Top 10 Basic Etiquette Tips for Lawyers

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With the current focus on social media and the best etiquette for this (relatively) new way of communicating, we often forget about good, old-fashioned face-to-face etiquette.

While many of our connections with others have moved online, we still function each day with other people. These may be colleagues or coworkers. They may be clients or new acquaintances. But we still need to know how to act around them in order to not embarrass ourselves or our firms.

Here are a few basic etiquette tips to remember (there are many, but these ten are some of the most frequently abused):


1. Always have business cards. I know some people might disagree on this one, but most people still have some kind of business card. It remains an efficient way to gather information, even if you are inputting that information into another system and disposing of the actual cards within hours (if not minutes) of receiving it.  Yet, do not litter the room with your cards.  Give out one card, and only give it to people who ask for it. Keep your cards in a business card holder. It’s just gross to pull a wrinkled card out of your back pocket and hand it to someone.

2. Turn off your cell phone: If you have your cell phone on you, make sure it is set on vibrate. No one feels very special when the conversation that they are having with you is interrupted by your wacko ringtone. If you forget to turn it off, do not answer it and apologize profusely for the interruption.

3. Picking up the tab: If you ask someone out for lunch or coffee, you should pay. If they insist on paying their portion, don’t get in a fight over it. Let them pay. But, when in doubt, if you asked for the lunch/coffee/etc., you pay.

4. Handshaking: When you are at an event that involves food, you should always have your right hand free to shake hands. This is why cocktail tables are handy. You can have food OR beverage in your hands, but not both. If someone extends their hand, you don’t want to juggle your food or drink someone is waiting to shake your hand.

5. Moving on: So you have made a new contact, and now it is time to move on. Once the conversation has hit a lull, tell them how nice it was to meet them (or see them again, if you already know them) and move on, saying that there is someone else that you want to catch before they leave (or some other polite reason for excusing yourself.)

6. Name tags: Put your name tag on your left lapel. That way, when people shake your hands, they can also be looking at your name tag.

7. Names: If you don’t catch someone’s name the first time, politely ask for it again rather than embarrassing yourself by calling someone the wrong name.

8. How to dress: There is plenty of advice out there on this, but it’s better to overdress than underdress. Look online for more advice on this, but be mindful of how to wear your suits (how to button/unbutton your jackets, etc.) and  what kind of shoes/jewelry/accessories are appropriate. The key is to remember that your appearance is saying something about you, and you want to make sure you are controlling that message.

9. Keep your mouth shut: With or without alcohol, some people just share way too much information. You don’t need to be sharing personal information with anyone except close friends and family. At social events, stick to polite, neutral conversation that makes everyone feel comfortable. Always come armed with a couple of current events to talk about in case conversation stagnates, but don’t digress into what your lactose intolerant body does when you accidentally ingest Gouda cheese. That’s a sure turn-off.

10. Say “please and thank you”: Use the manners that you learned as a child. General politeness never goes out of style.

Any other etiquette tips for business occasions like networking, lunches, coffees, or even meetings? Please share them here.

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/untitled13/141469331/)

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  • Great list! I think #6 is etiquette’s version of the Oxford comma. I’ve always preferred nametags on the right lapel, for the same reason that it’s easier to see when shaking hands.
    I also tend to wear brooches to spice up a boring suit, and being right-handed it’s easier to put them on the left, which leaves the right lapel open for a nametag.

  • Ya, I’ve heard the right side is better for name tags, but standard practice is left. Makes more sense on the right in all honesty.

  • I’ve always put my name tag on the right hand side for the handshaking reason. As you turn into shake hands a line right up the arm eyesight wise would be the right lapel. However, I always feel a little strange doing so since most everyone else in the room hasn’t done this and has the name tag on the left lapel/side. Not so much a problem unless you are presenting and everyone at the head table has the name tag a different way. Then again, maybe its a good way to set yourself apart from the “uniform”.

  • Tyler White

    And since this list is intended for an audience of lawyers, may I add:

    Don’t be a pompous jerk(ette).

  • I was taught to place name tags on the right as well. I haven’t really noticed which side for the other person, though.

  • You should say “please” and “thank you,” not “please and thank you.” The latter sounds very presumptuous.

    “Pass the salt, please and thank you.”

  • The list is sort of common sense but good to remember.
    Another I think is not to be too pushy- usually the first time you meet a potential contact (non-lawyer), I go easy on pushing business. Better to let them know what you do but keep it simple and just make a positive impression.

  • Thanks for your great comments and helpful additions. After reading your comments, I have been doing some research on the “nametag on the right or left” question. Opinion does appear divided for a variety of reasons. It looks like the right side may be technically correct, but many people use the left side because the nametag can get crunched when shaking hands with the right hand and the left side remains flat and easier to read. Looks like a matter of personal preference and convenience (the “Oxford comma of etiquette” as Gretchen wisely pointed out!)

    BL1Y — thanks for pointing out my punctuation mistake with a memorable example!

    Thanks again to everyone for adding their tips to the list. Please keep adding …

  • Hunter Booth

    Hello Mrs. Kendra. I’m a 9th grader at Pickens County High School. I plan to be a lawyer whenever I go into the career world. Do you have any tips or know something I can do to help me get started.
    Sincerely,
    Hunter Ellis Booth

    • Kendra Brodin

      Hello Hunter! Thanks for your post, and it’s exciting that you are thinking about law as a profession, even in high school. I believe that in today’s legal market, it’s the people who know deep down that law is the career for them that are most likely to succeed. At this point in your development, I would encourage you to talk with lawyers. Get to know what they do to make sure it is something that is interesting to you. Learn what they love and what frustrates them about their jobs. Dig into different kinds of law so you can start to see what looks most interesting to you. Next, I’d encourage you to explore debate and speaking opportunities, as these are invaluable skills for law school and lawyering. For now, I’d dig into the profession and learn more about it. Then you can consider things even more deeply in college to decide if law school is the right next step for you. I hope that’s helpful, and all the best to you!