First impressions are lasting, so always introduce yourself when meeting someone new. Also, shake hands professionally: stand up, grip firmly, and shake from the elbow two or three times for approximately three or four seconds. Consider the inflection and tone in the delivery of your comments, and eye contact is important because it shows interest. Watch for mannerisms that could be off-putting—inadvertently placing your hands in inappropriate areas, repetitive gestures, or items in your hands that could result in fidgeting. For those who may find new situations intimidating, consider putting together a list of talking points before the event. In addition, be careful not to monopolize conversations, and always try to read the tenor of the room for appropriate topics of discussion.
Lawyers are usually more confident when they feel comfortable in what they are wearing. However, you need to understand the difference between casual, business casual, and professional dress. At some point, even if your position does not require you to go to court, you will have to attend a professional event that requires business dress. It is safe to wear a white collared shirt and gray, charcoal, or navy suits for formal occasions. Though not all networking or office events require formal attire, remember to dress how you want to be perceived. Moreover, there may be unwritten dress codes for internships or law office positions. Err on the safe side and ask someone who has knowledge of an event you have been asked to attend for input and confirm you are appropriately dressed.
Lawyers must understand how to drink properly at networking events where alcoholic beverages are provided. The last thing you want to do is to embarrass yourself by becoming intoxicated in front of your co-workers, supervisors, or potential future employers. Be cognizant of how much you drink, and never feel the need to drink. If you decide to drink, consider wine, beer, or something with a lower alcohol percentage than spirits. If your drink of choice is a glass of wine, remember to hold the glass by the stem, and if you choose to drink beer, consider asking for a glass so you are not holding a can or bottle. Of course, always make safe decisions regarding drinking and driving—use a ride-share service or have a designated driver if you decide to drink any alcoholic beverages.
At some point, you may attend a work-related meal. If it is a formal sit-down meal, unfold and place the napkin on your lap. When choosing the correct cutlery, always start with the farthest silverware from your plate and move in as the meal progresses. The standard American method when using a fork and knife is to place the latter in your right hand and the former in the left. Cut food into bite-sized pieces and switch the fork to your right hand. When finished eating, put your fork, tines up, and knife blade in it in the 4:20 position, and at the end of the meal, leave your napkin semi-folded by your plate. Even if it is not a traditional, formal meal, it never hurts to follow these rules of dining etiquette when at a work-related meal or event.
Follow the Code
These are just a few thoughts to consider at your next work-related social or networking event. There are many additional resources for honing and building on your etiquette repertoire. As a lawyer in training, always remember to follow the CODE.