Traditionally, law firms and legal departments would periodically host after-work happy hours to give the attorneys an opportunity to “wind down” and socialize with one another. This social hour has long been a staple throughout the legal field. However, many law firms and legal departments recently have begun to move away from this traditional method of bonding and socializing by favoring activities that do not feature alcohol.
Why is that? Some people argue that this shift is due to lawyers’ overwhelming propensity toward alcohol dependency, abuse, and addiction. In 2018 the American Bar Association reported that one in five lawyers has an alcohol addiction. That must be the reason for the cultural shift, right?
Some people say no and point to the #MeToo movement as the cause. Beginning with Tarana Burke in 2006 and culminating in 2017 with the allegations of sexual harassment in the film and television industry, the #MeToo movement has brought workplace harassment to the forefront. #MeToo has forced companies to look at their “office culture” and make changes to ensure that it is and remains a safe, harassment-free environment. Many law firms and legal departments have taken drastic steps to cultivate a work environment that is free from harassment. One prevailing thought is that alcohol can potentially fuel “bad behavior,” and eliminating it from social events will foster a safer work environment and reduce workplace harassment. That must be the reason, then?
Maybe not. Perhaps it is driven by a commitment to diversity and inclusion. The legal profession has long touted that it values diversity and inclusion. However, it can also be said that firms and legal departments are operating in direct contradiction to inclusion when only hosting alcohol-based social events, especially if some of the attorneys prefer not to partake in alcohol-based social events or are unable to participate due to family commitments. The exclusion of these individuals causes them to feel that they are not truly part of the team. For many law firms and legal departments, the best way to create that safe and inclusive environment is to shift away from the traditional happy hour. This ensures that the social events are welcoming and safe for all employees.
Whether the shift from the traditional happy hour is in response to reports of lawyer alcoholism, fueled by the #MeToo movement, or driven by diversity and inclusion efforts (or, more likely, a combination of all three), the shift is a welcome one. Rest in peace, traditional happy hour; long live the alternatives.