Navigating the Murky Waters of Being Friendly With Staffers


2016 Update: We still stand by the advice in this post, but you may also want to check out our latest discussion of whether you can be friends with your secretary

Can you be friends with your secretary?  We got this e-mail from Reader A and it raises a lot of interesting questions, such as how to treat your assistants, how to behave in a male-dominated field where you’re one of the only women who isn’t a secretary, and so forth….

I’m wondering how one is friendly with colleagues at work without becoming friends with colleagues at work. I’m an attorney and have recently moved to a firm where I’m the only female attorney, and the staff is comprised almost entirely of women. I was warned in a joking manner by one of the partners when taking the job to beware – previous female attorneys at the firm have fallen victim to being ‘friends’ with staff (regular lunches, after-work drinks, etc) and then later suffer the wrath should someone need to be called on the carpet for job performance or with claims of favoritism.

So far, I’ve gone to lunch with only a couple of people who have initiated the invitation, and I avoid discussing others in the office and steer conversation away from that topic. However, I plan on being here a long time, and I wonder if you or your readers have insight that might help me or have found themselves in similar situations.

Right? Great e-mail. So far, what reader A is doing sounds great to us. Here are some further tips:

  • There’s nothing wrong with finding a friend who happens to be a staffer. Like our advice for dating at the office a few weeks ago, though, we would not recommend looking for a best friend at the office (really, among the staffers or elsewhere). Aim for collegiality. You’re all in this together, and you all have your own jobs to do, and it’s often best if emotions are kept out of it.  Friendship can be harder with people you supervise directly —  it’s important to see both their skills and weaknesses as clearly as possible, so you can compensate and better manage, either by delegating things in certain respects, or knowing to phrase your requests in a certain way.

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What to do when your male boss tells you you dress “too well”

Essential Stretch Striped Shirt

2018 Update: We still stand by this advice on what to do if your male boss tells you you dress “too well” — you may also want to check out our more recent discussion of dressing better than your boss

Today’s reader question comes from a reader in a small, private firm on the East Coast…

I’ve been at my first job out of law school for 15 months. I’m 26 years old, but have a young face and often get asked if I’m an intern instead of an attorney. I am a litigator and I wear suits when I go to court, which is roughly twice a week.

Joking in the office one day, I mentioned to an Of Counsel with whom I am comfortable that I got the intern comment again. He said that, while I do have a young face, I dress “too well.” He said that I need to “be a little frumpier or dowdier.” That, while I dress well for a young, female professional, I dress TOO well for a young, female attorney. The analogy was made that I dress similarly to a middle aged male attorney who wears a blue pinstripe suit, blue shirt with the contrasting white collar and French cuff, cuff links, and a giant diamond pinky ring – just “a little too cheesy.”

Is the Of Counsel right? Do I need to wear silhouettes that are more boxy, as he also suggested? I want to be taken seriously as an attorney, but don’t see the reason to cater to ultra-conservative views on wardrobe when I would be uncomfortable in such things, as it is not my personal style.

(We’ve edited her e-mail for space; she also notes that she has a second job working at the local Express, and owns much of what is sold there; she attached the above blouse as an example.  Essential Stretch Striped Shirt, $49.50, Express.) [Read more…]

Etiquette Flash: Should you invite your colleagues to your wedding?

when to invite colleagues to your wedding2018 Update: We still stand by this advice on when to invite colleagues to your wedding — links have also been updated.when to invite colleagues to your wedding - stock wedding image via Stencil  

Today’s reader mail has to do with whether she should invite colleagues to her wedding…

Long story short, I just got engaged to another attorney at my mid-sized firm. We are both junior associates and we met as summer associates in 2007. Obviously, there are associates that we socialize with that we’d like to invite to the wedding. However, we’re not quite sure about whether to invite partners. Since we’re both quite new at the firm, we do work for lots of different attorneys. I’d hate to offend someone by not inviting him…especially in this economy!

Congratulations! The answer to this question depends on a lot of factors, the big ones being:
a) do you think you could make partner at this firm?
b) can you afford to invite a lot of work colleagues to your wedding?
c) how do you feel about mixing your wedding (and your grandparents and your college friends) (and any princess fantasies you’ll be indulging that day) with your work colleagues?

Pictured:  As of 2017, the pictured dress from Mikaella Bridal is no longer available. Check out some of these gorgeous strapless lace wedding dresses instead! 

Your future with the firm is the first consideration, we think. Even if you’re fairly junior at the firm, you and your fiance should have an idea of whether you could make partner if you wanted to, versus just hanging out until a better job opportunity comes along. If either of you are going to try to make partner, you should look at your wedding as an opportunity to create important relationships — to show the powers that be at the firm that you consider them to be part of the family.  If neither of you is gunning for partner, however, we’d say to evaluate your relationships with the partners.  Are they mentors to you?  Are they like family anyway?  And then we’d proceed on to question two…

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Which Co-Workers Get a Holiday Card?

2017 Update: We still stand by this advice on which co-workers get a holiday card, but you may also want to check out all of our posts on holiday business etiquette.

Reader J writes in with a request for help on holiday cards, specifically wondering which co-workers get a holiday card? Here’s her question:

I wonder whether you could post a very timely comment thread. I sat down, as I do every year, to address and send my holiday cards – only to realize that as a first-year attorney at a rather large firm that I had no idea who I should include on my mailing list. Likewise, I’ve accepted a clerkship in the relatively near future – would it be appropriate to send a card to the judge or to the chambers? I’m very curious to hear others’ thoughts on whom they include on their lists and why. When is it thoughtful to send a card to a higher-up, and when is it just kissing behind? :) How does one cull the list – it can’t be that one sends a card to every person one has ever worked with!

which co-workers get a holiday card

We sympathize — office politics are incredibly difficult to navigate come holiday-time.  First, we stand by our advice last year on how to send holiday cards to coworkers, from how to address the letters, what kind of letters to pick, and so forth.  (Pictured:  New Year’s Fireworks, no longer available at for $17.95.) [Read more…]

Poll – You’ve Kept Your Job, But How to Handle Your Colleagues Who Didn’t?

Layoff Etiquette: You're OK But Your Coworker Got Laid Off | CorporetteWe live in scary times. Every day there are thousands of people laid off, from law firms and banks and every company imaginable. The Wall Street Journal tells us that young women are more vulnerable to layoffs. If you’re slightly lucky, your company is ‘fessing up to the fact that the layoffs are economy based, and not performance-based firings. If you’re VERY lucky (or perhaps indispensable to your company) you’ve survived the layoffs and cuts — for now, at least. Our question today is one we’ve never even had to consider before — what is the appropriate way to deal with the colleagues who didn’t survive this round of cuts? (And by colleagues, we mean someone who never rose to the level of “friend” with you — you never hung out with them on a one-on-one basis, but you were friendly with them in the office and would acknowledge them with a happy wave if you saw them across the room at a public event, but not necessarily go over to say hi.) They may be the “walking dead” — allowed to keep their jobs for 3 months, ostensibly, to look for another job — or they may already be out the door but still coming to social events with other co-workers, like baby showers — but in both cases you’re still seeing these people. How do you handle? What do you say?

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