Post authored by Emily Seymore
When dining out or catching up over happy hour, I’ve recently become intrigued to know whether a restaurant or bar has a “Mocktails” menu. Why, you might ask? I’ll tell you. My interest (obsession?) grew out of a few motivations earlier this year, including a desire to get in shape, stay hydrated at outdoor parties on particularly hot summer days, and the need to entertain friends who were “dry” for one reason for another. Like any good lawyer, I surveyed the go-to Mocktail recipe scene. I tested theories by sampling numerous fruity and calorie-free mixers and playing with splashes of citrus, topped with herb and berry garnishes. (A safe best I recommend is any mix of ½ parts flavored soda water, for instance LaCroix, ½ parts sweetened mixer, e.g., Bai, a few smashed berries, squeeze of fresh lime juice and a sprig of mint—doesn’t that just ooze refreshing?). I next tested my findings on family and friends, many of whom reacted “I can’t even tell this drink is missing the spirits.” The response was great! More relevantly for this forum, my experiment lead to an epiphany that Mocktails could be one small strategy to help curtail our profession’s struggles with substance abuse.
Much focus has been placed in the last couple years on the issue of problem drinking within the legal profession, up to and including a degree of substance abuse or addiction. Early 2016 was marked with the release of the landmark study conducted by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation in conjunction with the ABA’s Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs. The conclusion: findings of “substantial” rates of behavioral health problems, including, in over 20% of the nearly 13,000 survey respondents, identified problematic drinking. Such issues present at a higher rate for attorneys than other professionals and, not surprisingly such behaviors had a correlation to increased levels of depression, anxiety, and stress, rates being higher for newer attorneys. The study also identified barriers to seeking support (e.g., stigma of others finding out and confidentiality concerns) and offered recommendations to expand resources and prevention and treatment services. The Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism indeed recognized in its letter explaining the bases for the new CLE requirement related to mental health and substance abuse that “[o]ur profession’s issues with mental health and substance abuse are long-documented. Alcohol is deeply ingrained in the culture of our profession.”
As an attorney who, like her readers, is often faced with 3-4 or more opportunities each week to “network”—i.e. consume beer, wine, or spirits with colleagues or clients—I see very clearly how much alcohol permeates the legal community. And, social drinking is often a slippery slope away from the physical and mental health goals we commit to at any given time. Hopefully some of you can relate, even if, like me, you do not identify as someone with particular weaknesses or struggles around drinking. Nonetheless, weeknight events prevent one from hitting the gym after work, while Friday and Saturday night freedom often greenlights an extra drink or two, which indulgence can (even for the best intentioned of us) bleed into the next day. As part of my Mocktail experiment, I thus decided to try not drinking at social events. Trust me I was leery. Leery about how much fun I would miss as the one “not drinking,” how long I could last on Diet Soda and Juice, and honestly if I could resist the temptation of that “one glass of wine” to unwind after a long day. It was also just awkward when orders were being taken to out myself and try to converse with bartenders to order a quality “kiddie drink.”
But it wasn’t as hard as I anticipated, certainly easiest when I was handed an enticing list of refreshing Mocktail options by a bartender, or offered a designated Mocktail at smaller private events (for the record, that only happened once). Being presented with a selection of well-made Mocktails made it far easier to stay enthused about not drinking, communicate with the server or bartender, and be open with friends about the fact that I wasn’t drinking. Most of them forgot to ask me the whys of my decision because they were focused on trying a sip of my Mocktail. After several trial runs, I realized I didn’t miss the taste or jolly effects of one or a few drinks—and I certainly loved waking up the next morning without feeling the least bit sluggish.
The simple conclusion I reached is that we lawyers should all make a push to embrace Mocktails! Request them, taste them, share them, perfect them, and serve them at your own personal or firm events (particularly within the legal profession). Support restaurants that give you and others a menu because it represents an invitation to focus on health and wellbeing. Go one step further and adopt that same approach at internal networking functions and feature a signature Mocktail—someone will thank you, even if silently. Such behavior acts on the conclusion of the ABA study that we must change the culture of our profession and create a safer space for our peers struggling with drinking. Only we ourselves can do this, and it needn’t require anyone giving up social drinking but, rather, becoming more inclusive of those who abstain.
About the Author:
Emily L. Seymore is a business litigation associate in the Chicago office of Faegre Baker Daniels LLP. She concentrates her practice on both general commercial litigation and white collar matters, including internal investigations. She has represented corporate and individual clients at all stages of litigation and before federal and state agencies.