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The walk of shame never fails to humiliate, but it can be exceptionally excruciating if its path takes you right by the senior partner’s door on the way to your desk on Monday morning — especially when you know that the partner can pick out the precise shade of green your Saturday night vomit was. It’s the firm’s annual holiday party, and for lawyers just starting out, advice runs the gamut when it comes to how to conduct oneself at festive gatherings. At some firms, the annual holiday bash can be a nerve-wracking event, where associates have the opportunity to converse with senior partners — sometimes for the very first time. With booze a-flowin’, some say it’s a place to let down your hair, loosen your tie and have fun without worrying about misstepping or misspeaking. Attorneys of the more liberal approach say making an ass of yourself isn’t the kiss of death some might think it is. “If you have too much to drink, you have too much to drink,” says Marty McNamara, partner in charge in Dallas’ Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. “We treat that [the holiday party] as a nonbusiness event. If you make a fool of yourself, you make a fool of yourself. It’s not something that carries over to the office the next day.” But Tom Alleman, a shareholder in Winstead Sechrest & Minick in Dallas, and Charlie Marshall, managing partner in the Dallas office of Andrews & Kurth, disagree. “I think you’re always on duty, and I think you’re always better to treat these things as if you’re on duty,” Alleman says. “It only takes one to remember, and it takes only one over-the-top experience that’s exposed in the public somewhere. You might as well clean out your desk.” “It certainly is a trap for the unwary,” Marshall says, noting that mishaps are well-remembered, such as the time the associate at the country club holiday party excused himself to the bushes outside the door to vomit, or the year another inebriated young associate was taken home and left on his front doorstep, as no one had a key to his house. The sprinklers awakened the attorney the next morning, Marshall says. “The half-life of those stories is infinite.” But despite the tales of horror that no one forgets, on the whole, misbehaving at the holiday party isn’t much of a problem among young associates, one attorney says. Ross Parker, a sixth-year associate and head of Munsch Hardt Kopf & Harr’s summer associate program, says he remembers well his first firm holiday party. “I didn’t expect anyone to do anything crazy and dumb, and no one did.” More so than first-year associates, who are still trying to make a good impression at the firm, he says summer associates are the ones who often make social blunders, as they aren’t yet completely attuned to appropriate and lawyerly decorum. But even for those few who take the “loosen up” mantra a little too far at firm parties, rarely are there repercussions, two lawyers say. One Fort Worth, Texas, associate, who requests anonymity, says that at one fairly informal firm function, a colleague got drunk, stripped down to her thong and went walking around offering a joint to her fellow party-goers. As for any reprimands the next Monday? “Not a word was said,” the associate says, although colleagues did steer clear of her for a few days. The same associate says that despite the awkwardness that usually follows such mishaps, generally, firm holiday parties are a time for lawyers to drink and have fun without guilt. Party bygones are bygones. McNamara says associates should just be themselves at holiday parties. “We want everyone to be relaxed,” he says. “If you say anything or do anything, our view is it doesn’t have anything to do with the office. If someone has too much to drink, we just make sure they get home OK and someone reminds them where their car is the next day.” Again, Alleman and Marshall take different views. “Holiday parties are lovely and fun,” Alleman says, but “remember that the firm holiday party is as much a public event as your appearance before the U.S. Supreme Court.” “While most senior partners may seem out of it,” Marshall says, “they have the memory of elephants. That can be lethal.” Marshall says that because lawyers tend to have type-A personalities, they thrive on competition and evaluation. If someone slips up, it will be remembered. “We’re human beings after all,” he says. TO GO OR NOT TO GO When considering whether even to attend the firm’s holiday party, Alleman advises new associates to use discretion and good judgment. “It depends on the climate of the firm and the climate of the party. There are going to be Christmas parties that are command performances.” Alleman says he remembers the first firm party he attended at a former firm. “It really stank. It was awful,” he says. The firm had less than 20 attorneys, half of whom Alleman describes as “really old guys” whom he didn’t think he’d have anything in common with. But he went anyway. “I really felt like if I wasn’t there, they’d all remember and think I was Scrooge in the making or not a team player. It was a kind of a ‘stand around and watch the Swedish meatballs turn to rubber’ situation.” No matter the climate, “good manners should always prevail,” Alleman says, noting a couple of faux pas to avoid. “I don’t believe embroidered Christmas sweaters should be allowed at any function for any purpose,” and “never, until you’re an equity shareholder, wear a tie that plays music. Only shareholders are allowed to be that offensive.” Marshall encourages associates to attend the firm’s annual party. “There’s a long memory for those who chronically don’t attend,” he says. But there are a few rules to remember, he notes. “The lovely centerpieces at tables many times involve candles — which are flammable.” And overly amorous behavior — which firm holiday parties can inspire — should be kept in check, he says. Making a gaffe at a holiday party, while maybe not career-threatening, can earn an attorney a reputation that is impossible to shake, Marshall says, particularly in big firms, where the holiday party may be the first time some attorneys meet each other. “You need a shorthand reference for someone,” he says. “If it’s ‘the person who set fire to the centerpiece at the holiday party,’ that’s how you’re remembered.” Marshall also says associates should steer clear of the senior and name partners and their spouses at all cost. “That’s a no-win situation. They can be greeted cordially upon arrival and upon leaving,” he says. “There is no conversation you can engage in that will actually work.” And if there’s music and a dance floor? “Don’t go out there,” Marshall says. And certainly don’t even consider getting up on stage. In seriousness, Marshall says the holiday party is generally a feel-good event and one that associates should try to enjoy. “You don’t get together collectively very often, so there is a very nice aspect to it. There is a warmth that goes along with having a successful business and professional relationships and seeing how it’s all grown,” he says. “It’s a wonderful time of year.” Former Texas Lawyer associate editor Cristina Smith has never made an ass of herself at any function, except for when she agreed to put on a Velcro suit and throw herself against a wall. But that was at a friend’s work party, so it doesn’t count. Smith is now busy taking care of her 15-month-old son and free-lancing when she gets the chance.

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