While there is no golden rule, the larger the firm, the more likely employees will socialize at non-firm events. Additionally, the younger employees are, the more likely this will happen as well because these employees don’t always have families awaiting them at home.
Non-firm socializing can happen in all sorts of different ways. It can often begin innocently with people attending happy hours, social events, and beyond. Before you know it, the bonds can become strong between the employees you brought together as the law firm manager or owner. Beer, pizza, and wings magically have a way of bringing folks together in a semi-sacred bond.
On some level, this is a good thing. Employees getting to know each other can be good if it is promoting teamwork and comradery in the workplace. This can be seen when employees are still coming to work happy to be there, are productive, and enjoy being around each other to do great legal work (even with the management).
That said, it can often become counter-productive. After-hour happy hours can turn into negativity. Rumors and gossip can be spread. It can turn into a complaint forum. Folks can start questioning. Sometimes, they can begin dreaming big dreams of an easier, yet more prosperous life (even if totally unrealistic).
Further, when superiors are out drinking with subordinates, and even those in the same position, legal risks overflow into the workplace. Laws against workplace harassment are one area that presents significant risks when employees socialize outside of work. Employees probably have a right to go to after-hour drinking and social group events (although I’m no employment attorney and the laws can vary by state).
But as a law firm partner or manager, if you want to know the pulse of the law firm, you often need to look no further than the social groups within your law firm and what folks say after a few beers among coworkers is an excellent measure of an employee’s heart.
Know that once one member of a drinking or social group departs (whether willingly or not), the departure of the others in the drinking group can often come in waves. In other words, once one leaves, the others inevitably begin to think it’s their time.
This is a natural tendency in many ways. For example, outside of work, when somebody gets married in a social group, others start thinking it is their time. Likewise, when somebody has a child, others start thinking about having children. It isn’t any different in most law firms once one social or drinking group member leaves and glorifies it to others (right after accepting a new job or while in the initial honeymoon phase).
In short, if you are running a law firm, don’t discount the importance of drinking and social groups within your firm. What happens at them can directly affect the success of your law firm.
If you have any thoughts, feel free to share them below.