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Drinking Chaperones for Law Firms?

Vivia Chen

January 21, 2020

Bodyworn-794099_1280I know Americans deep down think the Brits are superior (The accent! The pageantry! The crumpets!) but I pray we don’t blindly follow their ways.

First of all, the U.K. is a holy mess these days. As if Brexit isn’t chaotic enough, it now looks like Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are on the brink of quitting the royal family. Instead of hanging out at Buckingham Palace, they’re thinking of moving to Canada. Canada!

Imagine if we were to lose our version of the royals—like Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump deciding to vacate the White House for Alaska. Think how discombobulating that would be. (Actually, Javanka disappearing into the frozen tundra of Alaska is not an unappealing thought.)

Anyhoo, one British trend that I hope won’t come to our shores is this: drinking chaperones at law firm parties. Apparently, it’s a thing. Even worse, firms might start going dry altogether.

Magic Circle firm Linklaters introduced drinking chaperones this last holiday party season. According to the U.K.’s Legal Cheek, partners were asked to assign a trusted staff member “to remain booze-free—not too dissimilar to a designated driver—and supervise at work events where alcohol is being served.”

In a statement given to The American Lawyer affiliate Legal Week, a Linklaters spokesperson said: “Our people work hard and we recognize the value of teams socializing together to help provide a healthy work-life balance. As part of a wider set of guidelines covering social activities, we have recommended to partners, directors and business leaders that they designate a non-drinking role to a senior person to assist the smooth running of our social events.”

For the sake of “healthy work-life balance,” the firm now assigns an alcohol monitor? Oh, come on. We all know that firms don’t give a hoot about your health (physical, mental or spiritual). What they do care about is liability—namely, boys who get themselves into all sorts of #MeToo-type tangles because they can’t control themselves.

Indeed, firms in the U.K. are getting nailed by regulators for the #MeToo offenses of their lawyers, which are often attributed to the flow of alcohol at social events.

Recently, Slaughter and May decided to pull the plug on a firm-sponsored ski trip after one of its midlevel lawyers allegedly harassed a female colleague. The Telegraph reports that “she had received a string of messages of a sexual nature,” after refusing “to share a hotel room with him after a night of drinking on the subsidized ski trip.”

There’s also Gary Senior, the ex-Baker McKenzie partner who blamed his sexual misbehavior on alcohol. He explained his behavior to the young woman he harassed this way: “One of the reasons I’m a popular managing partner is because I enjoy drinking with others.”

Then, there was Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer former partner Ryan Beckwith who allegedly hit on a female colleague following a night of heavy drinking. (Beckwith described firm celebrations in which champagne was served “as early as 10 a.m,” reports LegalWeek, ”followed by more champagne and wine during lunch, cocktails afterwards in the garden, then later more wine, vodka, beer and, of course, Jagerbombs.”)

Alcohol-soaked ski trips, morning champagne and Jagerbombs (whatever they are): Who knew practicing law in the U.K. could be such a blast?

Sadly, though, the Brits seem intent to stop the fun. U.K.’s Law Society’s Junior Lawyers Division “issued fresh guidance on creating a healthy alcohol culture in the legal profession,” reports Legal Cheek. Worse, the group is implementing “Dry January 2020,” which means it’s not serving alcohol at all at its events.

No alcohol at an event full of lawyers? How inhumane is that? I mean, have you tried to endure a gathering of lawyers stone sober?

Besides, why do those of us who are not harassers or louts have to suffer just because some guys can’t keep it together? Women shouldn’t lose their right to get sloshed.

Even more ridiculous are the ”alcohol-free networking alternatives” that the Junior Lawyers Division proposes, like paint-balling, hat-making and mini-golf.

Seriously? I know toddler parties that are spicier.

Contact Vivia Chen at vchen@alm.com. On Twitter: @lawcareerist.

 

Comments

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I agree with you completely Vivia, except for the part about hat-making parties. Sound like a blast! Seriously, I think a bigger issue concerning lawyer well-being overall is loneliness, lack of camaraderie, and too much earnestness. If someone doesn't drink (like my son) then don't force it on them. But eliminating alcohol from firm events is a "stupid and futile gesture." By the way the same nonsense is being advocated in law schools - but since we profs would never attend a student event without an open bar it hasn't gotten far.

I am actually OK with this. Lawyers seem very vulnerable to alcohol addiction and mental health issues. For those of us who aren't affected (so far- touch wood) , it is all good fun, but the fact is that bad things can happen when people drink - to them and to others. if it stops another fatal car accident or a sexual assault, then that is just fine by me.

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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