I am always intrigued by articles giving advice on appropriate office behavior. For whatever reason, these advice columns almost always discuss the appropriateness (or lack thereof) of crying in the office. I am not sure why this is such a newsworthy topic, as I have rarely witnessed such behavior — either as a Biglaw associate or when I went to a small firm. And I only cried once in my five years of practice, and that was not in the office — it was in the elevator. Unfortunately a partner happened to be in the elevator with me, but I could not help it.
Last week the Wall Street Journal featured an article on this topic. Don’t Cry (At The Office) suggests that you not cry at the office (yes, shocking). The article goes on to suggest that you go home or to your therapist’s office to cry because while having feelings at work is a no-no, it is important to have feelings when you are off the clock.
After learning that one should not cry at the office, I decided to investigate other inappropriate behaviors. I have put together a list of forbidden actions for small-firm attorneys based on input from my cadre of small-firm Emily Posts.
Do Not Scratch
It always shocks me that while do-not-cry articles abound, there are no do-not-scratch articles. Perhaps the advice-giving set does not find a man scratching himself as offensive as a woman crying, but I for one think it needs to be outlawed. I worked for a partner at a small firm who was a notorious scratcher. In lunch meetings in his office, his hand would disappear under the conference table for a good 20 seconds (after which he would then eat potato chips and lick the salt of his fingers). So, small-firm dudes, thou shalt not scratch.
Do Not Clip
I am going to go out on a limb, but I believe that the sound of fingers on a chalk board is less offensive than the sound of nails being clipped. And, of course there is the additional layer of disgust based on the human remains that spew forth from the clipper and almost always fall to the cheap office carpet. An associate next to me at the small firm used to clip his nails — that is fingers AND TOES — during conference calls. I do not know why he, or anyone, thinks this is appropriate to do in your office but it is not. Indeed, just like the stigma attached to showing emotions in the office, there is (or ought to be) a stigma attached to clipping little pieces of you and littering them throughout your office.
Do Not Wipe
While I have not gone through the office supplies of many small law firms, I would bet that all of them have facial tissues. Yet, I have heard of many small-firm attorneys preferring to wipe their nose on their shirtsleeve. Do not do it. It is disgusting.
Do Not Sniffle
The same people who wipe their nose on their sleeve tend to have the annoying habit of endless sniffing. If said people would use a Kleenex and blow their nose, both the wipe and the sniffle can be avoided.
Do Not Pick
See Do Not Sniffle.
Do Not Wink
This one requires no explanation. Do not wink. It is creepy.
This list is not exhaustive. There are many more disgusting things that small-firm attorneys do (please feel free to share personal stories). The list is merely meant to get people thinking about what not to do at work. And, while this list is applicable to most professions, it is especially relevant for small-firm attorneys since the small office environment ensures that at least one other attorney will witness your faux pas (if not in the office, then in the elevator).
Don’t Cry (At The Office) [Wall Street Journal]
When not writing about small law firms for Above the Law, Valerie Katz (not her real name) works at a small firm in Chicago. You can reach her by email at Valerie.L.Katz@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter at @ValerieLKatz.