What gifts and of what value can law department lawyers ethically accept?

Law firms and service providers like to wine and dine in-house counsel and administrators who have purchasing power. It’s called marketing and sometimes the costs of tickets to a ballet or seats at a big game can be expensive. Other gifts may be harder to price, but the shiny globes, fine chocolates, over-flowing gift baskets, and fancy trinkets come at a price.

Paul Roy, Director of Finance & Administration of Time Warner Cable’s law department, explained the policy at his company. There, company-wide compliance policy applies to everyone including the lawyers. Employees are not allowed to accept more than $500 worth of gifts in any 12-month period from a single source. Sometimes, however, a gift is not a gift. Entertainment — parties, dinners, ballgames, etc. — in which you participate along with the vendor who is paying for it is not considered a “gift” that counts toward the $500 limit, as long as it’s usual and customary, and in the ordinary course of business, to be entertained in this fashion. So, if the vendor pays for two tickets to the Super Bowl, and you go with her, it’s not a gift; but, if she gives you the two tickets and says, “here, take your daughter, have a good time,” it is a gift. Remember, though, that if in addition to the tickets, the vendor is paying for travel or accommodations, then you need the approval of your supervisor to accept it. Remember also that while visiting the Grand Canyon State, you cannot participate in vendor-sponsored outings to “adult entertainment” emporiums.”

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