Byte of Prevention Blog

by Jay Reeves |

Firms Turning to No-Alcohol Holiday Parties

As law firms plan their tailgate parties and holiday fests, many are choosing to break from tradition and make the events booze-free.

This comes in the wake of the 2017 ABA Report on Attorney Well-Being, which found between one-quarter and one-third of attorneys are problem drinkers. Unwittingly or not, law firms may be adding fuel to the fire.

“In the legal profession, social events often center around alcohol consumption (e.g., Happy Hours, Bar Reviews, networking receptions, etc.),” according to the ABA report. “The expectation of drinking is embedded in the culture, which may contribute to over-consumption.”

Another factor: the recognition that alcohol can lead to bad behavior – a risk that law firms are increasingly attuned to in the #MeToo era.

Recent articles in the American Lawyer and The ABA Journal describe how some BigLaw firms revamped their summer associates program by ditching alcohol in favor of sober socializing. Boston-based Goodwin Procter, for example, scheduled cooking classes, spinning sessions, museum tours and other cultural events.

“In light of the #MeToo movement, an open bar at a summer associate event is potentially a tinderbox of liability,” says behavioral health consultant Patrick Krill in this American Lawyer story. “If you have a lot of open bar events, you’re essentially opening the doors to all sorts of potential bad behavior.”

Another firm, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, pledged to move past the assumption that every social event has to include alcohol.

Hazelden Betty Ford Study

A 2016 study by the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation questioned 13,000 practicing attorneys on their drinking habits. The result: around 11,000 of them drank in the past 12 months and between 21 and 36 percent of them could be classified as problem drinkers.

“Notably, the study found that younger lawyers in the first 10 years of practice and those working in private firms experience the highest rates of problem drinking and depression,” the ABA reported. “The budding impairment of many of the future generation of lawyers should be alarming to everyone.”

Another study showed that law students are at even greater risk. According to the Survey of Law Student Well-Being, 43 percent reported binge drinking at least once in the prior two weeks and nearly one-quarter (22 percent) reported binge-drinking two or more times during that period. One-quarter fell into the risk category for alcoholism.

“Some law firms finally got the memo,” writes FindLaw blogger William Vogeler. “Stop serving alcohol at firm events.”

Recommendations for Law Firms

Here are some law firm recommendations from the ABA Well-Being Report:

De-emphasize alcohol at social events. Workplace cultures or social climates that support alcohol consumption are among the most consistent predictors of employee drinking. When employees drink together to unwind from stress and for social bonding, social norms can reinforce tendencies toward problem drinking and stigmatize seeking help. On the other hand, social norms can also lead colleagues to encourage those who abuse alcohol to seek help.

Legal employers, law schools, bar associations, and other stakeholders that plan social events should provide a variety of alternative non-alcoholic beverages and consider other types of activities to promote socializing and networking. They should strive to develop social norms in which lawyers discourage heavy drinking and encourage others to seek help for problem use.

What about your firm? Do you schedule social events? Is alcohol provided? What is your experience?


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