Presenting polished and professional

 Lawyer coach offers pointers for business etiquette

By Jo Mathis

Legal News

Do you show up at casual networking events in blue jeans and sneakers?

Is your handshake as soft as your voice when you introduce yourself?

And was that a gooey reuben you just ordered—at a business lunch?

Well, consider yourself warned. If you want to get ahead and look good in the process, certain rules must be followed.

So says attorney and lawyer coach Elizabeth Jolliffe, who spoke about business etiquette at a recent meeting of the Washtenaw County Bar Association’s New Lawyers Section.

 “Most new lawyers I know are doing a great job of staying polished and professional,” said Jolliffe before the meeting.

But she said a few simple tweaks can make a big difference.

“Oftentimes when newer lawyers introduce themselves, they’re a little bit shy and they’re not sure how much to say about themselves,” she said. “And they often speak too softly. People can’t even hear their names. If you’ve graduated from law school and passed the bar, you should be able to say your own name and say it loud enough so people can hear and understand it, and say a few words about what you do or are interested in doing.”

Jolliffe admitted to the attendees that she’s a “recovering rules violator” who at one time or other during her 20-year career in law probably broke every rule she was about to discuss.

A few of her tips:

• Colorful ties are OK. Ties that feature a cartoon character or make a sound are not.

• What not to wear? Two words: American Hustle. That means not dressing like Bradley Cooper unless you are Bradley Cooper. It also means women should not show cleavage. “Whatever your mother told you, believe her,” says Jolliffe.

• At a business lunch, don’t order foods you eat with your fingers. Pasta can also be messy.

• If you arrive at an after-work event very hungry, go ahead and eat first so your hands are free when you’re talking with others later. Or eat before you get there.

• If you’re wearing a nametag, make it visible by sticking it on your upper right side. And print large.

• Never walk up to someone and ask, “Do you remember me?”

• Don’t pass out a business card during an introduction. It makes you seem desperate.

• Unless it’s necessary in a court setting, etc., don’t whisper. People will immediately think you’re talking about them, gossiping, or complaining.

• “If you have to have a private conversation with someone, shut the door,” says Jolliffe.

• Refer to your assistants by name, so others can get to know them, too.  At a speech, don’t say you’d like to thank “the staff” if the staff is small enough that you could thank them by name.

• If you’re asked to go around the room and introduce yourself, stand up (if appropriate), speak loudly and clearly, and don’t have your back to anyone if you can help it. Jolliffe says she sometimes introduces herself by saying, “My name is Elizabeth—Elizabeth Jolliffe.” That way, they’ve heard her first name twice.

• Be careful before hitting “Reply All.” 

• Don’t go to an event and sit by yourself looking sullen. If you’re new to the group, go early and mingle before everyone else has already broken into his or her familiar groups.

Throughout the presentation, attendees offered tips of their own.

Leslie Butler suggested reaching out to someone with that deer-in-the-headlights look and then introducing them to a couple of your friends.

“Help ease their awkwardness,” she said.

John Barr noted that people go to networking events to meet new people, but often end up sticking with their own friends. He, too, suggested reaching out to someone standing alone.

And Laurie Longo said she’s told her son that good etiquette means making the other person feel affirmed and comfortable.

“That’s a good lesson for life,” said Jolliffe.


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