Holiday Party Etiquette Advice for Almost Lawyers

‘Tis the season for holiday parties! Remember that memories linger long after the champagne stops popping, so here are some friendly reminders to help you navigate these events with professional dignity.

1. Don’t drink too much.

This really should go without saying. It is never a good look to become sloppy drunk in any situation, but it is definitely inadvisable to drink in excess around your boss, professors, and peers. The best way to avoid an embarrassing situation is to go to the party with a game plan. Know your limit. Pace your drinking by drinking a soda water between drinks. Ask for this in a short glass with a lime and people will think you are drinking a cocktail, thus avoiding the question, “why aren’t you drinking?” Oh, and shots are never a good idea. Ever.

2. Make sure to arrive on time.

But not too early. You don’t want to arrive while the party is still being set up. That can appear to be over eager. Arriving within 30 minutes of the start time is always safe. The one caveat to this is if your holiday party has a time-specific event, then be sure to arrive on time, e.g. there is a shuttle or other mode of transportation to a separate location. In that same vein, be sure to also leave the party at a reasonable time. And while you don’t need to say good night to everyone, you don’t want to slink off either. Be sure to say good night and thank you to the appropriate people.

3. Dress Appropriately.

It’s not a club or a costume party. But it’s also not a baseball game. Be sure to dress for the occasion and location. If you are at all concerned you might make a faux pas, ask a coworker who has attended before to fill you in on the dress code for the event. Ripped jeans or sneakers, I don’t care how much you paid for them, are never ok.

4. Make sure to eat.

If you are going to drink, you must eat. Scratch that, even if you aren’t drinking, you still need to eat. Be sure to chew your food with your mouth closed. Grab the cocktail napkin with any appetizer you grab; you don’t want to wipe your hands off on your outfit. Avoid foods that might get stuck in your teeth or that you think you might spill on yourself. Think about the size of the food item and how it will best fit inside of your mouth with the least amount of angst as possible. Most party planners will avoid awkward foods, but still be aware of your audience while eating.

5. Don’t forget to network.

Holiday parties are an opportunity for you to mingle with your current and hopefully future colleagues in a relaxed situation. Make sure to introduce yourself to anyone you haven’t met yet. Don’t be pushy with your introductions and do not forget to follow up with everyone you meet. Follow up emails show that you were listening and engaged in the conversation. If you don’t have email addresses, send handwritten cards. That would be even more personal. People remember these sorts of actions.

6. Be aware of your audience.

Don’t forget that these people will play a role, if they haven’t already, in your future career. Some safe topics include:

  • Hobbies
  • Books
  • Films
  • Vacations
  • Holiday traditions

Topics to avoid include:

  • Politics
  • Off-color jokes
  • ANYTHING sexual in nature
  • Topics better suited for your therapist or doctor

An obvious exception to this list is if you are working for a company or firm that is directly related to an otherwise-avoidable topic...then it would be appropriate to discuss that in certain situations. Example: Your firm represents a politician or special interest group. You might end up talking about politics.

Remember that even topics on the safe list can become topics to avoid. Use your best judgment, and when in doubt, just think about what you would talk to your favorite grade school teacher about if you were seated next to them at a dinner party.

7. Keep conversations positive.

It’s the holidays. The season of joy. There is enough negativity in this world, there is no need to be negative at a party. Think Will Ferrell in Elf, but dialed down to about a 2.

8. Have fun!

As stated above. You are at a party, have fun!

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