top of page


I have talked about it before – the Christmas bonus!

One of the most well-remembered Christmas movies show-casing the dilemma of a bonus at the holidays has to be National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Chevy Chase is the corporate grunt who is so sure he will get a Christmas bonus he puts a non-refundable deposit on an in-ground swimming pool for his family. Much to his disappointment, he learns on Christmas Eve that his employer has enrolled him in the jelly of the month club.

As Clark Griswold points out in the movie, many employees depend on the Christmas/year-end bonus as part of their compensation or for holiday shopping. Christmas bonuses are usually discretionary unless negotiated as part of the compensation package. There is no obligation by the firm, nor should there be any expectation by an employee, to give or receive a bonus. Yet there is often an expectation and sometimes apprehension by the employee wondering if they will receive a bonus from the firm.

This year, the world was turned upside down. Nothing is normal, although we’ve tried very hard for everything to be a normal as possible. Many law firms have become virtual or some combination thereof. Many law firms have thrived as they quickly learned to get the help they need to be effective as a virtual firm. Consultations were replaced with Zoom calls or telephone consults, court hearings, depositions and mediation were also done via Zoom. People lost jobs, hours were cut back and some people now have two part-time jobs instead of one full-time job.

This makes the Christmas bonus all that much more important to the employee, and in some cases a much more difficult decision for the firm.

There is no one-size fits all formula for giving your law firm employees a Christmas bonus. The economy has affected law firms large and small. Reduced revenues affected by alternate billing practices stemming from clients demanding value for their money has also affected the year end Christmas bonus to a great extent. The precedent that exists in many firms, especially for timekeepers, is that Christmas bonuses have gone the way of pay for performance Christmas bonuses. The equation for calculating these bonuses is based on the revenues generated by the billing timekeeper. Many law firms no longer can afford to reach into the coffers and give bonuses which are not tied to some kind of performance review. Add to this equation the pandemic that we are faced with which has made things worse.

Don’t totally be a Scrooge and ignore the holiday season or the contributions that your employees have made to the success of your law firm. Here are some bonus or gift options that will let your employees know their work is appreciated regardless of what your budget is:

1. Give a gift card. This can be especially thoughtful if you give a card to a store or a website that you know your employee frequents or one that can be used anywhere that is the equivalent of cash. A gift card to buy groceries would be especially appreciated this year as many find that money is in short supply.

2. Give a week’s salary. Even if the budget is tight, a week’s salary for each employee is something you can make part of your annual budget avoiding the last-minute scramble to come up with a week’s salary for each employee.

3. Close the firm for the week between Christmas and New Year’s. Unless there is an emergency usually by the 22nd or 23rd of December things have slowed down as your clients on focused on their own families. Since many law firms have made some arrangements to work virtual/remote anyway because of the current situation, you can arrange for the phones to be answered by the office from home and employees can check emails once or twice a day. No doubt employees understand the importance of answering phones and checking emails.

4. If you are going to the office, have a holiday lunch at the office and then give employees the rest of the day off to finish their shopping and other holiday preparations. Or, you can have lunch delivered to all of your employees and do a Zoom call for lunch. Things get so hectic at this time of the year everyone will appreciate a few extra hours to get things done.

If your firm will distribute any kind of gift card, cash or pay for performance bonus, try to distribute it a week before Christmas. Especially this year, with the economy being what it is, many employees will have to wait out of financial necessity to do their Christmas shopping until they get a bonus (hoping that they will get one). If at all possible, distribute it a week or two before before December 25th.

This year, employees will appreciate anything that you do for them. Show them how much you appreciate them!

Featured Posts