While there is no golden rule, the larger the firm, the more likely employees are going to socialize at non-firm events. Additionally, the younger employees are, the more likely it is going to 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 going to lunch. After work, employees can begin attending happy hours, going to social events and beyond. Before you know it, the bonds can become strong between these employees who you brought together as the law firm manager or owner. Beer, pizza and wings magically has 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 fosters team-work and comradery in the work-place. 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 as well. 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 and worrying. They can also 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, there are also legal risks that can over-flow into the workplace. Laws against work-place harassment is one area that presents significant risks when employees socialize outside work.
Practically, 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, it 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. What folks say after a few beers amongst co-workers is a great measure of the heart of an employee.
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. Outside of work, when somebody gets married in a social group, others start thinking it is their time. Likewise, when somebody then has a child, others start thinking about having children. It isn’t any different in most law firms once one member of a social or drinking group 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 effect the success of your law firm.
If you have any thoughts, feel free to share them below.