Alright, I’m sure we can all come up with some great puns, but in light of Valentine’s day, I thought a piece on lawyers in love might be topical. While it is frowned upon if not outright verboten at some firms, we all know of partners and partners who became partners, associates and associates who found love, and partners and associates who have become intimate. So why is it anyone else’s business what happens between two or more consenting adults? If we set aside those pesky practical concerns like lawsuits, malpractice claims and ethics charges, we are left with some wonderful romances, some profound regrets, and a great tract of strange no-man’s land in between.What to do about it? By now we are all probably well aware that there is nothing very surprising about falling in love at work. Some situations are relatively predictable, and one may strategically determine to avoid them, take full advantage of them, or approach them with some level of non-reckless abandon. These include:
Ah yes, the office party. Drinks. Casual conversation, More drinks. Maybe dancing. More drinks. Hors d’oeuvres, not enough to get you full, mind you. More drinks…We’ve all needed to let our hair down, show off our dance moves (or in my case lack thereof) and toss back a few. Office parties have a notorious reputation and with good reason. During work hours, we all experience a variety of feelings we don’t act on, ranging from anger, disgust, and frustration toward others to respect, admiration, and yes, attraction. The annual office party is where we all get to let off a little steam. Be smart. If you are not looking to do something, stay sober, or if there is a realistic chance you may not, have a wingperson or persons to help you get into a cab before you say or do something stupid. If you are looking to take advantage of the environment, also stay sober. Remain in control, and gingerly attempt to proceed with your plans. I know we all have fantasies, but once we act on them, they will live on forever, with either a potential fairy-tale ending, or career-ending sexual harassment claim.
Anyone remember the OJ trial? Only after the fact did we learn that Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden were having an affair. Most trial attorneys were not surprised. Why? Because preparing for a trial is intense, with high-stakes, long hours, and a close knit team. It is not uncommon for romances to occur in this environment, even if it is more akin to a summer fling than a long-term affair, and no one seems to be immune to cupid’s special litigation arrows, that includes witnesses, experts, and in some cases clients. Tread VERY carefully here. This is dangerous territory, with the potentially safest love connection being another attorney.
Have no fear, Underdog is here!
There can be something incredibly ego-gratifying about snatching victory from the jaws of defeat for a client. It is confidence building. powerful, and incredibly sexy stuff. Not only do we feel on-top-of-the-world after a well fought win, but we may achieve superstar status in the eyes of our clients. Ok, I may be exaggerating a bit, but it can be a dangerous mix when we misinterpret a client’s signs of gratitude for a different kind of appreciation, especially when a client is in some distress. While many of us will immediately think of family law attorneys here, this can actually run the gamut of all practice areas. Again, tread carefully. The issue is one of unbalanced power. Too many attorneys have been sanctioned or lost their licenses over their failure to properly recognize boundaries here.
Your Mentor/Mentee (mental?)
Many law firms now have formal mentorship programs, while in others a natural mentor relationship may develop. At work as in life, like typically attracts like, so in firms without a formal mentorship program, there is a good chance that you are able to relate to your Mentor or mentee and have some similarities, including perhaps outside interests, activities, music, art, food, whatever. Here, one needs to be careful on all sides. A mentor may not realize their Paduan is falling in love with them, and they could be opening a can of major trouble, or, the associate may not understand or recognize that the attention he or she is receiving goes a bit beyond what is appropriate, and may not know how to handle it.
So, as this Valentine’s Day approaches, and florists, jewelers and greeting card companies have all decided this is the one day for us to declare our undying love, be smart. Choose your actions wisely.