Dating Among Staff and Attorneys: What Can A Law Firm Do?

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Our attention went from increasing staff engagement yesterday to dating attorneys at the firm today. Dating co-workers has always been a sticky situation at law firms, particularly if the staff member dates a senior associate or a partner. The #MeToo movement has encouraged many women to reveal their stories of sexual harassment, particularly of men in power but despite all the claims of sexual harassment, interoffice dating still happens and a law firm may be more problematic to sort out versus other professional organizations. Some of the reasons is the structure of many law firms as well as ethical issues that may come into play.

This begs to question, how effective is a policy governing office? After all, telling professional adults how to handle their love life is a difficult and almost impossible task. Add working conditions for lawyers, long hours, out-of-town trials, many late-nights. Many lawyers and legal staffers spend more time at work than anywhere else. This can lend itself to relationships a romantic nature forming. It is quite difficult to control this.

When You Can’t Be With The One You Love, Love The One You’re With

Some law firms have attempted to establish a non-fraternization policy. The main problem with that is that staff and associates spend a lot of time together. Additionally, the issue of creating an unfriendly culture may come up. If a fraternization or dating policy is too strict, a firm could lose exceptional lawyers, their clients, and that could further harm the law firm.

Law firms and many corporations need to review their dating policies, but not for reasons one may think. The main point of any dating policy is to ensure that people are treated fairly in the workplace and so that the relationships created from fraternization do not create an impression of favoritism or unethical behavior. At the end of the day, the goal should be to make sure the firm’s staff and attorneys conduct themselves appropriately so it’s not causing a distraction for themselves, the firm and most important – clients.  

A good alternative proposed by some attorneys is that the firm ensures that one member of the couple isn’t supervising the other one. It is also important to have multiple systems in place in terms of assigning work, evaluating work and deciding bonuses. This can help reduce the risk of developing the power imbalances that could develop and lead to sexual harassment claims and overall bad morale in a law firm. Subscribe to the Leopard Blog for discussions on diversity, law firm insights, and other relevant topics.

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