Welcome to Summer Fridays, where I’m answering questions from summer associates and interns. Have a question for me to answer? Email it to email@example.com.
Today, I answer a question from a summer associate concerned with turning down a drink at alcohol-soaked summer events.
I am a summer associate at a law firm, and we received a calendar of events for the summer. Many events revolve around drinking. I don’t drink alcohol. Is this going to be a problem for me? What should I say if people notice I’m not drinking?
Lawyers have a reputation for liking a drink, and in my experience, that reputation is based in reality. So I’m not surprised that the majority of events your summer firm puts on include alcohol. That said, if you don’t drink – for whatever reason – it shouldn’t be a big deal. I’ve seen lots of people successfully handle this in a few ways:
Option 1: Order a beverage – like a glass of club soda with lime – and sip on that. You don’t need to call attention to the fact that it doesn’t contain alcohol if you don’t want to.
Option 2: Order an alcoholic beverage and just hold it all night.
Option 3: Turn down a drink with a simple, “No thanks.” Or with “No thanks, I’m good for now.” (Adding “for now…” might invite a second offer of a drink later, but it usually stops conversation in the moment.)
Option 4: Turn down a drink and explain that you don’t drink: “No thanks, I don’t drink.”
Whatever you decide to do on any given day, the key is to be casual and treat it like a non-issue. Usually everyone else will follow suit. But…sometimes, they don’t. Here’s how this can play out if you come across someone who tries to turn it into a big deal:
Partner: Hey summer associate, grab a beer!
Associate: I’m good, thanks.
Partner: Are you sure? We’ve got wine too, help yourself!
Associate: I’m fine, thanks. So what do you think of tonight’s event? Great venue, huh?
Partner: Yeah, it’s cool. You sure you don’t want a drink?
Associate: Yeah, I’m good. I don’t really drink. So, I wanted to ask you about xyz case you’re working on…
Partner: You don’t drink? What? Why?
Associate: No, I don’t. (Or, No, I don’t, due to allergies/religion/never developed a taste/etc.) I am, however, basically responsible for keeping Diet Coke in business! Anyway, what’s keeping you busy this summer?
Partner: Actually, I’ve got this really great case…
The easiest way to make this a non-issue is to: (1) have some kind of beverage in your hand, like a soda, making it easier to turn down a drink without explanation, (2) decline casually with a smile, and (3) appear to be having a good time at the event even if gasp, you’re not drinking alcohol. Abstaining around drinkers sometimes causes the drinkers to question their own alcohol consumption. This is a them issue, not a you issue, but it helps to diffuse the situation for everyone if you keep it low key.
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