5,000 Elvis Cards Can’t Be Wrong

Why Lucian Pera’s annual greeting never gets stamped ‘Return to Sender’

Published in 2017 Mid-South Super Lawyers Magazine — December 2017

It wasn’t that Lucian Pera was a rabid Elvis Presley fan, or that Pera’s mom happened to share the King’s January 8th birthday, or even that Pera and Presley went to the same dentist. Pera never spotted Elvis during one of those impromptu Cadillac giveaways. He never even attended a concert. 

“Elvis was not somebody whose music I terrifically appreciated as a child,” says Pera, 57, president of the Tennessee Bar Association and a partner at Adams and Reese, where he focuses on commercial litigation, media law and legal ethics. 

But having grown up in Memphis, Pera knew Elvis was an omnipresent force in his hometown. So in 2001, when he was with Armstrong Allen, he decided to avoid the usual glut of holiday cards most professionals were still mailing out by sending his annual greeting two weeks later—on Elvis’ birthday.

That first card featured a photograph of Elvis opening his draft notice next to a Christmas tree—Pera used the image with permission from the archives of his client, The Commercial Appeal—along with an upbeat historical note about Elvis penned by Pera. It went over well. 

“The only people whose Christmas cards came to offices around the same time as my Elvis card were people who were embarrassingly delinquent,” says Pera, whose wry sense of humor surfaces as he talks. “They liked it. I mean, they liked it a lot.”

So he mailed another card the next year, and the next. Eventually the mailing list grew to its current 5,000 recipients. 

“Many people keep them in their office, I’m told, all year long,” he says. 

Pera is happy to add folks to the list on request. “I’m no dummy,” he says. “I wanted to stay in touch with people I met from all over the country on a regular basis, and it seemed like a nice way to do that. And the calculus is pretty simple. Elvis means Memphis, and Memphis means Lucian.”

Conservative in dress—“Business casual seems like a bad idea to me,” he says—Pera approaches the 30 or more ethics seminars he leads each year with a similar mindset. At the same time, he’s not one to shirk what he calls “shameless self-promotion” and a touch of outside-the-box thinking. 

Five years ago, at a National Conference on Professional Responsibility at The Peabody (he chairs the group that runs the event), he introduced two Elvis impersonators—one of whom was a local circuit judge sporting a custom-sewn gold lamé jacket. At a workshop, Pera played an indie rock song with lyrics entirely composed of the text of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissents from the gay marriage and Obamacare decisions. “I believe in having a little bit of a good time,” he says. 

Now and then, Pera has considered sending his Elvis cards digitally. “And every time, I’ve realized, no, that’s stupid. In today’s communication environment, sending someone mail on paper is actually an effective way to distinguish that communication from a lot of others.” 

Among his most popular cards is one with Elvis playing touch football, and this year’s selection, which depicts the 21-year-old King performing for locals at the downtown Ellis Auditorium. But Pera’s personal favorite shows the entertainer at the annual Cotton Carnival in the mid-1950s, flanked by two teenage girls in gowns and tiaras, kissing his cheeks.

“It’s essentially a social media thing done in the U.S. mail,” he says. “It’s a way to stay in touch with people that I want to keep in connection with but don’t have much of an excuse to reach out to otherwise. Sometimes you’ve gotta bring a little Elvis to make people happy.”

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