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At the start of their legal careers, most lawyers make the same pledge. They promise themselves not to become romantically involved with anyone from the firm. The making of this promise is, in fact, so common that the state bar might as well include it as part of the swearing-in ceremony for new admittees.
Despite knowing the risks that love at the firm poses to their careers, lawyers often break their promises. Why do lawyers, who place so much importance on their careers, risk everything by engaging in interoffice romance? Some think lawyers are attracted to each other because they repel everyone else. While there is probably some validity to this theory, the real reason lawyers find love at the firm is far more basic, maybe even primitive.
Office romance occurs at the firm because, despite what many people think, lawyers are human. The intense pressure to log as many billable hours as possible and to meet impossible deadlines work to isolate lawyers from the outside world. Spending virtually all of their waking hours in the confines of the firm limits attorneys' opportunity to find human companionship with individuals who work in other professions. This condition is very similar to the zoological practice of placing animals together in cages in order to encourage them to breed with each other.
During their first few months of captivity at the firm, most lawyers have no problem keeping the promise not to enter an interoffice romance. This is because they find their law firm colleagues to be extremely annoying and repulsive. As they start spending a lot of their time at the office, however, the caged animals become restless, they forget their promise and begin pursuing colleagues. True, others at the firm are still just as annoying and repulsive. But now, somehow, these same people seem suitable and desirable.
Let the interoffice romance begin!
Lawyers taking the leap into love at the firm this Valentine's Day are advised to proceed with caution. The etiquette of law firm romance must be respected. The following guidelines, based on standard law firm practices, are designed to assure that you get the most out of a law firm love affair. They are also helpful in avoiding litigation.
Be discreet. Never go on a date outside the firm. The risk of being found out is too great. Instead of dinner at a restaurant and perhaps a movie, do all of your dating inside the firm. Lawyers typically begin a romantic evening with some legal research in the firm's library and then a drink or two at the lunch room vending machine. Later, the lawyers in love might enjoy a pizza or some deli sandwiches left over from an earlier conference. After finalizing a few documents and logging a sufficient number of billable hours for the day, the inevitable question is asked: "Your office or mine?"
Never pursue the Senior Partner's secretary. Why do you think this person is the Senior Partner's secretary?
Be especially careful if your law firm valentine happens to be a member of the staff. First of all, certain staffers are especially well placed to sabotage your career if things don't work out the way they want them to. Another reason to be cautious is that many senior lawyers at the firm feel that interaction between attorneys and the staff should be limited. In other words, it is perfectly acceptable law firm behavior for a lawyer to be caught naked in the supply room with a member of the staff. You will be risking great damage to your career, however, if you are seen having lunch or dinner with that same staff member (fully clothed).
Deny all rumors of involvement with someone from the firm. No matter how discreet you are, you will eventually be found out and the office grapevine will take over. While you walk around thinking the whole affair is a big secret, everyone else will know what's going on. Be this as it may, the key to successful interoffice romance is plausible deniability. When confronted about the liaison, simply respond: "You have misinformation, he/she is sleeping with (name of your hated rival(s))."
Schedule romantic encounters around such things as waiting for documents to be typed or during conference calls. This way, you can date and bill at the same time.
Never date anyone ranking above you at the firm. Partners should date associates, paralegals, secretaries, etc. Associates should date paralegals, secretaries, and so on. This way, when things go sour (and they will), your former law firm lover won't be able to use his or her senior position to have you fired. Instead, if you date someone ranked below you, you can have him or her fired.
Associates should also never date summer associates or recruits visiting the office for interviews. This privilege is reserved for partners.