Work + Growth

Etiquette for Lawyers

  • Proper etiquette is a must and goes a long way—especially if you fail to follow it
  • Avoid rudeness by keeping your cell phone on vibrate while in conversation with people and staying away from controversial topics. Follow strict professional rules of conduct online
  • Court etiquette is especially important because the jury is watching you the moment you enter the courtroom. Be careful not to offend them with your behavior

We all like to think that we have good manners and know how to properly behave in professional situations.

After all, we’ve all made it this far, right? But it never hurts to brush up on etiquette at any point in your career; you never know the impression a seemingly innocuous action might give those who are observing you. Take a look at our etiquette tips for lawyer-specific situations to determine if you’ve been on the right track all this time or if you’ve unwittingly been the boorish lawyer everyone whispers about behind his back. (Don’t worry, you’re probably fine!)

Cell Phones

Cell phones have become a ubiquitous part of life; you may be reading this on your phone right now. We’re so used to seeing them glued to everyone’s hands, including our own, that we sometimes forget to follow basic phone etiquette. The main thrust of cell phone etiquette is to focus on the person in front of you instead of whatever or whoever is on your phone. If you’re speaking to someone—in a meeting or one on one—your phone should be turned off or at least on vibrate. Don’t check it until your conversation is over. Most people will consider it rude if you keep looking at your phone while they’re trying to speak with you. If you forget to turn your ringer off and your phone rings, immediately mute it and apologize. If for some reason you need to answer an important call you’ve been waiting for, a warning at the beginning of the conversation or meeting is usually appreciated. Then apologize and quickly step away to take the call, keeping it as short as possible.

Business Cards

It may seem old-school, but most professionals still use business cards so you should carry yours at all times—in an appropriate cardholder, and not squished somewhere in your wallet or in a pocket. Only ask to exchange cards after holding a conversation with someone for a few minutes and determining that you’d like to keep in touch. Don’t just throw your card at everyone. And of course, follow up within the next 48 hours. There’s no point in collecting a mountain of cards if you’re not going to make use of them.

Keep it Light

Beware of bringing up hot-button topics, like politics or religion, at networking events or when getting together for social events that are in any way business related. Learn the art of inoffensive small talk and have a couple of go-to topics at the ready if you have a hard time filling in conversation lags. In general, know when to stay quiet and how to keep a conversation positive.

Don’t overshare unnecessary personal information; keeping your alcohol intake to a minimum is the best way to ensure you don’t make that mistake. No one needs to know about your personal life or unpleasant health issues except your close friends and family. Drinking responsibly will also help you avoid talking too loudly or bringing up inappropriate topics.

Social Media

Much as our cell phones are ever-present, so is social media.

For those who have never known life without the internet, it can be easy to forget to conduct yourself in a professional manner anywhere you aren’t commenting anonymously. Can you think of an example of when you’ve read something online from a person who should have thought twice about posting it?

First, it is important to know your firm’s social media policy and follow it to the letter. Aside from that, use common-sense measures and think about what platform you’re on and what things you tend to find annoying when using them. For instance, if you’re using LinkedIn, your content should be industry-focused only. When connecting with someone, personalize your requests; never send a mass request. If you’re using Pinterest, always credit the original source. For Twitter, don’t use a long string of hashtags—you get the idea.

If you are sharing stories and giving examples about the kind of work you do, remember that confidentiality rules still apply. Also, be mindful of giving the impression that you are creating an attorney-client relationship or giving specific advice. It’s a good idea to use a disclaimer if you have your own blog.

It should go without saying that you need to remain respectful in every interaction. Don’t disparage competitors or engage in personal attacks. And of course, be sure to use the basics of politeness: “Please” and “thank you” are not only a good idea, but they go a long way.

In Court

Everyone is aware that being courteous towards the judge in a courtroom is mandatory: You stand when she enters, you say “please” and “thank you,” you ask permission to approach the witness. But what about how jurors see you and your actions? When in court, be sure to remain aware of the way you speak to others and the impressions you give off. Jurors often find obvious negative reactions to opposing counsel—such as eye rolling, sarcasm, or exasperated sighing—off-putting.

Be mindful of the impressions you may unwittingly create with how you interact with your colleagues, especially when your legal team is not diverse. Does your team comprise older white men with younger, female, and/or minority associates and assistants who don’t speak in court trailing behind while carrying huge boxes of documents? Some jurors will come to unflattering conclusions based on those optics. Of course, all staff should be treated with respect no matter where you are, but be especially cognizant that jurors are watching every moment in the courtroom. You don’t want to give the impression that you are snippy with your assistants or talk down to female colleagues or anything else that may offend jurors and cause them to distrust you. Try to see yourself from jurors’ perspective and imagine all the small things you might notice and make judgments about.