. In about 5 1/2 months of being at this office I’ve asked my secretary only to send one piece of intra-office mail. This is worth $100?

    Let’s face it, your gift to your secretary is nothing but a bribe. You want her to cover for you when you’re out of the office (or at least have the decency to e-mail you if you’ve been paged).

    Odds are my secretary will get a bigger bonus than I will this year. Maybe she should buy me a gift as a “thank you” for doing my own time sheets.

  15. 8 year assistant :

    Look folks, I can tell you as an administrative assistant, we do more than you will possibly ever see or acknowledge. I wipe my bosses phone down with anti-bacterial wipes in the a.m. before he arrives during cold season, pick up dry cleaning, take his car to get detailed, take the dogs to the vet, arrange for contractors to come to his house, pick up lunch,make the best coffee in California, pick out other employees gifts and order them for him. Last year he bought me a child’s toy for my birthday “I thought it would be funny
    ” there was no gift when I got married this fall, heck hardly even an acknowledgment. There was no birthday gift OR card this year and I imagine none for the holiday either. When you are basically told that you are that under valued, why would we go the extra mile anymore?

    Take care of the people who help you life run more smoothly.

    • Anonymous :

      I am very sorry to hear this, hopefully by now things have gotten better. I just started working for a company and our group has an administrative assistant. She is very nice and is always helpful. This is my 3rd week now and I am already looking into gifts for her, she has made my life a lot easier already.

    • We’re hiring. Firm bonuses for secretaries this year were $2000 to $3000. Individual attorneys seem to be giving in the $100-200 range. Also in California, not in big law. And I have never asked my secretary to pick up my drycleaning or deal with my kids/dogs/contractors.

  16. I plan on giving my secretary cash (and maybe a small gift) in the $100-$200 range. I actually like her as a person, and she is a great help to me. If it makes a difference, I am a 4th year at a mid-market NYC firm.

  17. When I started working at a biglaw firm in the mid-west, the rumor was that you give the first 3 numbers of your salary – so she gets $160, $200, etc.

    I’ve capped that at $200 and usually give her a nice bottle of wine or homemade candy and a card with it. She always seems very happy with that, and she always gives me really thoughtful presents. I know of partners who give their very hard-working secretaries $1500-$2000, but they work their secretaries to the bone and make a whole lot more money than I.

  18. I’m in biglaw on the west coast and can’t imagine giving more than $200 to a secretary no matter how many years we’ve ‘been together’. Is the $100/year thing a reality outside of NYC? I do not want to be cheap but I also don’t want to be over-the-top generous.
    I plan to get a gift certificate for the mall for $200 and pair it with some lotion, a scarf or goodies. Please, please let me know if I am being cheap.

  19. I think $200 for your secretary is kind of cheap. That’s how much I got as a holiday gift working in office services at a small law firm in San Francisco before I went to law school.

    “Take care of the people who help you life run more smoothly.” Those are words to live by!

  20. 8 year assistant: I wish you were my assistant. If you were, and you did all of those extras for me, I would greatly appreciate it, and I would have no problem showing my appreciation with generous gifts for holidays and birthdays.

    I would also buy you lovely gift if you could simply teach my secretary how to be 1/8th as awesome as you sound. I’m not talking about the extras — I don’t dare dream of anti-bacterial wipes — but rather, the little things like, you know, doing the work that I need to have done like printing, copying, and formatting (i.e. “her job”). Unfortunately, as nice of a woman as my secretary is — I really like her as a person — she generally ignores the few tasks that I’ve asked her to do to the point that I’ve given up and I just do everything myself. With that in mind, I will give a small token of appreciation (because, as I said, I like her as a person, and I enjoy “working” with her), but nothing above and beyond. I think that many young associates find themselves in similar circumstances.

    I think that it’s a real shame that you are undervalued. You should stop doing the extras for your boss, because you obviously are not appeciated, and that is NOT your job. I hope that your boss wakes up and smells the crappy coffee that he has to brew for himself, and realizes how lucky he is to have you working for him.

  21. If my secretary ran my life the way 8 yer assistant does, I would have no problem shelling out $1000. My secretary is lovely, but she has never taken care of any personal tasks for me (I would never ask her to). She does timesheets, expense reports, and the rare filing. I do my own copying, answer my phone, file my docs, etc. So $150-200 for a secretary I have had 6 months seems reasonable. She also has several partners and another associate, so she should make out pretty well.

    FWIW, I am a West Coast BigLaw midlevel.

  22. People please don’t turn these comments into ATL repeats with lawyers and support staff fighting! Face it, you both need each other and every firm has both mean and nice attorneys and both awesome and lazy support staff.

    Last year my assistant was of no help to me as a first year associate. She was afraid to use the computer (we got her a typewriter, no joke) and was dumb as rocks so I did everything myself. I gave her $50 and resented that I gave her anything. This year my assistant is awesome, hard worker, smart, willing to go the extra mile. I don’t work in BigLaw although I do work in DC so I’ll probably go with $100 and a nice bottle of champagne. That seems to be the going rate at our firm for holiday gifts.

    FWIW our firm cut attorney holiday bonuses but WILL give support staff bonuses because we do value them and they are more likely to be hit harder by an economic downturn.

  23. The people who posted these comments above are cheap, ungrateful and spoiled! Secretaries get paid nothing compared to you and we have to deal with all of your whiney demands. If you were REALLY so smart you would realize what a secretary can do for your career. If you’re an associate, you give some home made candy or cookies you had better watch out because they will drop a little comment here and there about you to the Partner they also work for. And for you Partners, you’ll have no idea everyone in the Firm thinks you’re an asshole (because your Sectretary will tell them so) when you give your secretary $100.00! It’s part of the job and the game they play, a small amount of cash to you ($1,000) can improve their life in ways you have no idea. I know some staff that don’t have enough money to even buy food and hide that fact. Why do you think they are hovering around the conference room after a lunch meeting to get a free lunch? It works both ways, when you do good, they will let everyone know how great you are which will help your career!

    • Where do you work that secretaries are paid nothing?

      At my mid-size boutique, the secretary makes about 1/2 what mid-range associate makes. A good secretary is hard to find & worth the money.

      Also, at least around here, the partners talk to each other. I know what the other partners are getting their secretaries, and it’s nowhere near $1000.

  24. db, I don’t know how you live, but $1000 is not a small amount of cash to me (a midlevel at biglaw in SV)…that seems an entirely inappropriate amount of money to give to a person and I would feel very uncomfortable giving that to my secretary

  25. Anonymous :

    Okay, so what do you do for a good secretary that has more money than you do (hubby makes lots — she’s working to give herself something to do to keep from being bored as an empty-nester)? I mean when she’s giving $1000 to every charitable request that comes down the hall, giving her cash seems pretty silly. So how do I say thank you otherwise? I know — something “personal” — but I don’t cook or craft and she buys whatever she wants. Now what?

    • Flowers are almost always a welcome addition to a secretary’s desk. It’s not the money, it’s the thought, in this case. I have been working in law (Big and otherwise) for over 30 years, and I am a little taken aback by the theory behind giving secretaries and admin assistants gifts that have been expounded here. I work for three partners and two associates. Two of the partners I have worked for for many years. They give me between $250 and $350 every year in the form of a check in a holiday card. The other partner choose to give me a gift certificate, probably because he feels that cash is too cold and hard as someone mentioned. I love all of these gifts, but may I point out that the associate I work with has never, ever, ever given me anything. And I have never, ever, ever given him short shrift in the service or gossip department because of it. (I did, however, ask another associate to have a talk with him because he tends to be clueless about many things in life, and I thought I’d give his next secretary a break.) I give excellent service and I cover butts because that is part of the excellent service I give. And I do it out of pride, not because someone gives me cash in an envelope at holiday time. The prevailing attitude in these comments that one must bribe one’s secretary to get excellent service offends me, and I certainly hope it isn’t true of most secretaries.

    • Something personal? I gave my secretary a nice cashmere scarf to wear because the office AC is hell, some chocolates, and flowers last year.

  26. LA Big Law Assistant :

    I have been a Big Law assistant in Los Angeles for over 25 years (at a few different firms) for different level partners and associates both. For the most part, partners have been very generous, giving (at the minimum) 100-200 for every year that I’ve worked for them plus a nice gift (last year it was a Coach wallet). Associates — $100, pretty much across the board. In my opinion, 10-20% of the attorney’s bonus would be appropriate for a good assistant that you value. Also, pretty good advice is to check with your peers, because assistants tend to talk to each other.

  27. Anonymous: If she is into charitable giving, you could try and find out what her favorite charity is and give a gift in her name along with a nice bottle of wine. If you look to order from a nice, small vineyard, that you can’t buy at the grocery, you often get a better value for the quality and it won’t look like you just picked something up at whole foods on the way to the office.

  28. Both you Anons… waaa, waaaa! Even first years make $160,000 plus bonuses. What!? A midlevel biglaw only gets a $20,000 – 30,000 bonus? Secretaries will never make that kind of money in their lifetime. Don’t get me started! After working in big law for over 24 years, I can honestly say I’ve never met anyone that has a rich husband and they only work to keep busy. Are you nuts? Do you have any idea how much your assistants actually make, it’s next to nothing. $100 for every year of service, what a joke! You are lawyers for a reason I guess, stingy and conservative and it’s all about you! And you say your secretary gives to charity, and you say giving her cash is silly, what a loser. We all in huge debt and try not to look too sorry so you don’t walk all over us even more. Excuse me will I get back to typing my midlevel associate’s labels (over 200) for his personal xmas cards on my own time after everyone has gone home. The suggestions here are so riduculous, they are all posted by lawyers, who else would look at this site about wearing the latest fashion to work, secretaries can’t afford it!

  29. The comments here are so far off base, they are only posted by lawyers. Who else would look at this site for wearing the latest fashion at work, secretaries can’t afford it. $100 for every one year of service, who the hell came up with that? What a joke! Don’t you other secretaries believe that! First years make what? $160,000 out the gate. Midlevel please! You get what kind of bonuses – $20,000 – 30,000? Waaa, Waaa, anons. Cheap, stingy, elitest, it’s all about you! Your assistante gives to charity, and you say giving her cash seems silly, what a joke! After working in biglaw for over 20 years, I’ve never met one secretary who has a rich husband and they only work to keep busy, are you nuts? We all are in huge credit card debt and don’t want to look to sorry so that you don’t walk all over us when you pull up in your bmw. Excuse me while I get back to typing my midlevel’s xmas labels (over 200) for his personal xmas list on my own time after he has gone home.

  30. What are the tax implications of large cash gifts to secretaries? I would think it would be exempt as under the gift tax cap, but if it is a payment for services rendered it may not be.

  31. N – typical thinking. How can I benefit. Upright Scrooge. What a pain in the ass it must be to live with you.

  32. dear firm, please do not give me a check as a bonus. Cold hard cash is just cold and hard.

  33. Office services gave me a bottle of wine last year! Now that is nice coming from office services to a secretary. Personally, I’m highly insulted when an attorney gives me a gift card for 50 dollars. I still have one in my wallet for Boarders from last year. Getting 100 from a partner, would be time to not care about his practice or success at all. I think I’d love it to see them have a difficult time after giving me 100 or even 250 for that fact. Of course I give everyone in my group a gift and the 1st, 2nd years and even beyond give nothing, not even a verbal happy holidays. Nothing! Shame on all you! Thinking that the firm will give a bonus is a joke, lucky to get 100 after taxes.

  34. I am conflicted on how to respond to some of these posts. Normally I am sickened by “greedy associate” posts–all about how they work so hard and the bonus isn’t enough, and why aren’t they all valued? As if our extremely high salaries weren’t enough. But I am appalled at some of these secretaries. I understand that you make much less. But really, an associate (and many junior associates have no idea that cash is an expected gift and truly think that something personal is the nicer way to go) makes something homemade (after all, I don’t think anyone can say that most associates have lots of free time) with his/her free time, and you will be vindictive and gossip about your attorney? When that attorney truly thought s/he was doing something nice? And a partner who gives $100 is automatically labeled an asshole? And funny, I thought what made a partner an asshole is asking their secretaries to stay late 5 minutes before quitting time because they couldn’t be bothered to arrange evening assistance ahead of time, or verbally abusive partners, or those who demand their secretaries run their personal lives as well. Where is any semblance of understanding anything about the history and purpose of the holidays? Maybe it is because in my family, we don’t exchange gifts, but instead do some kind of nice service, but I am just appalled. Why is $50 something to be insulted about? I worked at a firm that recently collapsed, and my former assistant was taken along by the partner (who I know for a fact had to fight tooth and nail to bring her) to a new firm–not one day of unemployment. That is because she did excellent work. Now there’s a reason to do good work and to not be vindictive and spiteful because you didn’t get enough cash during the holidays. And also, not all associates are rolling in the dough. Beyond our enormous debt, many are also helping their parents and siblings out financially. I’m a BigLaw mid-level and plan on giving my assistant (with whom I have worked with about 4 weeks only) a $100 Visa or AmEx gift card. I hope she recognizes it as what it is–a gesture of appreciation for putting up with my “whiny demands” (which consist of filing, typing work related items, sending items to doc prod, etc…all your typical work-related secretarial duties) though, I don’t whine, and these duties are the whole point of why secretaries are hired and paid (albeit most likely not a salary approaching a first year’s). Oh, and not that it really matters, I am not getting a bonus at all because of the timing of my old firm’s collapse and going along with a partner to my new firm–so please, no 10-20% of bonus arguments please. Although if I had received a bonus, most of it would have gone to my student loan debt and the rest towards our savings. I do believe my assistant is a lovely woman, though, and will appreciate it, and will continue to answer my phone when I am out and to run around like crazy when a huge filing needs to get out the door. It is because she believes in doing her work well. And I really do value that and show her my appreciation every day with simple “please” and “thank yous”.

  35. 100 is not enough! Extra money goes to your student loans or to “our” savings… You know how much I have in my savings? 50 dollars (the minimum to keep it open) and I’m in my 40s and a career legal secretary.

  36. LA Big Law Assistant :

    Anon above got there first, but, really … “appalled”? You are lucky (as I am, and believe me I know this and am thankful for my job) to have a savings. Like my colleague above, I have the minimum in my savings to keep it open (just in case — ha). I never said we gossiped about our attorneys. I said that we talked to each other. We don’t so much talk about what we get or got, but what we didn’t or don’t. Remember that movie, it was called something like “Day Without A Mexican,” how about we try “Day Without Your Legal Assistant.” The recent woes in the market may have cost you some of your portfolio which you will be able to recover much easier at $200,000 than I will at $60,000, but it has cost most of my peers most of their retirement savings and we just won’t be able to make up for that in our life times. Some of us have or are losing homes and don’t even get me started on how we are going to get our children into a good college so that they don’t have to work for, but can actually be attorneys. Make sense now, you pompous jerk? Pleases and thank yous are not special treatment. A nice little gift at the end of the year is.

  37. *sigh*

    For the record, I make $130k/year in at BigLaw in the midwest. My “bonus” this year will be less than $5k. I have $150k of student debt, and I support my significant other (because he is out of a job in this crap economy — and, he also has $150k of student debt). So I live paycheck to paycheck, drive a car that is 10 years old, and pray that nothing breaks because I have zero savings.

    But you’re right, I’m still doing better than most people, and I am grateful for what I have. Not all BigLaw makes NYC money, though, and you seem to be overlooking that fact.

    I’m willing to agree that we are talking about very different circumstances here. I wish that you were my awesome secretary. I wish that I made 160K + 20K bonus. Unfortunately for both of us, neither of those things is true.

    I’m not sure if you’re just trying to get everyone all riled up here, but I’ve said my peace, and I’ll leave it at that.

  38. I mean, the thing is, associates aren’t responsible for assistant compensation. If we all agree assistants are underpaid for the work they do, then we should be talking to firm management about raising those salaries, perhaps at the expense of attorney bonuses.

    But putting it on individual associates regardless of whether they’ve ever even asked their assistant to do anything or whether their assistant is competent or not seems a bit weird. Are we turning holiday gifts into a kind of charitable donation? Charitable donations are awesome, but there’s not really any particular reason that “your assistant” should be everyone’s favored charity. On the other hand, obviously everyone’s agreed that the practice is to give something, and if you have a good relationship with your assistant, that should probably be more rather than less. But expecting young lawyers to be compensating for otherwise low salaries across the board doesn’t seem right.

  39. To A Reader – this isn’t a question on the bar exam. We aren’t asking for you to compensate our low salaries. If I just did my legal secretary job it wouldn’t be enough to keep me around. I do things that a maid and waitress would do. To those that say my secretary doesn’t do anything, it’s your fault, or the person before you she supported, you don’t engage us, get us involved in your practice, year after year we just disengage and become completely numb. It takes a while to get excited about anything again but it can be done, it just won’t happen over night. For those of you in that situation – why not shock her and give her a nice bonus, in this economy you’ll be the talk at her family xmas – Scrooge!

  40. Well, anon, but some people don’t want secretaries that act as maids or waitresses. Certainly I would never say that someone who expects their secretary to do work outside their job description and then didn’t reward them for it wasn’t a jerk. And again, yeah, attorneys should also be monteraily acknowledging people who give them legal support at the holidays. It just doesn’t seem like your situation necessarily needs to be emblematic of all lawyer/assistant relationships.

  41. (And incidentally, I don’t work at a firm and don’t have a secretary or assistant to chronically underreward, so I’m not really sure why I deserve to be called “scrooge.”)

  42. ok so you don’t work at a firm and your telling someone with 25 years of working in biglaw that my situation is not like all of the others. It was the same with everyone at Farella, MoFo, Bingham, Wilson, Shearman, Brobeck, Fenwick but what do I know.

  43. As a solution to determining what to give, it seems like we’ve come up with some factors.

    Where do you live? How much does a nice dinner cost there? It’ll by different in NYC than in Chicago and Kansas City.

    Then, What type of firm are you at? Someone working in big law is probably expecting more than a smaller firm.

    How many people does your assistant work with? What does she do for you? If she works for you and you alone more is to be expected than if she’s got a partner and 4 associates. If she picks up your drycleaning, orders lunch, and covers for you when you’re out then give more than the occasional copy and stamp.

    Does the firm pay a bonus to assistants, and how much? If you can find this out it should help a lot. If the firm is giving out $100, but all other factors point to a big gift on your part, then give big! If the firm is handing out 10% of her salary, then you aren’t the real bonus giver.

    As a former assistant (and current law student) I was SO happy to receive $250 one year and $200 another in Portland. It basically paid for the Christmas presents I was giving. The firm also paid an actual bonus equivalent to one paycheck (2 weeks pay).

    To the frustrated assistants here, I’d say wait the economy out and find a job you don’t hate. Or go to law school. I realized that if I stayed an assistant I’d be doing nearly the same amount of work and getting paid less than half if I didn’t invest in the education.

  44. if you use your office services department at all during the year, don’t forget them at the holidays. Order them a couple of pizzas for lunch one day or give them gift cards to a local lunch place. They make crap money, stand on their feet all day, and seldom get “please” or “thank you” from the attorneys. It must really suck for them to hear us attorneys complain about getting low or no bonuses this year, when they’re probably worried about getting laid off.

  45. AintNecessarilySo :

    I’m just going to say how I see it, and how most other assistants see it (every single one I’ve ever met).

    Only cash. Don’t worry about it being impersonal. Our feelings are not hurt; quite the contrary, we love that you understand that we may need the cash to pay our own Super, or our rent, for that matter (particularly nowadays).

    I’m not going to go all boo-hoo on you – we have a pretty good life right now compared to others: we have a job. Yeah, it’s a crappy salary, but, after all, we agreed to it, didn’t we? And there are crappier salaries out there.

    I, personally, try to perform equally for all my assignments. I treat first-years, most likely, even with more care – it’s scary for them their first year and they really want to impress. I understand that.

    I try to get mid-level or senior associate’s work done first, if at all possible – because they usually have the heaviest loads and the most responsibility. And bring in most of the money which, frankly, pays my salary.

    I like my partner – he’s brilliant – and I have no problem whatsoever doing his personal stuff – he has bigger fish to fry than screaming at his laundry service. And I’m very good at screaming at laundry services.

    Thankfully, I’m very good at multitasking, and understand that while a huge document is copying I can scream at someone on the phone. And that you can totally work on a document while five more are in a printing queue.

    Will I perform worse for any of the above if they stiff me for the Holidays? Probably not. I don’t stoop to that level. They’ll still get the same level of help. But admittedly – I’m most likely an exception to the rule. And it’s not because I’m so wonderful.

    I just know that Karma’s a bitch. I’ve seen it happen more than once. And – well, I’m not completely void of pettiness – I enjoyed it immensely every single time.

    As for the amounts: in NY, $100 is a first-year gift. Mid- and senior-level associates gave $300-800, in my experience. I’m not saying what my partner gives – but I will follow him to his grave if he needs me. Literally.

    But please – no gifts!!! I hated every single one I’ve received, but felt obligated to wear it or carry it or display it and it didn’t feel good.

    And no gift certificates, either. You have no idea where I shop. TRUST ME. YOU DON’T.

  46. Anonymous :

    It is pretty annoying to see people who think that they have the right to tell me how much money I should give as a _gift_ just because they know how much money I make. Nevermind that over half of it goes to federal and state taxes, as well as the other half dozen agencies that get a piece, and I have a mortgage, school loans, daycare, etc. It is not my responsibility to give some of my hard-earned money to you just because you are doing your job.

  47. AintNecessarilySo :

    >>It is not my responsibility to give some of my hard-earned money to you just because you are doing your job.

    Then don’t. It’s not written in stone that you should.

  48. It’s pretty annoying to serve someone and get nothing. Maybe your waitress will spit in your food, your Nanny will forget to pick up your kids, your maid will steal from you. We can only hope.

  49. You forgot maybe your secretary won’t bust her ass and call her friend at the court to get your filing in on time, afterall that’s not part of her job. Maybe she’ll just give it to the courier and hope for the best.

  50. I say thank you to my secretary every single time she does something for me, and I have already gotten her holiday gift. But, please stop acting like you are entitled to some small fortune just because I make more money than you.

    And as for hoping that the maid will steal or the nanny will forget to pick up the kids…I highly doubt that an associate can afford a maid and a nanny for multiple children…I know I cant…I cant even afford one of those. Also, if you are hoping for the “best” and that is the best, then you probably don’t do as good of a job as you think you do.

  51. LA Big Law Assistant :

    In my experience the year end “gifting” is just called “gifting” when in actuality it’s more like sharing the wealth. In restaurants, waitstaff share their tips with the hostess, busstaff and chefs. It’s usually broken down by percentage. We are ALL lucky to have jobs. We are not asking for your “support” in the sense that you believe, however, we are supporting you (in that other sense). And attorneys wonder how they get their bad names…

  52. Anonymous :

    This isn’t the same situation as in a restaurant where the staff is paid with the expectation that they are going to make that extra 15%…The salary or hourly rate of a secretary is not set with the expectation that the attorneys they support are going to give them a nice chunk of cash at the end of the year.

  53. I give my Secretary $500 for her birthday and $1000 for the holidays. This is the minimum, others give more.

  54. LA Big Law Assistant :

    Oh, nevermind…

  55. AintNecessarilySo :

    I have to add that I am not at all annoyed with those attorneys who feel they shouldn’t give anything (or give very little) to their assistants – that’s fine with me.

    What annoys me is that they habitually try to influence others not to give anything to their assistants.

    I had one once – he decided that they all should pitch in and I got about 30% of what I would normally get. The other two were embarrassed. You know how I know? The next year they told him they don’t want to “pitch in” and I was back on track. He was forced to slip me that $50 on his very own. Which did kinda look crappy, as he was the most senior, had the most work, was the most helpless and gave 1/4 and 1/6 of what the other two did.

    If you can’t afford it – fine, I understand; there are many things I can’t afford either (although I try – and succeed – to be generous with those whom I’m expected to give Holiday “bonuses” to). If you can afford it, but don’t want to give – fine with me, too. You may have your principles or whatever.

    But don’t try to bully those who DO want to give just so you don’t look bad. There’ll just be that many more people who think you’re cheap.

    Be a grown-up. Realize it’s your – and only your – decision and stand by it.

  56. LA Big Law Assistant :

    Esq. you are very generous.

  57. Standard in silicon valley $500/$1000 but that was a few years ago and they also got a bonus from the Firm of a few thousand. Think about it, I got a bonus of $30,000, she got $ 3,500 for the year.

  58. I received an iPhone ($400) and all the accessories, car charger, cute pink case, screen protector and *50* 20 dollar bills from the Partner, 500 from an associate, 100 from someone I worked for about three months and 75 gift card and bottle of wine from the paralegal. The year before I received from a Partner at a different Firm that was sexually harrassimg me, a box of home made chocolate Truffels and a key chain, the Truffels looked like they were made by a two year old (supposedly made by his new wife and new baby – he had an affair at work with a secretary before me and his old wife found out about it, he had kids in their 20s and now has a new young wife and a baby). The chocolates were put in the trash immediately, I didn’t even want to give them to a homeless person on my way home in fear they would get sick and my husband and I tried to run over the keychain with our car but when that didn’t work, I smashed it with a hammer. He had the nerve to ask me how I liked the Truffels on Monday, that a lot of hard work was put into making them!

  59. I know I am late to the party on this, but for what it’s worth, all these comments have been very helpful. I now have a much clearer idea of what I am getting my secretary this year. Honestly (and, I guess, shamefully), it had not occurred to me to give cash, but I certainly will this year, in addition to a more personalized gift based on some stories she told me earlier this year. I am tremendously grateful for my secretary, and after reading these posts I am much less concerned with appearing to go “overboard” with the gifts. Based on my reading of the the comments, I feel like I am getting her a gift that reflects my appreciation.

  60. I have 6 clerks. I can’t give them all $500.00. That would be ridiculous. I’m only a new lawyer.

  61. I’m not in law, but I have an administrative assistant for the program I run. She reports directly to me, but she doesn’t wipe down my desk and phone or schedule my appointments – I run my own calendar, clean my own desk. She handles all of our students and applicants, and she does schedule their interviews. We’re a small team – just a director, assistant director [me], and my admin.

    I plan to take her out to lunch with our director, and then give her a modest gift [$75 max]. Any more than that and I think we’d all feel uncomfortable. We work for a state university, I only make $105k, and I can’t be spending $2000 on anything, let alone a gift. Plus we’re used to very modest small thank-you’s. Too big, and you look strange.

    That said, I wish I had a boss who bought me expensive gifts! In all of my years in corporate, the most expensive gift I got was a client thank-you of a Tiffany key chain. I traded it in for a necklace.

  62. First of all, when I was hired, I was applying and accepted an EA role. Was not informed I would also be his personal assistant…planning extensive and elaborate personal parties, family vacations, paying all household bills an children’s tuitions, helping accountant with taxes! So I kind of expected something fabulous as a year end gift since I am busting my behind keeping his personal life on track. There was a slight fizzle of energy at my desk when he handed me a couple hundred cash (no card just handed it to me). No thanks or anything. I felt deflated. This year I thought, I have really worked extremely hard and do even more. Only a couple dollars more and he forgot to cash some checks that came to him so he signed them and gave them to me? REALLY? Thanks for the thought. I don’t want to sound ungrateful. I appreciate the money. I need it. But I feel I deserve more and he is a gazillion-aire.