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NEW YORK — The scene is a client development meeting for which the four big-firm lawyers have arrived late. One of the lawyers launches into a canned spiel about the firm’s capabilities. But as he continues, one of his colleague droops his head and whips out a Blackberry pager. It is the moment in the meeting that prompts the most groans of recognition from other lawyers, says Valerie Fitch, the director of professional development at Pillsbury Winthrop, who acknowledges she has caught herself reaching for her Blackberry in meetings too. “I’m a terrible addict,” she said. “I take mine everywhere.” Fortunately, the meeting is not real, though the lawyers present are. They are Pillsbury Winthrop partners and associates who have volunteered to act out scenarios that will be used to train other lawyers at the firm in the art of business etiquette. Training videos are hardly a new phenomenon at firms but most have focused on educating employees on sexual harassment policies or conflicts of interest. The development of videos focused on interpersonal skills is indicative of firms’ increasing concern that, in an age of greater client mobility, their lawyers are not putting their best foot forward in face-to-face meetings. Firms like Salans and Herrick, Feinstein have put their associates through role-playing exercises in which they interact with partners playing clients. Recognizing that partners can be just as socially inept as associates, Shearman & Sterling; Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe; and Willkie Farr & Gallagher have been among the many firms that have experimented with one-on-one sales coaching for partners. The Pillsbury Winthrop video illustrates how swiftly lawyers’ bad habits can come to the fore in a client development setting. Fitch said the video’s scenario of a poor client development meeting was designed to be over-the-top and to illustrate a wide range of errors in judgment. But while some of the mistakes the lawyers make are obvious, others are more subtle. The clear errors include one lawyer’s decision that business casual attire is fine for the pitch meeting, the failure of all of the lawyers to read their pitch book ahead of time and their late arrival to the meeting. Beyond that, though, the lawyers’ arrogance is a continuing theme of the scenario, and it is not just inexperienced associates at fault. The senior lawyer at the meeting, played by partner Sutton Keany, tells his colleagues that their late arrival will give the in-house lawyers the impression that the firm is very busy. Keany also takes over the meeting from the client and turns it into a page-by-page review of the firm’s past transactions as listed in its pitch book. As the meeting wraps up, an associate played by Jeremy Estabrooks haughtily asks the two in-house lawyers, played by Fitch and consultant Jon Cranston, whether they will be the final decision-makers. If not, he says, the firm would prefer to follow up with the appropriate people. After the in-house lawyers assure them they are the decision-makers, Keany says he thinks the meeting went great and asks if he can borrow their conference room to make some calls. After the in-house lawyers leave, the firm lawyers all congratulate themselves on how well they think the meeting went. Many lawyers lack an awareness of how they are being perceived in such interactions, says Fitch, noting that most lawyers’ work and training is often isolating. The interpersonal skills lawyers need in many settings are often underdeveloped. The video also presents a successful client development meeting, in which lawyers played by Pillsbury senior associate Bryan Dunlap and partner Kristan Peters arrive on time and well prepared to talk about their potential client’s needs, rather than about their firm’s record of past accomplishments. It is not just client meetings in which lawyers need to improve their interpersonal skills, Fitch notes. She also has produced a video illustrating how partners should and should not give feedback to associates. She took particular aim at the vague way in which partners communicate with junior lawyers, telling them to “punch up” a brief or just scrawling “No!” on a draft document. The opportunity to act in the videos has proved appealing to many at Pillsbury Winthrop. Fitch, who was also a former litigation associate at the firm, said acting in the videos and writing the scripts gives her a chance to call on her background as a theater major. Litigation partner David Crichlow, who was one of the late-arriving lawyers on the Blackberry-toting client development team, has become something of a regular in the videos. In other videos about ethical pitfalls facing lawyers, Crichlow played both a smarmy in-house lawyer looking for shortcuts and a sleazy law firm partner willing to offer them. “I hope I’m being cast as a jerky lawyer because I’m really the antithesis of that,” Crichlow said. He said the videos are a vast improvement over the more traditional lecture format firms have used for in-house training. He noted that lawyers at the firm are now eager to attend such trainings in order to see their colleagues’ performances. But not Crichlow, expressing a self-consciousness common among actors. “I can’t bear to watch myself,” he said. Anthony Lin is a reporter with the New York Law Journal, a Recorder affiliate.

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