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Are Law Firms Liable for Serving Booze to Intoxicated Employees?

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

Where does a law firm cross the line when it provides alcohol to its employees?

In a case against the Gladstone Law Group, it wasn't when the firm escorted a paralegal out of the building for being drunk. And according to a Florida appeals court, it wasn't when she stepped in front of a train on her way home.

It's a story without a happy ending and a reminder that alcohol and law practice really don't mix. Somewhere along the line, law firms have to draw a line.

Twice a Week

Susan Salerno was a paralegal with a drinking problem. The problem was the law firm served alcohol at least twice a week and pressured her to join, her family said.

In their lawsuit, they alleged that the law firm was negligent and liable for her death. But a trial judge dismissed the case, and an appeals court affirmed because the accident occurred outside the scope of her employment.

Lawyers for the firm said they were sympathetic to the family for their loss. "However, we did not feel that factually or legally that responsiblity rested with the defendant," John Lurvey said.

It was a tough case all around, but it also made a case for why law firms should not serve alcohol at the office.

Ditch the Booze

BigLaw figured it out for its summer associates.

Firms like Goodwin Procter and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe have ditched the booze for summer associate events. Instead, the firms are offering cooking, spinning, and other classes.

"We want to get away from this idea that every social event for the summer associates has to have a bunch of alcohol," Orrick's Siobhan Handley told the American Lawyer.

When more than one-third of attorneys are problem-drinkers, it's about time. Unfortunately, it was too late for others like Susan Salerno.

Have an open position at your law firm? Post the job for free on Indeed, or search local candidate resumes.

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