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What kind of difficulties would a teetotaling lawyer experience in school and career? (Canada & US)


Marco
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Marco
  • Applicant

I’ve never drunk alcohol before but not out of any religious or moral objection. I was brought up in a household where it was heavily discouraged and none of the circles I moved in during undergrad drunk enough to put me in awkward situations that made picking it up compelling. So maintaining the inertia of not drinking has been a painless position to have until now. Looking into legal profession though, it seems alcohol is may be an important social lubricant in law school, firm interviewing and general career networking settings.

I’m just curious if anyone has any experience on being an abstinent lawyer or as to how they’re treated? I’m not in principle opposed to taking it up but I’d avoid it if I could help it. Is the experience any different in Canada vs. US?

Fwiw, I’m a minority and people may incorrectly assume I’m opposed on cultural / religious grounds. Not sure that changes the equation / gives me any more or less latitude on the matter.

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Barry
  • Law Student

From what I understand as a first year law student who has never worked in any law office, it won't be a barrier to getting a job, but the chances of being put in awkward situations to make picking it up compelling will be great. 

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Rashabon
  • Lawyer

It's a lot more "normal" these days not to drink. Nobody is going to force you and you can just order a soda or a water and most people won't say anything. I drink but often choose not to at certain events because I don't feel like it and it never comes up.

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Peculiar Frond
  • Lawyer

Not drinking is totally normal, in both Canada and the US.

There is another recent thread on socializing in law school and I think this is an important observation in that context. No one should bat an eye if you say you don’t drink, and anyone who does is an asshole. If you are uncomfortable around people drinking, I can imagine that may be somewhat constraining socially but it’s a non-issue professionally. 

(You shouldn’t feel like you have to explain not drinking. But to the extent it makes you more comfortable, it has probably never been easier to abstain, in social settings — lots of non-alcoholic beers etc. if you simply must have something in your hand; no one can tell the difference between a vodka soda and a soda.)

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PulpFiction
  • Lawyer

Anyone giving you a hard time about not drinking isn't worth your time. I can think of a handful of bros in law school that would take jabs at others for not drinking or not wanting another round of drinks, but they're fucking annoying and most aren't like that. I was a pretty regular drinker most of my life, including most of law school, but then gave it up closer to graduation. At work events I get asked if I want a beer/drink, I say I'm good, and no one cares. I won't lie though, some of my best friends to this day were made over a couple of pints.

I'm sure you'll be alright, so long as you still go out to the events and put the effort into getting to know your peers/coworkers. Grab a water, ginger ale, or whatever you want and have a good time. 

Some have mentioned being comfortable around people drinking. I agree with this. It's one thing if you don't want to drink, but you don't want to be that person who doesn't show up to events because alcohol is involved. Passing on these events will probably limit your networking and ability to form strong relationships with colleagues. Just go hang out and have a good time.

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BlockedQuebecois
  • Lawyer
9 minutes ago, Peculiar Frond said:

If you are uncomfortable around people drinking, I can imagine that may be somewhat constraining socially but it’s a non-issue professionally. 

I have to disagree with this is.

If you are uncomfortable around people drinking (which OP obviously isn’t), that’s something you should try to get over as you enter the profession. A lot of professional events have alcohol, and your career prospects will likely be hampered if you opt out of all of them. 

I recognize there are some folks for whom “getting over” such discomfort may be truly impossible (recovering alcoholics, in particular), and those people may simply need to accept the career consequences. But there is likely to be at least minor career consequences if you are never able to hang around folks who are drinking. 

I agree with the general proposition that not drinking is unlikely to be a problem and anyone who makes a problem out of it sucks. 

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Peculiar Frond
  • Lawyer

Yes, agreed. I do think if the discomfort is such that you avoid events with alcohol, you’ll hamstring yourself. If that’s the case, then I would work on it. 
 

But if it’s just a matter of preferring not to attend pub nights, or whatever, I don’t think it’s a big deal. I don’t love hanging out with drunk people when I’m sober and, as a profession, I don’t think we should ask or expect our dry friends and colleagues to put up with the rest of us at our most inebriated. As in most things, a spectrum. 🙂

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PulpFiction
  • Lawyer
3 minutes ago, Peculiar Frond said:

But if it’s just a matter of preferring not to attend pub nights, or whatever, I don’t think it’s a big deal. 

Seriously, I don't know if it was just my school, but I rarely saw the deans listers at social events. I didn't see most of them outside class or ECs - they just didn't show up to events. I'm pretty sure none of them had issues landing clerkships or desirable jobs. I don't think it's that big of a deal in law school if you don't show face at events and care to mingle with your peers, but it's probably more of an issue as you start your career. You'll want to go to those work events, even if you're not in the mood to be around drunk people, for that face time and relationship building. But I don't know, just taking a guess here. 

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Rashabon
  • Lawyer

I (and many of the other dean's listers) went to plenty of the events in my time. There were some who didn't show up but many who did.

I actually think not attending pub nights in first year is a bad idea unless you're a very mature student or have a family (and even then). It's a good way to meet your classmates.

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Peculiar Frond
  • Lawyer
1 minute ago, PulpFiction said:

Seriously, I don't know if it was just my school, but I rarely saw the deans listers at social events. 

Ha. I can't say the same. But I truly don't think there's a causal relationship either way. I don't think academic or professional success hinges on how often one gets drunk with their law school classmates. It did make it more fun -- for me, personally -- though. 

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PulpFiction
  • Lawyer
Just now, Rashabon said:

I (and many of the other dean's listers) went to plenty of the events in my time. There were some who didn't show up but many who did.

I actually think not attending pub nights in first year is a bad idea unless you're a very mature student or have a family (and even then). It's a good way to meet your classmates.

I think it was just my cohort, to be honest. The deans list stayed the same pretty much all three years, and most of these people were MIA at events (though I should add, very pleasant people, some who happen to be very close friends of mine). 

Going out in first year is definitely a good way to meet your peers and show them the more laid back, fun side of you. 

2 minutes ago, Peculiar Frond said:

Ha. I can't say the same. But I truly don't think there's a causal relationship either way. I don't think academic or professional success hinges on how often one gets drunk with their law school classmates. It did make it more fun -- for me, personally -- though. 

It definitely made law school more fun. I probably went to a few more pub nights than I should have. 

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QMT20
  • Articling Student
2 hours ago, PulpFiction said:

Seriously, I don't know if it was just my school, but I rarely saw the deans listers at social events. I didn't see most of them outside class or ECs - they just didn't show up to events. I'm pretty sure none of them had issues landing clerkships or desirable jobs.

This was true in my experience. Most dean's listers I knew in my year and the year below me rarely, if ever, went to social events unless they were related to a club that they were part of. I was dean's list all throughout law school and personally never went to any of the weekly socials. It didn't affect my ability to land a job or clerkship because the networking I did was through activities like the journal and moots. 

That said, I do go my firm's social events now that I've started working. I think it's harder to avoid going to social events and drinking events at your firm vs at your law school because you meet a lot of lawyers you wouldn't otherwise come across. I can't name everyone in my year at law school but I'd like to at least have met everyone in my department at my firm. 

Bottom line, in law school I wouldn't say drinking has any effect on your opportunities. Once you start working, I think it's as others in this thread have already said. Whether you drink or not won't hold you back but you should be comfortable with going to social events where other people will be drinking around you. 

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KOMODO
  • Lawyer

I'm going to go a bit against the grain / offer a different perspective, as someone who also doesn't drink at all (in my case, due to a health condition I have that is incompatible with drinking alcohol). Although I wish I could agree that only rare jerks will notice/care if you abstain, I've had plenty of negative comments from other lawyers relating to my non-drinking. The worst was when I was articling - at a firm dinner, a partner suggested in front of a bunch of other people that I wasn't drinking because I was pregnant (which was absolutely untrue, and super embarrassing for me at the time). On other occasions, lawyers have suggested that I was the "fun police" (just because I was not drinking - it's not as if I cared whether they were), that I was messing with their plan to order wine by the bottle for the table, or that I "just needed to lighten up". Those with better intentions have also gone in the opposite direction of trying to be accommodating, but in the process drew a lot of (unwanted) attention to me and/or made me explain in detail why I couldn't imbibe. 

I wouldn't say that any of this has exactly had an impact on my career, but just wanted to warn you that you may have to develop a bit of thick skin about these types of comments. Now that I'm more senior, they don't bother me as much and I just avoid people who are rude, but there were many awkward dinners (especially student recruitment dinners, which perhaps aren't a thing anymore with covid?) when I was starting out. 

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Aureliuse
  • Lawyer

I happen to be a teetotaler as well (not due to health, religious, family, cultural strictures either). I simply dislike the taste of alcohol and wine and coffee - I like my suffering raw when practising family law 💀.

I continue to think that the legal profession is a conservative profession. I think social conformity and "likeness" (How similar are you to me or us?) is a "soft factor" in the legal profession. You want your work and dedication to stand out, but not your personal habits/preferences (other than minor things like whether you like chicken vs. beef, how rare you like your steak etc.)

We are also a "social profession" in which networking and social performance matters.  When at a social function with your colleagues and other lawyers, not drinking is so readily observable; and easily picked up by others at events when someone volunteers to take everyone's order. Medical condition is a "safe" go to justification. But you do run into brash and inconsiderate people who might think differently of you.

The trick I employ at social functions is either ordering a light alcohol drink or have an alcoholic fruit punch. As a non-drinker, I memorize a list of go-to alcohol/wine that I would order at dinner events with prospective clients and other lawyers.

In one social event, when a partner jovially commented on how little progress I made in my wine cup, I retorted in kind that, "more for everyone else!" To which the partner smiled and nodded in agreement.

I do not want my reply to be taken to suggest that you should buckle under the pressure to drink in order to ingratiate and grovel to important people. I speak from experience in the legal profession that you do want to think about the image you project of yourself when you are the only one who does not drink.

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Mountebank
  • Lawyer

You'll be fine. Plenty of lawyers don't drink or else drink little and rarely. It won't hamper your career as long as you're affable and still participate in social events. At my old firm, we had a couple non-drinkers and it was a non-issue. They still came out to all the events and, being sober, they never made asses of themselves.

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  • 2 weeks later...
Kimura
  • Law Student
On 12/29/2021 at 4:23 PM, KOMODO said:

On other occasions, lawyers have suggested that I was the "fun police" (just because I was not drinking - it's not as if I cared whether they were).

This sounds like something I'd expect to hear at an undergraduate frosh party, not a professional firm dinner! People need to mind their own business lol. 

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On 12/27/2021 at 7:55 PM, PulpFiction said:

Seriously, I don't know if it was just my school, but I rarely saw the deans listers at social events. I didn't see most of them outside class or ECs - they just didn't show up to events.

At my law school, I'd say like half of the top 10 students were also big into pub nights and parties. Very few of the top 10 avoided partying.

My experience is that how much you study and party has little impact on how well you do in law school, which is a hard pill to swallow for those that work hard, avoid parties, and don't do particularly well. Some people skim CANs, skip class, and still ace exams. 

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8 hours ago, Kimura said:

This sounds like something I'd expect to hear at an undergraduate frosh party, not a professional firm dinner! People need to mind their own business lol. 

Haha firms are quite similar to undergrad - there are still groups of people who are bros/jocks, partiers, nerds, student council types, etc. The good news is that with a little trial and error, you can usually find a group that fits for you. 

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