Office Romances

It's a universal truth that lawyers spend a lot of time at the office. A lot. Therefore, it's a corollary universal truth that the office is one of the most likely places that lawyers would meet someone with whom to start a romantic relationship. As one outplacement specialist said, the workplace has become in the new millennium what singles bars, health clubs and Internet match-making companies were in the past.

On the upside, having a romantic relationship with a co-worker certainly makes going to work more fun. And some human resource experts suggest that workplace relationships are less taboo than they once were. Even many law firms are slowly recognizing that office romances are inevitable.

But while inter-office dating is tempting and sometimes unavoidable, it's also risky. We have some tips for building personal relationships without destroying the accompanying professional relationships or, worse, your career.

First, familiarize yourself with your employer's policy on inter-office dating and adhere to it. Few firms will prohibit dating altogether, but many have distinct rules. Of course, of utmost importance to employers is avoiding claims of sexual harassment, which are costly from both a financial and public relations standpoint. Therefore, your employer may have different rules for dating a colleague versus a superior. In both cases, the relationship absolutely must be consensual. And the relationship should not result in even the appearance of favoritism -- therefore, do not give or accept special treatment from your new paramour. Even if your employer has no official inter-office romance policy, your dating a co-worker will no doubt influence the firm's view of your judgment and discretion -- two critical traits of good lawyers.

Second, establish ground rules with your new boyfriend or girlfriend from the start. Specifically, discuss what you'll do if the relationship goes south. Even though you may feel more in love now than you've ever been, be smart and plan for the worst -- such as your lover breaking up with you and then dating someone else in your firm right before your very eyes. Perhaps it's not a bad idea to agree in advance that you'll each get some post-relationship counseling.

Also, mutually decide who you're going to tell about the new romance. Of course, beware of office busy-bodies.

Third, do not let your relationship distract you from work. Instead, agree to talk to each other only at designated times, like during lunch or at a 3 p.m. coffee break. Also, don't use e-mail for love letters. (If you must communicate via e-mail, get a Yahoo or Hotmail account instead of using the firm's e-mail system.) Always maintain a professional image -- leave your arguments and displays of affection outside the office.

We don't mean to be negative. Couples have been falling in love at the office for centuries and many of these romances end in long and happy marriages. Just proceed with caution. We'd never want you to have to chose between your romance and your job.

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