Office Courtesies and Refreshments
It was a late night for me. I was putting the finishing touches on some pleadings when Jordan stormed into the office. It was nearly 9.30pm and he had just finished up a four-hour deposition. He was not pleased.
“Can you believe that they didn’t even have coffee in their office!”
“Who?” I asked.
“Opposing counsel! They spend all that money to get a big office on an upper floor of a downtown office building, and didn’t even offer us coffee!”
I laughed a bit — “Really, you get out of a four-hour deposition that ended close to bedtime, and your complaint is that opposing counsel didn’t have refreshments?”
“I had to go get my own! And in fact, I got some for opposing counsel and the deponent too. They needed it. It’s just rude.”
I thought about it for moment. “You know what, Jordan, you’re right. You shouldn’t have to read Emily Post to know that. Mark the day that I said you were right about anything.”
Offering refreshments — I thought this was a simple matter of course for inviting another into their office. I mean, the first question we ask anyone who comes for a meeting is: “Might we get you something to drink? Water, coffee, tea?”
Let’s get things straight — if you’re having people in your office, you’re playing host. And professionalism dictates you should be a good host, even if you have a deep distaste for the person you’re hosting. So, even if opposing counsel has been making your life hell for the last eight months and you hate them with a deep, burning passion, play host right.
To play host right, you should have refreshments for the guests in your office. It seems silly that’d we’d even have to discuss this, but apparently not everyone got the memo.
Here are the basics.
Offer Your Guests Water — At a Minimum
Ah, life-giving dihydrogen monoxide.
At the very minimum, you should offer your guests water as soon as they show up. It doesn’t have to be a fancy water cooler, nor does it have to be bottled. We keep water in a Brita pitcher and put it in carafes so our guests can easily refill their cups as needed.
Bonus — Keep Your Fridge Stocked With Soft Drinks
Sure, I understand that water’s the healthiest thing for us to drink, but sometimes you, your client, or opposing counsel might have a hankering for something else. It’s nice to be able to offer your guests a soda.
Note: if you don’t have a fridge in your office, buy one. They’re cheap.
Coffee is An Absolute Necessity in a Law Office
There is no excuse for refusing to offer office guests coffee. None.
While some folks maintain that you don’t need to work long hours as a lawyer — I maintain that’s often a load of malarkey. Many days, I’m in the office 10-12 hours straight. To get through these days, I resort to the best legal stimulant around. I know I’m not the only one.
Furthermore, coffee holds a special place in my heart.
Back in my pre-lawyering days, I worked for Starbucks for many years. Normally, I’d work the early opening shift, so I’d be up at 4.00am to be into work by 5.15am. When the doors opened at 5.55am, my first customers of the day were often lawyers, on their way to work. We’d see the same folks every day, like clockwork, and they’d alway get the same thing on their way in.
Now that I am in their shoes, I know why they were at my coffee shop every morning — they needed it to survive the day! But simple survival should not be your guideline when it comes to offering and preparing coffee in your office. Stay away from terrible coffee services and many supermarket brands — they tend to use the cheap beans of the “Robusta” species of coffee tree, which when roasted have all the taste and aroma of a burnt tire. Blecch.
Instead, step up your game to Arabica beans. The Arabica tree produces coffee that ranges in flavor depending on where it’s grown — African coffees tend to have dried fruit and citrus notes, South American Coffees tend to taste nuttier, and Indonesians bring a nice, earthy punch to your brew. In other words, they’re delicious. Better yet, get your coffee at a local roaster who knows what they’re doing. Once you taste freshly roasted coffee, you’ll never go back.
Furthermore, it’s not that difficult to make coffee. You don’t need a Keurig (which are convenient, but expensive, wasteful, and make so-so coffee). Nor do you need a top-of-the-line Technivorm. We have a $20 Proctor Silex that does a serviceable job. Heck, buy an electric kettle and use a french press. Don’t forget necessary fixings like sweetener, creamers, and swizzlesticks. For those guests who like hot beverages but don’t drink coffee, keep an assortment of teas — black, green, and herbal.
Bottom line: if you have guests at your office past 6.3opm, you’re just a jerk if you don’t offer your guests a bit to pick them up.
While snacks are not an absolute necessity to offer guests in the office, they’re a nice thing to have around from time to time. We keep an assortment of snack foods to offer to clients or counsel. They’re also good for our own late night at the office.
Besides, who’d turn down a Butterscotch Krimpet? [Note: If you've never had a Butterscotch Krimpet, you're missing out. Swing by our office sometime.]
The Bottom Line
Treat guests in your office as you’d treat guests in your home. It’s the little things that make a difference.
Tell me about your experiences in the comments. Do you you offer refreshments to those coming to your office? Do other lawyers leave you high and dry?