Comment

Why a shift towards booze free law events is a positive for the profession

By on
37

Husnara Begum reflects on life as a teetotalling magic circle trainee in the nineties

Picture the scene. You’re a Muslim and a teetotaller. You’re a first seat trainee and you’ve been invited to a client wine tasting evening.

Do you politely decline, saying you don’t drink or do you go along as an observer and then risk coming across as an ignorant outsider who doesn’t know Chardonnays from their Pinot Grigios? That was the dilemma I faced within months of starting my training contract.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m generally happy to be around people who are drinking and whilst at university spent many evenings nursing or playing taxi driver to friends who had one snakebite too many. But the big difference then was that at no point did my friends twist my arms into even taking a sip of alcohol.

But as a fresh-faced trainee who grew up in Luton and the first in my family to go to university I was desperate to impress. I felt immense pressure to fit in and worried that both options described above would still risk me being an outcast and in turn result in me falling out of favour with key partners and senior associates. It was a lose-lose situation.

And to be honest as I progressed through the legal profession and then switched to journalism it became worryingly apparent that drunken nights out were the norm. Indeed, nothing got the bar till ringing louder than a social with lawyers and journalists. What’s more I even once overheard a former colleague say behind my back that as a non-drinker I’d never be able to cut it as a journalist. And how wrong were they?

That’s why I welcome the recommendations made recently by the Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) to do away with the boozy culture that far too often prevails in the legal sector and to promote a more ‘inclusive approach’. And I really do hope law firms take heed when planning social activities for vacation scheme students and ditch gin tasting for an activity that does not centre around alcohol.

I appreciate that drinking habits should remain an individual choice and I’m certainly not suggesting that we go to extreme measures by requiring law firms to ban alcohol at all events. But I believe there is plenty of merit in shifting the emphasis away from non-drink related activities to ones with proven links to mindfulness and wellbeing, as per the JLD’s suggestion.

LegalEdCon 2020: Secure your place

So hopefully no current or future trainee will ever face the same dilemma as me. Besides, who isn’t always up for a game of mini golf or paint balling? By the way, below are my top five tips on how to enjoy a sober work social either without any alcohol or limiting yourselves to one drink:

1. Don’t feel the urge to tell every single guest you’re abstaining, especially if you’re drinking mocktails. Most people won’t even notice. And if they do — it’s absolutely fine to be honest about it but there’s no need to give a lengthy explanation of your reasons for not drinking.

2. Accept the first few times you do this it will inevitably feel awkward. But I promise you — it does get easier. So do try to relax and be yourselves.

3. Sponge on others’ high and fake it — this one is definitely my favourite. I noticed from very early on in my life that when everyone else is drunk or at least tipsy then it’s really easy to pretend you are too. Hardly anyone will notice that it’s all an act and what’s more as a fake you are in full control of your behaviour so there’s less risk of you saying or doing something you’ll later regret.

4. Capitalise on being sober and engage in intellectual but light-hearted conversations, which as an added bonus you are more likely to remember the next day.

5. Remind yourselves of the benefits of waking up without a stinking hangover.

Husnara Begum is a career coach and outplacement specialist with a particular focus on working with final seat trainees and junior associates. She will be speaking at LegalEdCon 2020, a day-long virtual conference on Thursday 14 May.

Sign up to the Legal Cheek Newsletter

37 Comments

Anon

I’ve never heard a problem I care about less than a MC trainee struggling to figure out how to turn down an invitation to a wine tasting evening.

(147)(10)

Lavid Dammy

Anyone know the current NQ rate at Squadron, Ellenoff, Plesent & Sheinfeld?

Rumours have it they’re the only top firm currently hiring top candidates.

(12)(1)

Anon

About tree fiddy. Been matching the Dorsey scale since 2001.

(5)(0)

anon

Pretending to be drunk is a ridiculous idea. Why on earth would you do that? Being drunk or tipsy is usually just a by product of a group of friends or colleagues catching up and winding down with a few drinks after work and inevitably the more alcohol they consume the less inhibited they might become. Being drunk is very rarely the aim or the goal in itself. If you don’t want to drink alcohol then simply don’t drink the same way if you are a vegetarian you don’t eat meat or are we going to now ban all steak lunches from now on?

Whilst I agree if there was a culture of colleagues and clients deliberately going out to get blind drunk then that is not to be encouraged. However, if the aim is a networking event or a team social then if people want to have a few glasses of wine at the time then there is absolutely nothing wrong and nor should there be, with it. Will we also call for a ban on tickets to sports games because certain people don’t like sports? Wine tasting can be an interest to many just like a cricket or tennis match but nobody is banning client or social events around Wimbledon or other sports on the basis many people can’t stand sports.

It’s all subjective. There will be events you thrive on, events you enjoy, events which take you out your comfort zone and others which you detest. That’s just part of being an adult in a diverse world. People have different interests. As long as nothing is illegal, of a bullying or discriminatory nature then rock on.

(66)(2)

Anon

Yeah, that is terrible advice. It’s shocking that she says it is her “favourite”. Pretending to be drunk at a work event is incredibly childish and immature.

(19)(0)

Anon.

It’s the new puritanism.

The kids are all into yoga, frozen yoghurts and health kicks, rather than pound-a-pint down the student union bar.

I worry for humanity, frankly.

(42)(5)

Anonymous

It’s up to the individual.

(11)(0)

US Firm 1PQE

What a ridiculous and useless topic! I am an associate in a US firm, I do not drink and I have never had any problems with not drinking on any firm / client events. Just drink cola / juice.

(45)(0)

US 5 peeqer

Aye, I get through an awful lot of errrm cola on a big one with the PE lads!

(18)(0)

Teetotaller

It comes down to how comfortable you are in yourself and what you derive your identity from. I don’t drink, nobody cares and I’ll happily turn up to a boozy event and just chat to people. It’s not the core of my identity and properly integrating into a group of people with varying attitudes on things requires a bit of tolerance in all directions, not just towards me. At worst people ask if I want a drink, to which I reply “no I’m alright thanks mate”.

Where you risk alienating others is where you try to portray it as a moral issue or make a huge deal out of it/the reasons why you won’t do it. If you’re comfortable in yourself it shouldn’t and doesn’t matter.

(32)(0)

lol

“Capitalise on being sober and engage in intellectual but light-hearted conversations, which as an added bonus you are more likely to remember the next day” – this bit sounds a bit creepy IMO

(27)(3)

tips@legalcheek.com

True.

(3)(0)

Husnara Begum

Just thought I’d step in here as I don’t appreciate being likened to any disgraced partner. The point I was making is that if you’re supposed to be networking it’s helpful to remember who you spoke to and what you spoke about. I know plenty of people who have got totally wasted at work-related events and didn’t have the foggiest idea of the previous night’s events. All I can say is that having never been so stupidly drunk at a work event has meant that I’ve succeeded in not embarrassing myself by talking utter nonsense in front of colleagues and /or clients.

Also, for the record – I’ve not suggesting alcohol should be banned at any or all events. Simply, that it wouldn’t do any harm to sometimes shift the focus away from it.

(8)(26)

Realist

Don’t feed the trolls, Husnara.

It’s a useful article – thanks. Legal Cheek is frequented by many people who will criticise *anything*!

(7)(12)

Anon

Fuck off, it’s not, everyone here is always positive

Anonymous

The magic circle law firm the article is talking about is Slaughter and May. My friend works there and they are known for wine tasting socials, especially expensive old wine tasting events for trainees.

(23)(5)

Anonymous

A quick online search will tell you that she wasn’t at S&M but at Linklaters

(9)(28)

Harry

Doesn’t change the fact that slaughters does wine tasting events too

(27)(10)

Anonymous

That’s not what the comment was referring to though. The OP said that the firm mentioned in the article was S&M. I pointed out that it was probably Linklaters as she trained there.

Work on your reading comprehension.

(14)(23)

Molly

There was a similar story about slaughters and the wine tasting so it’s easy to get them mixed up tbf

Anonymous

Yes they got mixed up. Best just to put up their hands and admit it tbf.

NQ

Slaughters NQ here who’s never attended or been invited to a wine tasting. I’m aware of people going to wine tastings in their groups or as a post-deal social, but I wouldn’t say we’re known for it.

(11)(1)

Anon

Congrats on qualifying. Survived the TC then… how have you found it at slaughters? Is it as notorious as everyone says

(3)(2)

NQ

It’s very hierarchical and oxbridge dominant ngl and although you could say that for a lot of other firms, you can really feel it here. The culture isn’t as friendly as other MC and SC city firms but then again no one joins slaughters hoping to work with ‘genuinely down to earth’ or ‘friendly’ people.

Once you qualify, there’s a mysterious feeing of “now what?” in the sense that for those who want to work their way up to senior associate or partner, there isn’t much info or guidance provided to us on how to get there besides from stay at the firm for as long as you can until you are rewarded in the end, and there is no guarantee of that! That is if you want to work your way up, but the salary sort of hovers around the same figure as an associate rather than a good incremental increase.

The hours are interesting because everyone assumes there is better work-life balance at slaughters since there are no billable/target hours and face time culture but it is still just as bad as any other MC firm and even similar to US hours if anything.

(23)(0)

Anonymous

Wine tasting is a socially divisive and lazy marketing option. Also it tends to attract the worst sort of wine bores.

(8)(21)

Larry

If somebody is unwilling to let their guard down then it suggests something is amiss. I don’t like working with teetotalers.

(24)(11)

Larry's school teacher

Back to the Zoom schoolroom, you are missing your algebra class.

(3)(0)

TC holder

Hate mini-golf and paint balling LOL. Does her advice work if I’m asked by my firm to do these things?

(7)(0)

Lionel Hutz, Attorney at law

You can just follow this article’s tip No. 3 – pretend to be too drunk to play mini-golf or paint ball. For example, with paint ball, you could cry very loudly “I love the smell of napalm in the morning” and then start shooting wildly in all directions, saying that you saw some Vietcong in the woods. Harder with mini-golf but I am sure you can come up with something.

Hope this helps.

(11)(0)

Anon

Mini golf is easy. Shove two golf balls down your pants, push the club into your shorts and position the shaft so it pokes out of your shorts leg, and proposition every female colleague. You’ll either get “excused” or promoted, depending on the firm.

(3)(0)

Alex

Geez, teetotallers are the new vegans. Honestly, no-one gives a flip. No-one would even notice if y’all didn’t feel the need to bang on about your dietary choices all the bloody time.

(10)(0)

LGBT Solicitor

Good writing. Would you consider a piece on protecting LGBT solicitors from feeling uncomfortable at work?

(0)(4)

Tim

Hi, friendly advice from someone in the know, I’d suggest issuing an apology and retraction of this non sequitur post before the LC posters hound you to do so. People here are very keen that posts stick to the topic of the article. Personally I’d be delighted to discuss this topic but I won’t lest I inflame matters.

(0)(1)

LGBT Solicitor

Thank you Tim. I’ve been told more than once by colleagues that according to their faith, I will go to Hell for being gay.

I’m always keen to hear how other solicitors feel about that. I can cut down on the booze if it means that others like me won’t be kicked out of their homes?

(0)(0)

Larry

Keep your private business like that at home.

(0)(1)

Anon

Free booze is the only reason to go

(1)(0)

Anon

Not sure why this article was put out now. These events are not going to be happening for a very long time

(2)(0)

Comments are closed.

Related Stories