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Should I Summer for a Law Firm Where My Boyfriend Works?

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Question: I am scheduled to interview at a law firm where I would love to work, via my school's on campus interview program.

However, my boyfriend of several years is an associate at this firm and while the firm is large, the New York office is midsized.


When, and more importantly how, should we make this disclosure?

Thank you for your help.


Should you work as a summer associate at a law firm where your significant other works?


Answer:

Before you even consider going to work for this firm, I think you need to have a long talk with your boyfriend. How does he feel about you working there for the summer? I am not suggesting that he make determinations for your career, but I certainly would want to know if my boyfriend had a problem working at the same firm together with me.
 
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Additionally, he might know how the firm is going to react when you disclose your relationship. Perhaps they frown on hiring someone in a relationship with one of the attorneys; perhaps they are more liberated and don't concern themselves with your personal life. However, I do think you would want to know their position before you go for an offer from them. If they do not encourage this type of relationship among employees, then unless you already have an offer from them, you can count on not getting one. Or, if you do already have an offer and they do not approve of the fact that your boyfriend is an associate with them, you stand the chance of having your offer rescinded or, even worse, simply not receiving an offer at the end of the summer.

Whether or not the firm has an opinion on this matter is not the most important thing to me. I just can't figure out why you would want to put yourself in a potentially uncomfortable or unfortunate position. Let's take a look at some possible scenarios:

Best case: You have a great summer. You and your boyfriend are in different practice areas and really don't interface with one another during the day. He accompanies you to the social events that require his presence or the ones where you are encouraged to bring a date. The firm is delighted that you both are part of their firm because they think of their attorneys as all part of a big family. At the end of the summer, you receive an offer of permanent employment and you become engaged to your boyfriend. Life is good.

Now let's take a look at what might happen to spoil this perfect picture:
 
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Working at a law firm, even as a summer associate, is tough. You are under a lot of pressure, as is your boyfriend. (See Seven Reasons Why Practicing Law Might Be More Stressful than Spending 18 Months in a POW Camp for more information.) One evening over dinner the two of you have a huge fight and consider never seeing one another ever again. Well, that isn't possible because you are going to be seeing one another every day for the rest of the summer. To make matters worse, you are in the second rotation of the summer and are in the same practice group as your ex. And, in fact, you are working on the same deal with him and one other attorney. Ouch! Not a great work environment for either of you.

Or perhaps all is well with you and your boyfriend and the summer is going along just fine. However, there is a partner in his department who is really cute and your boyfriend is on her litigation team. They must work long hours together, even over the weekend. Even though their relationship is completely and 100 percent professional, are you secure enough with your bond with your boyfriend to work in the same firm and watch them spending all of this time together? Think carefully before you answer that question.

On the other hand, you will be going to many social events where your boyfriend will not be included. You will be out with partners and associates that he may be working with or hoping to impress. Is he secure enough in your relationship to allow you to be out with these people, being wined and dined and having a great time while he is burning the midnight oil at the office? If you were with a different firm, he would not be quite as involved with what was going on with you.

Here's another thought: Your boyfriend is not exactly getting the best reviews from the partners and they tell him that he should be looking for another job. In the meantime, you are the star of the summer associates. How do you think he is going to react to this situation? How are you going to feel about the whole thing?

Or what if the tables were turned and your boyfriend is on a fast partnership track but you are having a lousy summer and end up not receiving an offer of employment. Now how do the two of you look at the firm? And what if you do receive an offer but didn't like the firm and decide to turn the offer down? What do you think your boyfriend will say to that?

And how about this: The firm has no problem with the two of you dating, but they do not allow married couples to work at the firm. You survive the summer and the rest of law school, as does your relationship with your boyfriend. You accept an offer of permanent employment with the firm and start there shortly after law school graduation. All is well and both you and your boyfriend love the firm and the work you are doing. Things are going so well on every front that you decide to get married. Which one of you is going to be willing to leave this firm that you both love so much? What if the market in your practice area is cold? What if you can't find another job for your practice area and/or class year? Why put yourself in this potential position at the beginning of your career?

These may seem to you to be extreme examples, but still, any of them could actually happen. Hopefully if any of these scenarios actually came close to happening, the two of you would be able to separate out business from your personal life. But sometimes that is a difficult thing to do. Why set yourself up?
 
There are so many wonderful firms in this city. Before you make any decisions to go to work for the same firm as your boyfriend, make sure that you interview around and see if there aren't other firms that appeal to you just as much as this one.

In terms of letting the firm know about your relationship with your boyfriend, I think it is your responsibility to let them know at the time when they ask you in for an advanced round of interviews. That way you will allow the firm and yourself to bow out of the interviewing process gracefully if they do have a problem and while you still have other options open to you.

Personally, if you really think that you won't run into problems working with your boyfriend then I don't think it is the business of the firm, since you are only talking about being a summer employee. I just don't think you should start something that could have a bad ending. Since there are so many amazing firms to choose from in New York, why not go that route and avoid any possible problems? Best of luck in whatever you decide.
 
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See the following articles for more information:
 

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