Did you know that roughly one-third of employees report having been romantically linked to a coworker at one time or another? Office romances are always risky, but they can be particularly tricky within a law firm. After all, no one knows the potential legal consequences of a workplace relationship better than legal professionals.
Nonetheless, law firms are the perfect place to fall in love.
Just about everyone who works there is highly intelligent. You put in long hours and spend your days working to achieve common goals. There are lots and lots of parties, and you bond over shared wins and losses.
In that kind of environment, it’s almost impossible to avoid office relationships.
Let’s take a look at what you should do if you do enter into a relationship with a law firm coworker. Even though these relationships can be really fun and can, in some cases, last a lifetime, they still require careful maneuvering from an employment perspective.
To disclose or not to disclose?
The first thing you’ll need to figure out when you enter into an office romance is whether you’re going to tell the firm about your relationship.
The answer to that question is much like the answer to any Human Resources question: What does the Employee Policy Manual say?
In most cases, the Manual will require some level of disclosure, especially if one person in the relationship supervises the other (or has some level of authority over the other, such as a partner and an associate).
Absent an express requirement, disclosure is generally not mandatory, but most law firms are not going to make things that easy for you.
Keep in mind also that in the post-#MeToo era, some firms also require couples to sign a “Consensual Relationship Agreement.” These agreements are intended to prevent later sexual harassment lawsuits, which can occur after an office romance (particularly one between a supervisor and a subordinate) goes sour.
If there is any part of you that feels you’re being pressured into this particular office romance, you probably want to think long and hard before you sign a Consensual Relationship Agreement or any similar document. This is especially true if that relationship is with someone who can make employment decisions about you.
Of course, these days, making a formal statement to your law firm is not the only way to disclose your relationship.
It’s not uncommon at all for a law firm to monitor employee social media accounts.
Imagine your managing partner finding out about your office relationship while she’s scrolling Facebook at the dentist’s office. Or what if a colleague you don’t particularly like found out about your relationship on Instagram?
Even if your firm doesn’t have a policy requiring disclosure of romantic relationships (unlikely), no one is going to be happy with you and your beloved if your “situation” is discovered inadvertently via social media posts.
In other words, if you two aren’t ready to expressly tell the firm about your relationship, you probably want to avoid broadcasting it all over social media for the time being.
The problem with other people
Let’s assume that your relationship is consensual, loving, and supportive.
Let’s also assume that you have no problem signing a Consensual Relationship Agreement and that, in fact, you want the whole world to know that you’re in love.
Sounds great, right?
Don’t forget that other people may still be quite the obstacle.
Office gossip can quickly become a distraction if you don’t handle it well. You can keep gossip to a minimum by doing things like limiting PDA (public displays of affection) in the workplace, working harder so as to avoid the appearance of favoritism, and not getting defensive any time a coworker brings up your relationship.
If you and your partner do have a supervisor-subordinate relationship, the supervisor should also take great pains to avoid allegations that the subordinate is getting special treatment.
Don’t consistently give your partner the best assignments, easiest assignments, or most interesting assignments. If you do, you’ll undoubtedly be the subject of multiple HR complaints coming from outside your relationship.
Keep in mind that some firms have policies that prohibit relationships between people with any kind of supervisory relationship.
If you do start dating a direct report or a manager in your chain of command, consider asking for a transfer to a different team to avoid conflict of interest. Your firm may also ask for your resignation if there are no other open positions.
The unfortunate reality of romantic relationships is that many of them end.
While that can be heartbreaking enough, it’s undoubtedly worse when you still have to work together day in and day out.
How do you deal with getting out of an office romance? The same way you got into it, of course.
That means that you must maintain your professionalism at all costs.
Don’t have embarrassing arguments in front of coworkers, don’t start giving each other the cold shoulder in meetings, and whatever you do, don’t involve other employees in your personal business.
Couple stuff should remain outside of the office at all times. There’s no reason for that to change just because the relationship ended.
Undoubtedly, if your relationship was public knowledge, news of the breakup will spread, too. People may want to discuss your former romantic partner with you, and it’s up to you to stop those conversations. Remind your coworkers that you’re still not open to gossip in this professional setting.
Navigating your office romance
Ultimately, law office romances can be quite successful. After all, where else are you going to meet another gainfully-employed adult who shares similar interests and a similar work schedule?
Where else can you find a partner who actually understands when you complain about your boss?
All joking aside, so long as everyone maintains their professionalism throughout the life cycle of the relationship, there’s nothing inherently wrong with finding your romantic partner at work.
Just be prepared for the extra challenges that might come along with your interoffice relationship. If you’re not ready to navigate those nuances, then consider whether it’s worth pursuing this relationship in the first place.