An Interview With Santa’s Lawyer

Please state your name and occupation.

My name is Marta Pittman, and I’m a partner at Xavier, Masham, Abbott and Stevens.

And you’re Santa Claus’ lawyer.

That is correct. More accurately, I’m the partner in charge of our firm’s Seasonal Litigation and Clearances practice, which has as a client NicolasNorth LLC, Santa’s corporate entity.

I wasn’t aware that Santa needed to have his own corporation.

Of course he does. One, Santa heads a massive global enterprise, whose activities are spread over a wide range of areas. Having a corporate structure allows him a measure of organization and systematization. Two, Santa has a large number of employees, mostly elves, who have their own idiosyncratic employment issues and practices. The corporate structure simplifies hiring, benefits, and negotiation of labor disputes. Three, due to the nature of Santa’s work, he has immense exposure to liability. The corporate structure acts as a shield for Santa’s personal wealth and property.

Santa has liability issues?

Tons.

Can you give an example?

Obviously I can’t speak about current cases under litigation, but let me give a general example. As you know, a common way for Santa to enter single-unit dwellings is through a chimney.

I always thought that was artistic license.

No, it’s correct. Santa is usually entering from above and the chimney is the most direct route. “Quick in, quick out” is the keyword here. The important thing is, this point of Santa egress is well-known. And every year, immediately after Christmas, dozens of suits are filed against Santa, claiming property damage caused by Santa entering and leaving through the chimney. The usual allegation is that Santa’s body shape was a predicate cause.

Because he has a round belly that shakes like a bowl full of jelly.

Which is not true, by the way. I’ve seen Santa out of uniform. That dude is ripped.

He is?

Absolutely. Delivering packages to millions of children in a single night is a heck of workout. The thing is, people don’t know that, and so they file these fraudulent suits predicated on what they assume about Santa’s weight, based on his marketing.

I assume most of these suits get dismissed.

Usually with prejudice. And also the plaintiffs go onto Santa’s “naughty” list for the next year. Santa takes a dim view of fat shaming, especially for fraudulent purposes. But the point is, since Santa is operating as NicolasNorth LLC, even if one of these suits was successful, Santa wouldn’t lose his house.

At the North Pole.

It’s actually in Sarasota, Florida.

That’s… disillusioning.

It was on our advice. Anchoring a home on rapidly-dwindling polar ice is risky from an insurance standpoint.

And Santa’s Workshop?

Also not on the polar ice. Technically in Nunavut. We recently negotiated a 99-year lease near Cape Columbia. Which brings us to another aspect of our firm’s services for Santa: International law.

Right, because Santa delivers presents all around the world.

Yes, he does. And up until 2013 he had to negotiate clearances and flight paths with every single country on the globe. People think Santa works one day a year and then sits on the beach the rest of the time. In fact until recently he spent most of his non-Christmas time in meetings with mid-level bureaucrats, trying to make sure the toys he was delivering weren’t subject to import restrictions.

That doesn’t sound especially jolly.

It’s good if you’re racking up frequent flyer miles. But Santa flies his own aircraft, so he wasn’t even getting that.

What happened in 2013?

My firm negotiated a rider to the Bali Package at the Ninth Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization. As of December 7, 2013, Santa has automatic clearances in every WTO signatory state. Cut his annual paperwork 95%.

So now Santa gets to spend time on the beach.

There’s a reason he lives in Sarasota.

You mentioned elves before.

What about them?

What special employment issues do they have?

Well, before I get to that, I should state unequivocally that Santa is an equal opportunity employer, and seeks to create a diverse and welcoming work place for everyone at NicolasNorth LLC and all its subsidiaries and affiliates. He obeys all Canadian employment laws and requires all his sub-contractors and suppliers to adhere to the highest ethical business standards and practices.

That’s a very specific disclaimer.

There have been unfounded rumors of unfair employment and labor practices at NicolasNorth LLC by some of Santa’s business rivals.

Business rivals?

Let’s just say that someone whose name rhymes with “Leff Gezos” is going to be getting coal in his stocking until the end of time. And not, like, the good kind of coal. We’re talking the crappiest sort of lignite that’s out there.

All right, noted.

With everything above taken as read, the thing about elves is that they’re not actually human, so most labor and employment laws don’t apply to them.

If elves don’t qualify as human under the law, what are they?

Under Canadian law, they’re technically animals.

Animals.

Yes. Just like reindeer. And technically, under Canadian law, Santa’s Workshop qualifies as a federally inspected farm, the oversight of which is handled by Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

So, technically, Santa’s elves have as many rights as veal.

I’m offended at this comparison, and also, yes.

Okay, so, that feels icky in a whole lot of ways. Maybe Leff Gezos was on to something.

It’s obviously not optimal from the public relations point of view.

Now I’m imagining tiny elves in jaunty caps, making toys in crates.

It’s not like that.

Convince me.

Well, among other things, Santa’s Workshop is a union shop.

Really.

Yes. Affiliated with the Canadian Union of Postal Workers.

Postal workers?

The CUPW is a serious union. You cross them, they’ll mess you up.

And the CUPW doesn’t mind the elves technically aren’t human.

The elves pay their dues like anyone else. They’re good.

Santa’s okay with a union shop?

Santa believes in the dignity of labor, and wishes to avoid any potential elf uprisings.

That’s… good to know.

Seriously, elves are vicious. They look adorable, but get on their bad side just once and they. Will. Cut. You.

I’ll remember.

You better.

What other legal issues do you help Santa with?

Well, one major issue – probably the biggest issue, really – is policing Santa’s intellectual property.

Santa has IP?

Or course Santa has IP. In a larger, existential sense, it could be said that at his root, Santa is nothing but IP.

I always assumed Santa was in the public domain.

It’s a common misconception. In fact NicolasNorth LLC is the repository of numerous trade and service marks which we are obliged by law to vigorously defend.

So, Santa’s red suit –

The red suit device is trademarked.

And the red cap –

Covered as part of the red suit device and also legally its own trademark. So’s the beard, before you ask.

And the sleigh –

The sleigh and eight of the reindeer and also all of their names, trademarked.

Not Rudolph?

The issue of Rudolph is a matter of ongoing litigation and I can’t comment on it at this time.

You’re suing over Rudolph?

I’m sorry, I really can’t comment.

But –

Look, do you want coal this year? Because you’re heading that direction.

Sorry.

Let’s move on.

You say you have to defend Santa’s intellectual property, but I see red suits and beards everywhere.

Clearly it’s in Santa’s interest to have his trademarks be ubiquitous.

But if people are using your trademarks for free, aren’t you at risk for losing them?

Who said they’re using them for free?

They’re not?

Absolutely not. NicolasNorth LLC gets a licensing fee for every red suit you see.

How much?

It’s a sliding scale, based on several factors, including business income, charitable status, intended use of the trademark, and whether the person who is wearing the suit intends to be naughty or nice in it.

People are naughty in a Santa suit?

Some people are. Santa doesn’t judge people for their kinks, but he does expect them to pay for them.

And people pay without complaint.

Most do. Some don’t. Which is why Santa retains us.

And if they’re still balky after they talk to you?

We send in the elves.

One more question, if you don’t mind.

Not at all.

Santa is well known for making a list, and checking it twice.

For the purposes of appropriate gift distribution, yes.

It does raise questions of how Santa gathers that information in the first place.

I’m not sure what you mean.

I mean the idea of Santa as an all-knowing arbiter of right and wrong, knowing when someone is sleeping or awake and so on. Some might say that’s both judge-y and creepy.

Only the people who want coal in their stocking.

Well, see, that sounds like a threat right there.

I don’t see how, but all right. Let’s say that there were legitimate concerns about Santa’s methods. First, I would remind people that Santa’s services are opt in; you choose whether to have Santa part of your seasonal holiday experience.

I don’t remember opting in.

Well, you probably didn’t. But your parents did, on your behalf. And when they did, part of the user agreement was that Santa – which currently legally means NicolasNorth LLC – is allowed to collect data from various sources in order to make a determination of your gift worthiness, using what we in the industry call the “N/N Matrix”, a multi-dimensional tool using constantly updated algorithms for a precise and accurate placing of each person on the gifting spectrum.

That sounds complicated and not great, from a privacy standpoint.

I can assure you that NicolasNorth LLC does not share your information with third parties.

How does Santa collect this information in the first place?

In the old days, kids would write letters to Santa, and we also had strategically placed employees to personally evaluate children.

Spies?

Mall Santas.

But malls are failing left and right these days.

They are, and kids don’t send letters to Santa as often anymore. Those information avenues are closing. Fortunately Santa foresaw this problem, and made some key moves to assure a vast new data source.

The CIA.

Jeez, no. Talk about liability issues! And remember, this is supposed to be opt in. Fortunately there’s a place people go these days to voluntarily expose every aspect of their lives in a wildly promiscuous manner the CIA could previously only dream of.

Oh, God, you’re talking about Facebook.

Six percent owned by NicolasNorth LLC, by the way.

You’re saying Santa Claus is a tech billionaire.

Like I said, Santa made some key moves. And it wasn’t like he wasn’t a billionaire before.

What do you mean?

Where do you think Santa gets all that coal?

Santa is a coal baron?

He’s divested. Mostly. Our advice. Again, liability issues.

I’m still unsettled at the idea Santa is data mining my social media posts.

He’s legally allowed to. It’s right there in the user agreement.

I didn’t read the user agreement.

No one reads the user agreement. Doesn’t mean it’s not there.

Any final advice for people wanting to stay on Santa’s good side, legally speaking?

Pay your Santa suit license fees, drop hints about what your kids want for Christmas in your Facebook posts, and don’t blame Santa if you have a pokey chimney, that’s just basic home maintenance. And be good, for goodness’ sake.

And what about you? Have you been bad or good this year?

I mean, I’m a lawyer.

Point taken.

It’s fine. I could use the coal.

65 thoughts on “An Interview With Santa’s Lawyer

  1. I should have thought a second time before reading this in a crowded coffee shop! Oh well, a good laugh never hurt anyone, right? Thanks for the mood lifter on a Monday morning!

  2. I suspected ALL of this!

    Not a single word is a “surprise”. I KNEW this was a more complicated operation than any 19th-Century newspaper could reliably investigate. I mean, they had much lower evidence threshholds back then, just for a start.

    But yeah, within the constraints of international mega-capitalism, Santa sounds like a good dude. Comparatively speaking.

    Any chance of a public offering on NicolasNorthLLC?

  3. Thank you for the entertaining read. Love your stories and was further entertained that i imagine Will Wheaten’s voice as the interviewer since i have purchased many of your audiobooks.

  4. Re: Florida
    Honestly, every bit of coastal land is going to get its butt kicked by global warming, so living on the coast in general is a crapshoot. Florida is just a glorified sandbar, so it’s not exactly got an ‘inland’ to retreat to.

    (I suppose the virtue of Florida is that a bearded old man in a wetsuit or swim trunks on the beach would look like an aging surfer, and fit right in. That probably also works in California.)

    Also the fat-shaming line made me laugh. Good on Santa.

  5. Another lawyer here. If you’re curious, the moment when my office mates probably wondered what I was laughing at was this:

    “I’m offended at this comparison, and also, yes.”

    I may have to work that into regular conversation.

  6. Santa had totally obscure cash flow for centuries before the investment in Facebook and coal. Doesn’t matter if he has since laundered that cash. Usually this sort of thing means you’re totally mobbed up.

  7. Seriously, elves are vicious. They look adorable, but get on their bad side just once and they. Will. Cut. You.

    Reminder to self – in case you forget, do not ever mess with the fey.

    On a related note, I wonder if Xavier, Masham, Abbott and Stevens also represent Queen Mab in the mortal plane? I don’t recall HBCD’s journals mentioning that side of her interests…

  8. Very nice, funny story John. Happy Holidays to you and your family, and to my fellow Whatever readers as well.

  9. Maybe your publisher could put together the John Scalzi Book of Christmas Stories; Interview with the innkeeper, Interview with Santa, The worst-received radio Christmas specials, etc. Clearly an instant Holiday classic!

  10. Such a nice spin on the theme that kept going where I didn’t expect it to! Thank you for this :D
    And thank you for the quick mention of the Canadian postal union, which has been working very hard lately to fight for what they are owed.

  11. @Host.

    “Elves are not animals, or Veal”

    There is a single rule in the North-lands: Do. Not. Fuck. With. The. Elves.

    And what is all this “Canada” stuff?

    Under the terms of the STTTIPPQOC deal, “Canada” is never to allow itself to engage Lawyers without the express over-sight of the Finnish Giant Commune.

    This is their flag: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Lapin_maakunnan_vaakuna.svg

    Yes, it is literally a giant in green pants with a large club. STOP! How dare you suggest that Santa employs heavy-muscle. They are required for parcel loading.

    While Elves themselves are rather less “cute” than you expect, this churlish “West American Mythos Washing” of the actual Santa network is simply bad American Conspiracy theory.

    Quite frankly: Host has fallen for the simplest trick in the book.

    While his Lawyers may pretend he’s a friendly Canadian outfit, all true Russians know that this is a Finnish Conspiracy.

  12. Oooohh, thank you. I NEEDED that today.

    And I’m with Robin in NM on the request for a Big Book O’ Scalzi Christmas Tales – I would buy the heck out of that.

  13. Speaking as a former lawyer I should be upset that this wonderful defender of Santa’s rights is getting coal in her stocking. But as a fan of Scalzi I was going “Ho, Ho, Ho”.

  14. One advantage of being Jewish that never occurred to me – no Christmas means no opting in to being spied on by Santa. :)

  15. Since I’m getting coal in my toeless sandals regardless, I’m going to question part of Ms Pittman’s presentation. An LLC is not a corporate form, and a corporation may not call itself an LLC. Compare Fla. Stat. § 607.0401(1) with Fla. Stat. § 605.0112(1)(a). Given some of Xavier Masham’s other clients, as revealed in the Panama Papers (or was it the Panama City Papers?), one might wonder whether there’s a holding entity connected to Gazprom and/or Volkswagen.

    The less said about the tax consequences, the better. Fortunately, business entities don’t have to file Form 709.

  16. Santa’s lawyers may be getting coal for Christmas but I imagine the large retainer and hourly rates more than make up for it.

  17. I want coal for my forge! You’d think that I would win either way! But what do I get? SOCKS! I mean come on! Have you ever tried to burn socks? Talk about air pollution!

  18. If your children (or you) do decide to write actual letters, the address is Santa Claus, North Pole NU H0H 0HO Canada.
    All letters will be answered.
    CUPW specified that during contract talks following the current labour disruption.

  19. Not a “Big Book O’ Scalzi Christmas Tales” instead an audio CD “O’ Scalzi Christmas Tales ”

    I’d buy that.

  20. Complete and utter genius. Bravo.

    On a completely unrelated note, I’m on Chapter 6 of The Consuming Fire, and… Wouldn’t commodities futures go *up* in this situation? Enjoying it in any case.

  21. @ Kathleen Blagrave says:
    DECEMBER 17, 2018 AT 12:18 PM
    Canada post was on strike (rotating)…

    Trudeau passed strikebreaking legislation and ordered them back to work. Which is actually unconstitutional, and completely undermines their charter-protected right to free assembly.

  22. I’m at least partially French and more than a little Canadienne, but this post left me overwhelmed with the fear of hot toddies mixed with fresh cawght nightcrawllers mealléd.

  23. Sorry to nitpick, but CUPW would not represent manufacturing workers, because CUPW *only* has bargaining units for delivery personnel, cleaners, couriers, drivers, warehouse workers, mail house workers, emergency medical dispatchers, and printers.

    The elves would likely be represented by UNIFOR, the United Steelworkers, or possibly CLAC (the Christian Labour Association of Canada), although CLAC is an awful employer-dominated union.

  24. Well, having grown up in Sarasota, Santa would likely fit right in with all the other snowbirds from Canada. Additionally, as others have pointed out, he’s trying to avoid rising sea levels by living in a Gulf Coast county where the highest elevation is about 80 feet above sea level (well inland, by the way), as I recall?

    But, he’s probably living over in the Mennonite community of Sarasota, where the big white beard fits in better than over on St. Armand’s Key.

  25. Since we’re dropping Christmas hints, I’d like a book about the newest junior associate who has just joined Xavier, Masham, Abbott and Stevens.

  26. I knew this guy who created a bunch of fake facebook accounts of nonexistent children, having them post about naughty activity, just so santa would give them coal.

    Guy heated his house for six years before santa caught on.

  27. @femmefan1946:

    Strange that Canada Post has Santa’s workshop in Nunavut, but the postal code is for the Montreal area.

    Perhaps another one of Santa’s tax dodges…

  28. Cute story, but everyone knows Christmas is run by a big Eastern Syndicate.

    Don Niccoleone would like a woid witch you…

  29. This reminds me of the movie :°The Man Who Sued God”.Maybe they could make a movie The Man Who Sued Santa”. Just as long as they’re not making a movie”The Man who Sued John Scalzi.

  30. This leads to the further thought that if God wanted to sue someone , he’d be out of luck- there are no lawyers in heaven.

  31. @JReynolds: Probably NicolasNorth LLC has a shipping facility or fulfilment center in the Montreal area. Nunavut is the seat of the workshop subsidiary that manages a number of specialized workshops in different locations. While the original worshop is indeed located in Nunavut, these days it contributes only around 6% of the Christmas gift output of NicolasNorth LLC.

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