October 09, 2020 Feature

First Impressions

Writing your brief’s introduction.

Robert E. Shapiro

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Everyone’s heard of an elevator speech. Maybe even given one. You’ve got only 15 or 20 seconds, the time it takes for an elevator to descend between floors, to introduce yourself or start a sales pitch or prove your expertise to someone unfamiliar with you and what you have to offer. When your time’s up, you must have at least drawn the interest of your interlocutor, gotten him thinking your way, eager to talk more.

It only rarely happens in an elevator, of course. Maybe you are in line at your building’s Starbucks and, suddenly, there next to you is that attractive “other” who has intrigued you from a distance for months. Or, at a cocktail party, a chance introduction to a big potential client gives you the opportunity of a career, not to say a lifetime, lasting only until another equally on-the-make lawyer crowds into your space. Or, most critically, at a seemingly routine status conference, the judge suddenly expresses doubt about your client’s case and impatiently demands to know from you, in just a few words, how you could possibly be litigating with a straight face.

Time’s a-wasting. Attention on you is likely to be fleeting. Opportunity knocks, but disaster also looms. In all of these circumstances you’ve got everything to gain, and quite a bit to lose too: a few moments will decide your fate, and you must not just set the right tone and manner but also make your substantive case. What do you say? It has to be something, just enough and not overly much, that is worthwhile and effective. What is that exactly?

Illustration by  Doug Thompson

Illustration by Doug Thompson

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