Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Politics in the Workplace

Citizens:

I wasn't going to write about politics, but in several recent conversations with other women lawyers the issue has come up, and it does seem timely. I confess that I am not a particularly political person, and I certainly am naïve where national and local politics are concerned. But earlier this year during the primaries I got caught up in the historic wave of activism along with 18 million other voters. When I "came out" for my candidate in the week leading up to the primary, a minor firestorm erupted. I realized for the first time that people actually cared what I thought, and that those who disagreed seemed to care even more. I wish I had had the foresight to check with a mentor before making my views public; I am sure I would have been warned not to make my views known on company time or company property.

Political commentary can also be bad for business. While a principled attorney may well take the position that he or she will be public with political views regardless of how his or her own clients may react, out of respect for the livelihood of other attorneys at the firm those personal views should be carefully communicated as personal, not firm, statements. Even here on the left coast clients have varied policy perspectives, and may be offended or affronted by strong views that are perceived to be held by the law firm to whom they write significant checks.

However, I continue to strongly believe that law firms should not have a policy that prohibits staff or attorneys from making their political views known. We should be able to tolerate differences of opinion and respectful political disagreements among our co-workers. Political views and political activism add spice and interest to our dialogues. An intolerant attitude that prohibits discussions, buttons, photos of political figures, and the like, will almost certainly be violated by someone, which would be even more difficult to manage.

But the views of firm leadership are another thing entirely. Those in leadership are in a different position of perceived influence and authority, so what is said and done will be subject to greater scrutiny. As a business matter in law firms, I think that is a problem that is better avoided.

After the bruising I took earlier this year, when a friend mentioned the topic recently in connection with the looming election, my immediate, unequivocal reaction was to opine that firm leadership absolutely shouldn't take a position on any candidate or initiative on the ballot. But I still remain convinced that an internal policy forbidding political expression is counterproductive.

Respectfully,

Cynthia

Next up: Heroes, Role Models, and Mentors

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