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Mindful drinking in the legal profession

Mindful drinking in the legal profession

As people start to return to the office and work social events are now permitted, now is a key time for employers to consider how to create healthier drinking practices.

Last year the Junior Lawyers Division of The Law Society (the JLD) launched a campaign to promote a healthy drinking culture in the profession as this can have a significant impact on (i) mental and physical health, (ii) diversity and inclusion, (iii) bullying and harassment and (iv) productivity.

Champagne
  • Why is a healthy drinking culture important?

    There are four key factors driving lawyers to re-think their approaches to alcohol:

    • Improved mental and physical health: harmful drinking is the biggest risk factor for death and ill health among 15-49 year olds in the UK. Since 2017, the JLD has run an annual survey examining the levels of extreme stress and mental-ill health amongst junior lawyers.  This survey highlights that alcohol can be a contributing factor to mental health conditions and is sometimes being using as a coping mechanism for dealing with work pressures. This is also true of dealing with the strain imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

    • Decreased bullying and harassment: junior lawyers often report feeling pressure to consume alcohol at recruitment or other workplace events to “fit in”, which could be construed as workplace bullying. A recent study from the International Bar Association also suggested that one in three female lawyers had been subjected to sexual harassment at work and, although by no means the only factor, it is reported that alcohol was involved in a number of these incidents.

    • Increased diversity and inclusion: one in seven attendees at any event will not drink alcohol. Many people may feel excluded from alcohol-related events for a large variety of reasons, including driving, veganism, pregnancy, health, religion or personal preference.

    • Improved productivity: it may seem obvious that higher alcohol consumption correlates with decreased productivity, however the figures are stark – up to 17 million working days (that is 3-5% of all absences) are lost due to alcohol, costing the economy over £7.3 billion each year.
  • How can we create healthier drinking cultures?

    Last year, the JLD launched a new guide – Creating a Healthy Alcohol Culture in the Legal Profession (the Guide). The aim is not to stop individuals drinking alcohol, but to promote awareness and create opportunities to foster a healthier, more inclusive approach to work-related activities, and the Guide includes lots of best practice examples.

    The JLD received vast amounts of feedback from those working in the legal profession with examples of what they are doing to create a healthier drinking culture. As a result, , the JLD released a compilation of case studies (the Case Studies) from law firms, chambers, the courts, lawtech companies, law schools and many others, full of examples for others to copy.

    Highlights include:

    • Event labelling: change the description of events away from “drinks” and try “socialising”, “networking”, “gathering” or “catching up with…” instead.

    • Alternative events: run activities that focus away from alcohol and be mindful of any visible and invisible disabilities your guests might have.  The Guide and Case Studies contain long lists of suggestions, from food tasting/making and guided tours to arts and crafts and sports.  Latest feedback suggests that favourites are axe-throwing(!), yoga, wooden spoon carving and movie nights. Most of these can be run virtually over video-conferencing and are a great way to bring teams, clients and intermediaries together.

    • Alternative drinks: provide an interesting and healthy selection of non-alcoholic drinks, which are served alongside alcoholic drinks and in the same glasses. Lots of organisations run tasting events for their non-alcoholic drink selection. 

    • Timing: host morning, lunch or afternoon gatherings; these have the benefit of including those with young families, carer responsibilities and disabilities, who may struggle to attend evening events. Where appropriate, many organisations also invite attendees to bring along their family members (and pets!)

    • Dietary requirements: when running an event, you can ask ‘what non-alcoholic drink would you like to be offered?’ as part of their dietary requirements. If you are attending an event, do not be afraid to ask for your favourite non- alcoholic drink if you are asked for dietary requirements.

    • Prizes: vouchers, food and relaxation gifts (to name but a few) are great rewards instead of a bottle, if you are running a competition or saying thank you.

    • Firm policies: culture change often comes from the top and there are countless examples of organisations who are changing their alcohol policies, so that it becomes a wellbeing charter and not just a disciplinary matter. Training for everyone on the issues associated with alcohol is a great way to communicate the organisation’s message and a brief handout on the firm’s approach to alcohol, which includes the above strategies, is a great start.

No more explanations

The key message is that individuals do not feel the need to justify why they are not drinking on any given occasion.  The question will often make the person uncomfortable and usually lead to an awkward exchange, possibly around religion, health and bad experiences.  We should all be ready to intervene if we hear the question ‘Why are you not drinking?’, so that our friends and colleagues do not need to explain themselves.

A copy of the Guide, the Case Studies and further resources can be found on the JLD’s healthy drinking culture webpage.

Laura Uberoi
Council Member, The Law Society of England and Wales

 

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