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Profession needs “healthier” approach to alcohol

Uberoi: Collective responsibility to make positive change

The profession needs to create a healthier culture around alcohol, including never asking people at events why they are not drinking, the Law Society’s Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) has urged.

The group argued that the career progression of lawyers, development of teams and relationships with clients would be damaged “if those who opt not to drink are excluded from events (or leave early) that would otherwise allow them to build business relationship and strengthen bonds with their teams”.

The JLD has today issued guidance on how to create a healthy culture around alcohol [1] and “equip organisations to foster mindful drinking attitudes”.

Author Laura Uberoi, who represents the JLD on the Law Society’s governing council, said: “Our intention is not to stop people drinking alcohol altogether – that is a choice for individuals. Instead, it is promoting awareness and creating opportunities to foster a healthier, more inclusive approach to work-related activities.

“Changing drinking habits and taking responsibility for not getting drunk is left to the individual. However, as a profession, there is a collective responsibility to make positive change and choice easier for our members, clients and intermediaries.”

The guidance cited research by the International Bar Association last year that showed many incidents of bullying and harassment at work involved alcohol.

“This is particularly concerning in light of the statistic that one in three female lawyers reports being subjected to sexual harassment in the workplace.

“It is often reported that juniors or those at recruitment events particularly feel pressure to consume alcohol to show that they can fit in with the team, socialise well and secure their future career progression.

“Any pressure from a more senior figure could be construed as workplace bullying, which organisations will want to make clear is unacceptable in accordance with their anti-bullying policies.”

The guidance noted that many people may also feel excluded from alcohol-related events for a variety of reasons, such as health, religion, disabilities, driving, veganism, pregnancy, personal preference or previous traumatic experience.

Among the recommendations in the guidance are not to label events as ‘drinks’, to arrange alternative events and activities “which step away from the standard drinks reception or gathering in a bar”, and to offer “interesting” alternatives to alcoholic drinks.

The guidance said: “It is fundamental that individuals do not feel the need to justify why they are not drinking on a given occasion. This means making sure that everyone in the profession is aware that it is not appropriate to ask why another person is not drinking.

“The question will nearly always make the person uncomfortable and, if nothing else, usually lead to an awkward exchange.

“Teams should be encouraged to intervene if they do hear such a question and move the conversation on to different ground, so that peers do not feel the need to find an ‘excuse’.”

The JLD said its annual survey of members highlighted that alcohol was a contributing factor to mental ill-health in the legal profession.

To mark the launch of the guidance, the JLD will only be serving alcohol-free drinks at its events during January 2020.