Response to Shop Steward’s post on Morale

By Legal Eagle

This post is in response to Shop Steward’s post on morale. I agree with Shop Steward in regard to many issues:

  • Work retreats: Why the hell would I want to spend all weekend with my workmates when I spend all week with them? Nothing personal against my workmates. It’s just that when one works at a law firm, one spends enough time with workmates as it is without spending all weekend with them as well! Personally, I like to spend time on weekends relaxing with my family and friends. I hate work retreats. And if that makes me “not a team player”, so be it.
  • Stinginess of partners: When I went on maternity leave, I invited everyone in my section to come (and a couple of other friends from around my firm). Not one partner bothered to turn up. In the end all the junior lawyers, paralegals and secretaries pooled together so that I didn’t have to buy my own farewell lunch (thanks guys, you are good friends). The firm didn’t even bother to send a bunch of flowers or a card when my baby was born. That really gave me a message of how the firm and the partners valued me. No wonder I didn’t go back.
  • Morale generally: It was not often that I got told that I had done a good job by my supervising partners. Actually, clients thanked me for good work on a number of occasions – which I guess is what was really important – but I felt as though no one at the firm cared about the quality of the work I did, just as long as I racked up those six minute units.

Writing this post, I realise that I still feel pretty bitter and angry. It doesn’t take much for a person like me to be kept happy – just a pat on the back when I do a good job, a bit of generosity from firm partners from time to time to let me know that they appreciate my efforts (after all, I’m the one lining their pockets). I am an intrinsically loyal person, but every firm for which I have worked has steadily eroded any loyalty I have had toward it. It’s simple – if an organisation treats people like rubbish, they’ll cease to have any loyalty towards it.

However, I disagree with Shop Steward on the demise of the boozy lunch. I’m happy about the demise of this particular institution. Now, I don’t mind the odd lunch on the firm or the odd free drink either. But one thing I really object to is the alcoholic culture of firms which persists despite the demise of the boozy lunch.

So much of the social life of a firm revolves around alcohol. It is hard for lawyers who don’t drink for religious or health reasons to fit in. When I did articles, one of my fellow clerks didn’t drink alcohol because she didn’t like the taste. The majority of social occasions involved drinking. She ended up being ostracised by some of the other clerks because she didn’t drink and she didn’t eat certain foods for health reasons. Another friend of mine is a petite and slender girl, and as a result, she can’t take much alcohol. At her former firm, the partners went out of their way to get her extremely intoxicated for their own amusement. She ended up passing out and was very, very unwell. Luckily her mother found her unconscious on her bedroom floor. She could have died of alcohol poisoning.

I’m not that keen on booze fests these days. I got that out of my system during university (with a vengeance: I was quite terrible). As I say, I like a nice glass of wine or two, but I don’t want to get smashed any more. Particularly not in a work context, because I am likely to have my already scant inhibitions broken down and I will go and tell everyone exactly what I think! I don’t see why all social occasions at a law firm have to revolve around alcohol. I think many lawyers drink more than is healthy (particularly if you are stuck at a desk all the time). It is unhealthy from a few perspectives: it is fattening, can destroy one’s liver and can adversely affect one’s mental health. Everything is okay in moderation. But the end of the boozy lunch doesn’t sadden me at all.

In the end, all I want to keep my morale up is a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T! And maybe a free lunch or a free glass of wine from time to time.


  1. Shop Steward
    Posted September 18, 2006 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    You are quite right. The post was not intended to make the case for more alcohol but, rather, more generosity and recognition, which engender the loyalty that law firms seem to disregard.

    I pointed to the boozy lunch as symbolic of a time when workmates were valued as much as work; when camaraderie was as important as the bottom line.

    Loyalty is created through a sense of give and take. Alas, many junior lawyers feel that this reflects their current employment in only one respect: the more we give, the more they take.

  2. Legal Eagle
    Posted September 18, 2006 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    In that sense, I also lament the end of generosity of partners paying for meals and drinks of the employees who are slaving away to keep said partners in the manner to which they are accustomed!

  3. KY
    Posted September 18, 2006 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

    I tend not to be so sentimental. For all the talk about the good old days, the fact is that the “good old days” were only sustainable because all the law firms enjoyed the “good old days” without competing with each other fully.

    Once even one firm decide to depart from the “good old days”, it is inevitable that the “meat market” takes over.

    I consider myself a piece of meat in this market. My “pimp” (ie the firm) has no loyalty to me and nor do they expect any loyalty from me.

    Any other way of viewing the situation and you leave yourself vulnerable to reaching the depths of depression about the value of human life.

  4. JaneM
    Posted September 19, 2006 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

    Working as a lawyer in mainstream private practice can be stressful, thankless and bereft of many feel good instances. My ongoing voluntary work within the community legal sector (way back from my undergrad days) however, has provided me with a lot of professional and personal fulfillment.This has compensated for my misery working for all male partners doing their shit work in a highly competitive environment!

  5. Legal Eagle
    Posted September 19, 2006 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    That’s a very good call. Volunteering does make you feel better about being a lawyer. As I’ve described in one of my very early posts,
    when we were sued by our old landlord, I was surprised to discover exactly how terrifying and disempowering it is to be a party to a legal action. How much more terrifying the must be law if you don’t have resources or knowledge?

    So, now that my baby is older, I’ve put my name down to volunteer at a local community legal centre.

    I still wish firms would shape up, though.

  6. Legal Eagle
    Posted September 19, 2006 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

    I meant “How much more terrifying must the law be if you don’t have resources or knowledge?” – not quite sure what happened to my typing skills then!!!

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  1. By No Booze, You Lose...? « The Legal Soapbox on May 21, 2007 at 7:23 pm

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