I Need a White Elephant Gift for a Partner

himalayan-suit-largeQ I have to get a partner a gift for our law firm’s white elephant party. He’s a senior partner with, I’m told, not the greatest sense of humor. Should I just get a bottle of decent wine and leave it at that?

A Let me get to the chase. I can’t help you. When I was practicing in BigLaw, I loathed the traditional white elephant gift party, which the firm did a few times over the years. A few of us loathed it so much that, by agreement, we made up our own tradition, with our own very explicit rules. Granted, this was around 2004-2005 and we were these terribly self-entitled young associates who regularly received large bonuses at the end of the year (I believe one year it approached $90,000). Basically, we were young, self-obsessed assholes with money to burn on frivolous things. Like white elephant gifts.

Our rules of the white elephant were these:

1. You must spend at least $3,000;
2. The recipient must do whatever is required by the gift;

That’s it. Our initial group included four guys and two female associates, so it was a good mix, with some pretty remarkable results. From what I remember, the best gifts were these, though I cannot take credit for any of them:

1 An all-expense paid five-day trip to Barrow, Alaska, booked for mid-February. This included everything. The plane ride, four nights at the Top of the World Hotel (which has since burned down), prepaid meals at Pepe’s Mexican restaurant in Barrow, and a specialized wardrobe, the highlight of which was a NorthFace Men’s Himalayan Suit, rated down to negative 40 or so. Basically, a bright walking sleeping bag. The recipient was required to wear it in the airport, on the plane, and while touring Barrow. From what I recall, the tour also included the Barrow courthouse.

2 Participation in the 2005 Promise Keepers main event in Fayetteville, Arkansas, called “The Awakening—An Unpredictable Adventure.” This included taking Greyhound to Fayetteville, a rental car, a three-night stay at a local Super 8, volunteer duties at the conference, and participating in the final meeting at Razorback stadium with 70,000+ plus other hardcore Promise Keepers. Luckily, because PK is a Christian ministry exclusively for men, this one went to one of the guys in our group. For what it’s worth, he was allowed to fly back to New York, not take a return trip on Greyhound. I can’t say he came back a changed man.

3 A 1993 Geo Metro, including six months of parking privileges in the law firm’s parking garage. The recipient was required to drive to work at least once a week and, in July, take a three day road trip with a hired driver to Wheeling, West Virginia, where they stayed at a bed and breakfast. The driver was Reefer Mike, a great guy, actually, who worked in the firm’s mailroom. He was pretty game for the trip, as he had relatives in West Virginia, but he was also supposed to stay in the B&B with the recipient. I can’t remember if we required Reefer Mike to stay in the same room, but he ended up doing so.

So, I can’t help you. Try looking around eBay or Etsy and buying something there. Maybe a Dictaphone or a box of Twinkies. If you really are all out of ideas, sure, a crappy bottle of red wine would be the safe, boring, and appropriately big firm thing to do.

PS: Since when are people assigned a particular person for a white elephant gift? It’s supposed to be a random “all-in” gifting party. Aren’t you talking about Secret Santa?

Ex-Bitter is a former big firm lawyer who now doles out advice to anyone who asks. Got a question? Email it to advice@bitterlawyer.com. Or read more Advice from an Ex-Bitter.

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