Law Swag


I opened a box that arrived at my office, and saw a very nice Harvard Law Review coffee mug, personalized with my name and including the volume number in which Will's and my Compelled Subsidies and the First Amendment came out. I'd gotten thank-you mugs before, though from conferences rather than just from publishing in a law review, but the personalization seemed like a nice touch.

It also reminded me of the special Indiana Supreme Court coaster that I got when I argued before that court back in 2013; not personalized (unsurprisingly), but again a nice touch, since courts usually don't do that. Of course, there is also the famous feather quills that the U.S. Supreme Court gives people who argue before it. (I don't have one of those, sorry to say.)

This made me wonder: What other particularly cool law mementos like this have you seen? Please post your answers below.

NEXT: Libel Law and the Covington Boys

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  1. Swag? How about that yellow receipt for the $200 paid in fines and fees I got for an “open container on a sidewalk” violation I got back in college for having the audacity to drink a beer while in public. The city was big on select enforcement of (money making) ordnance violations at the time, likely still is.

  2. Just to be somewhat argumentative…

    I’m sure the mug is nice. But did the money for it need to be spent? The (promise of a) mug wasn’t part of recruiting people to write for the review as Prof Volokh doesn’t even seem to have been aware that he would receive one. Even if he had known in advance of it, I doubt it was the factor that convinced him. Nor is it likely to factor into a future decision to contribute another article, as getting a mug would likely be way down on his pro-con list, just as (again, I presume) reading about Prof Volokh’s mug and wanting one of their own wouldn’t be the critical factor in some other professor considering contributing an article.

    Granted, there’s not a lot of money involved in this one mug… or perhaps even in the totality of mugs HLS sends out. But the mug doesn’t get designed and produced and shipped by itself. HLS is paying the salaries and benefits of those who do handle such items… and all those hours add up.

    And granted, while even factoring in some overhead allocation to the direct costs of the mug may not add up to a huge sum, I argue it represents the brown M&M… if HLS has an open wallet when it comes to mugs, what else are they unnecessarily spending money on… money that could be saved or passed along in the form of reduced tuition (or higher salaries for its professors)?

    In addition to representing a nice thank you for the article, the mug represents a small part of an ever expanding cost of higher education.

    1. Interesting that you focus on the private university wasting private funds, when the much juicier State targets are right there to piss on.

      1. I only focus on the topic of the post. Prof Volokh wrote about mugs and HLS, so that’s what I wrote about. If/when he writes about other topics, I may comment on those other topics.

        1. The “topic” included swag in general and mentioned two State swags (odd word in the plural). The question asked what law mementos had been seen.

    2. This is either brilliant satire or the ramblings of a madman. I really can’t tell which.

      Just in case it’s the later, Harvard’s endowment is about $36 Billion. That’s larger than the GDP of more than half the world’s countries. I think they can afford the mug without having to jack up tuition.

      1. Sometimes, even I can’t tell.

    3. “HLS is paying the salaries and benefits of those who do handle such items… and all those hours add up.”

      This is an assumption on your part.

      1. To which part do you refer, the “HLS is paying…” or the “… all those hours add up”?

        If the latter, I think I’m safe, as whatever number of hours do add up to something (basic math).

        If the former, there may be an outside group that is paying all the costs of creating and providing swag to contributors. And this outside group may receive its funding from sources other than HLS. If so, I stand corrected.

        1. The law review I was on had t-shirts, and members and editors paid for them, not the school. We had an end-of-the-year party, also paid for by members and editors, not the school. If we’d had swag for contributors, they’d have been paid for by us, not the school.

          I don’t know how other publications/schools handled it.

  3. I had a colleague who filed a amicus, pro bono, for a pro se defendant who was appealing the denial of a motion to suppress in state court. The chief justice of the appellate court sent him a nice Christmas ornament as a “thank you” and it was engraved with the case caption and date. (For those who will engage in the gnashing of teeth for “wasting money” this was a gift paid for by the chief justice himself presumably out of earned income. Also for those interested the defendant won the appeal and the decision largely read along the lines of the amicus brief).

    Another colleague who argued a case in front of a state court of last resort (think it was SC) got a copy of the courtroom sketch that was done of him arguing the case. Don’t know who footed the bill for that one.

    And, another guy I used to know, who would volunteer to do pro se work at the local trial court for a ton of college kids who got in trouble (minor assaults, drinking violations, other stupid stuff) would get invited to a holiday party thrown by the president judge of the jurisdiction every December in his chambers. Every attorney who did pro bono work was invited and at least according to the local paper that covered it most years the judge would personally pay for the catering (which was small appetizers and a beer/wine sampling).

    The most I ever got a Bic style pen with the name of the appellate court written in block letters on it.

    1. I wonder if a losing defendant would also have triggered the Christmas ornament.

      1. Not sure. I believe it was only gifted to a few. The case my colleague filed the amicus for was a close call search and seizure. I remember that the trial court had come up with a “results oriented” reasoning for denying suppression as the perp was a guy with a long list of convictions and was caught with a decent amount of drugs. The appellate court probably knew that they were going to have to do the dirty work on this one and had a heck of a time trying to find someone to even file a brief on behalf of the defendant who was being difficult. Also, remember that the colleague has spent a crazy amount of time (30+ billable hours) on the brief which was for an intermediate state appellate court.

  4. Many years ago, when I had a lot more energy and ambition, I used to regularly write articles and give presentations at CLE programs, usually on matters relating to commercial bankruptcy (i.e., Dealing with the FDIC, FSLIC, and Banking Regulators in Chapter 11 Reorganizations; Automatic Stay Litigation; Prosecuting and Defending Avoidance Actions, and the like). The only compensation for that was typically a tuition waiver for the CLE program in which you were a presenter, but a few of the program sponsors provided small gifts to the presenters, like personalized leather portfolio covers. I still have and use a few of those, very handy (and attractive) for organizing your argument outlines for court or your Deposition prep.

  5. I really don’t have a problem with small tokens that are usually referred to as “swag” or “freebies”. It is nice to get something that shows efforts were appreciated by a host even if it something like a mug, pen, portfolio, water bottle, etc. The real cost for most entities is nothing compared to as a percentage of budget to the actual expense. My analysis might differ slightly when it comes to taxpayer funded institutions and gifts that are paid for by tax revenue, but still if you want to talk about government waste a few trinkets here and there are really small beans compared to the billions that are wasted routinely every single day.

    Many years later I still drink coffee from a mug I got for giving a speech at an out of town Rotary group last minute. Their dinner speaker had cancelled and a frantic friend called me up to see if I could talk about something. It was about a two hour drive and the meeting was late enough I needed to get a hotel room. They covered the room and paid for my mileage, plus gave me a great mug. Sounds ridiculous but every time I use that mug it reminds me that I could have easily said I was too busy and not have made the night for what was about 100 some attendees.

  6. I’m reading this while drinking coffee from the Cyberlaw Podcast mug that Stewart Baker sent me. That’s the extent of my law-related swag (accept all the office supplies, mugs, shirts, and wine that court reporters have sent over the years at Christmastime). It’s a nice mug though, and of course a very enjoyable podcast.

  7. I think the most useful swag I received was an umbrella from SMU Law School after I coordinated a judicial internship program there. My state’s prosecutors’ association will send a framed copy of your book cover or front-page article to their magazine, which is very nice to have. Most of the CLEs I speak at have some form of speaker gift. My favorites were a very nice leather portfolio that I still use in court and a Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage.

  8. In my BigLaw days, I made it a habit, when visiting other lawyers’ offices, to view what Prof. Volokh calls “law swag.”

    The transactional lawyers had their Lucite cubes which they called “deal toys,” a practice I think they co-developed or picked up from the investment bankers. Deal toys would typically have miniaturized offering prospecti and or indentures or whatever, tiny pages splayed to demonstrate their length and imply their complexit. Occasionally they’d be spiced up with another embedded object: After Boone Pickens’ (unsuccessful but nevertheless highly profitable) effort to take over Newmont Mining Company, for instance, his deal lawyers’ deal toys included a small golden nugget.

    As for trial lawyers …

    1. Litigators sometimes, but all too rarely, were included in the deal toy handouts. Some of us also have law swag, though, that takes less uniform dimensions, figuratively and literally. For years I had a take-apart paperweight on my desk, the first part of which was a large carbon-steel eyebolt in a 1-1/4th inch diameter: In a personal injury case I tried, an identical bolt had been intended to be the lift point for hoisting a 2-1/2 ton steel flooring plate out of a nuclear power plant under construction. The other part of the paperweight was a carbon-steel nut in a 1-3/8th inch diameter, which corresponded to the nut which had been welded to the steel plate itself. A near but not-quite-right fit ? as visitors to my office could easily confirm, by hand-tightening the eyebolt into the nut for what seemed to be a correct fit (but wasn’t, as a torque wrench would have shown) ? the 1-1/4″ diameter eyebolt had ripped free while the plate was 30 feet over, umm, plaintiff’s decedent.

      But more prosaically, litigators more often have their own Lucite cubes or, even more ubiquitously, framed reproductions of news stories, which I’ve heard sometimes referred to not as “deal toys,” but as “scalps.”

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