While the stodgy, fiercely-formal law firm may have largely become a thing of the past, there is still a certain level of decorum required by those wishing to find success in the law firm environment. With the merger of casual and formal that exists in most modern firms, it can be easy to blur the lines between what is – and is not – appropriate.
This week, we thought we’d take a look at some of the faux pas people frequently make in legal workplaces. This is a bad news/good news scenario. The bad news is that these are mistakes that are very easy to make. The good news is that once you’re aware of them, they’re equally easy to avoid.
Law firms tend to be tight-knit communities. As such, people get to know each other’s quirks, personal circumstances, strengths, and weaknesses. Not surprisingly, natural groups form among people with shared interests, similar senses of humor, and similar work ethics. All of that is fine and perfectly appropriate within the workplace.
Where those alliances start to become a problem, however, is when co-workers start gossiping about people outside of their alliances. Gossip can be highly detrimental to the workplace. Negative comments about co-workers can decrease office morale and harm your colleagues’ sense of security within the firm. Moreover, if you get a reputation as a gossiper, your own job security may be at risk.
The best course, therefore, is to avoid negative gossip altogether. If someone tries to engage you in negative talk about another, just exit the conversation gracefully. Better to offend the gossip-hound momentarily than to lose the trust of others in the firm.
#2: Inappropriate decorations
Let’s face it, even in the happiest of law firms, work is still work. One way to mitigate that reality is to decorate your workspace in a way that makes it uniquely “you.” In a law firm, however, too much individuality is not necessarily a great thing.
When you’re decorating, keep in mind the universe of individuals that may be exposed to your personal flare. For example, if you’re seated in a busy area that clients may frequent, it’s probably best not to have a collection of stuffed animals strewn across your desk. While they may be perfectly lovely in your home, they’re unlikely to instill confidence in a client who is looking for a hard-nosed litigation firm.
The best course is to be relatively conservative. Family photos or potted plants are typically fine. Posters with controversial slogans or juvenile themes probably aren’t. If you’re in doubt, seek the advice of someone who has worked at the firm longer than you.
#3: Highly-charged political discussions
There can be no doubt that we are living in a politically polarized society. At times, it seems the population has divided itself into two highly distinct political mindsets. There is a lot of rhetoric floating around social media, print media, and the evening news. Unfortunately, the two sides rarely find anything they can agree on.
While discussing politics at work has never been a great idea, it is particularly bad in the current political climate. The truth is, political disagreements can cause a host of problems in the workplace. These include bullying, prejudice against individuals with a different mindset, and heated arguments that should never happen within the four walls of the firm.
Even if you have extremely strong views on a political issue, the best course of action is to completely avoid political discussions at work. Indeed, even if you socialize with co-workers outside of the firm, it is still best to leave your politics at home. No matter your political beliefs, you will still have to work with each other successfully for months and years to come.
#4: Overindulging at a firm event
One reality of law firm life is that there are a lot of parties. There are parties to welcome new attorneys, parties to thank clients for their business, and a seemingly endless stream of holiday parties. With all of the frivolity, it’s easy to forget that demonstrating a lack of self-discipline can be extremely harmful to your career.
One of the most sure-fire ways to lose control is to drink too much at a firm event. The truth is, drinking lowers inhibitions. When that happens, you might be tempted to do all sorts of disgraceful things. While you don’t have to avoid drinking altogether, it’s important to keep track of your consumption. Have a glass of water between each alcoholic beverage. Offer to be a designated driver. Whatever you do, focus on how your actions will enhance (or impair) your reputation within the firm.
The central theme across each of these tips is simple: use good judgment while you’re at work. If you can avoid the common faux pas that plague many law firm employees, you’re likely to have a long and fruitful career.