Sober Lawyers discuss…’the drinking default’

Jo:

Annmarie, we recently discovered that we are both ‘sober’ lawyers. I’ve been sober for more than 11 years and you for more than 13 years*.

We have also set up our own businesses. Do you think that’s a coincidence?

Annmarie:

I think not. I reckon that being sober in a country where that’s not the norm indicates a bit of independence of spirit that goes hand-in-hand with having the gumption to start your own business. It suggests a desire to break free from the mould.

Do you think it’s still the norm in law firms to be a drinker?

Jo:

Yes and no. I think there are people who drink a lot and people who drink to keep up appearances but would probably rather not have to drink. They feel, probably rightly, that their career prospects rely on turning up to social functions where drinking is the default.

Annmarie:

Yes, that’s something that I hear from lawyers in therapy a lot. There’s that pressure to say yes to a drink at work functions even when you don’t want to. In some firms, it is still seen as part and parcel of being a ‘good laugh’ or a ‘good team player’ to be a drinker.

I did a vacation scheme when I was a big drinker and then turned up at the same firm to start my training contract 18 months later sober and had changed quite a lot in the interim…

Jo:

So, alcohol related social events are ok for those that want to partake (as we did once) but what about those that don’t? Do you think this may explain the lack of diversity in the top jobs or at partnership level?

Annmarie:

I think it probably does, partly. It’s getting better but people can still feel a bit marginalised if they don’t feel they fit in with the ‘majority’ culture at their firm.

The younger generation of lawyers are teaching us a lot though – that they want to have the opportunity to build relationships with workmates in a setting that doesn’t revolve around alcohol and which also fits with their lifestyle and other commitments.

 

two brown and blue ceramic mugs
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Jo:

My worry too is that ‘the drinking default’ excludes those whose cultures and religion do not revolve around alcohol or where it’s prohibited. For example, Muslim people will find it awkward (perhaps impossible) to navigate this culture and therefore their advancement.  So, what would our recommendations be for firms or membership organisations thinking about changing their culture?

Annmarie:

I’d suggest that firms get their staff’s creative juices flowing by asking them for suggestions of how they think their firm could support them in a move away from a drinking culture. There’s tons of options out there… sporty, arty, sightseeing, teambuilding, foodie activities.

Also, with the move to more flexible, agile working practices do you think it’s possible that we might also see a move away from networking activities taking place in the evening, which tends to be more associated with alcohol?

Jo:

Yes, absolutely. Why not have a morning event (say training) ending at the spa?  Or a social incorporating an afternoon tea?  I’d ask that organisers consider that breakfast meetings can also exclude those with caring responsibilities as do evening networking events.

Annmarie:

Yes! So important to think more broadly about people’s responsibilities rather than limiting it to those caring for children. Perhaps firms could be encouraged to make specific mention in their diversity policies of the need to be inclusive in their social and networking events.

In the lead up to the ‘festive season’ it feels particularly important that everyone feels thought of and taken into account.

Jo:

Let’s talk again soon about life as a sober lawyer.

Annmarie:

Absolutely!

* sober meaning we don’t drink alcohol or take any other mind-altering substances.

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