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Etiquette is the silent language of secret courtesies that make other people feel better, according to Ann Marie Sabath, a consultant in the field of social graces. Practically speaking, she says, it is also the language of getting ahead in the business of being a lawyer. “Rudeness is rampant, business is great,” said Sabath, whose Cincinnati-based company At Ease Inc. has been consulting on matters of manners for law firms and corporations nationwide for about 20 years. On Sept. 14, she laid out the facts of mannered life for first-year associates at Proskauer Rose. To make things deliciously instructive, the young lawyers were gathered together for a practice luncheon of chicken cutlets, linguini and hyperactive peas. Handling the cutlery and crystal and linens was hardly the only concern addressed. “I’ll be telling you things that people will never tell you,” as she gently put it. “For example, gentlemen, a partner isn’t going to say, ‘Now, son, make sure you take care of the back of that hairy neck.’ “ Given the main event of that week, the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., the appropriateness of long-scheduled etiquette training was questioned by Proskauer partners. “Mayor Giuliani, who showed so much dignity and courage under fire, basically told citizens that the best thing we could do was to go back to trying to conduct business as usual,” said Robert J. Kafin, the firm’s chief operating partner. “And our chairman [Alan S. Jaffe] pointed to an article in The New York Times that said the object of terrorism was not to seize territory, but to sow chaos. “The last thing we wanted to do was to grant the terrorists a victory by letting them set the agenda of our lives.” And so, the green light. As an exemplar of propriety, Sabath began her seminar last week by announcing that she would donate her fee to New York’s recovery effort. She urged the first-years — 51 from Proskauer’s New York office, three from Newark, N.J., four from Los Angeles and one from Washington, D.C. — to likewise donate money. “That in itself placed us at ease,” said Jacob W. Raddock, 25, a tax associate in Proskauer’s New York office and a graduate of New York University School of Law. “It was almost a relief to not have to think about what was going on.” GOOD CAREER MOVE Likewise, Kathy Chandless found the seminar diverting as well as important to her professional future. “It was good to take my mind off what I’d been watching on television for 72 hours straight,” said Chandless, 24, a labor associate in the New York office. “Lots of what she [Sabath] said reflected basic common courtesy. It was a confidence builder. “Her tips were good, too,” said Chandless, a graduate of Georgetown University Law Center. “Like when you walk into a cocktail party and you don’t know anybody, and they’re all gathered in little groups talking — you just get your drink and stand by a window, not near a wall. People are drawn to a window. You can talk about the view.” There was also the tip, ladies, about exactly where to stow that clunky purse during a business meal: under your chair so the waiters don’t trip and spill the soup. The matter of business meals took up a big chunk deal of the program. Good manners are crucial here, said Sabath, who issued a plethora of advice: “Never cut the linguini. Twirl it with your fork. If you get too much, start again … If you’re a picky eater, or have religious restrictions, make arrangements in advance … Don’t make bread-and-butter sandwiches! Take a bite-sized piece of bread and spread it with butter over the plate … When your server asks, ‘Are you finished?’, don’t say, ‘I’m done’ because you’re not a cake … Don’t say, ‘I have to go to the bathroom!’ You don’t need a hall pass … If you have to blow your nose, get out of the room!” And that was not the half of it. If you should spot a pea on your client’s tooth, Sabath advised, “Get over it.” Ladies, if you are offended by the formality of men standing up — “It’s no big deal.” Gents, never take off your jacket until others do — “You want to remain on equal footing.” If you have the impulse to salt and pepper your food before tasting it — don’t. “Henry Ford and J.C. Penney would always take potential managers to lunch,” Sabath imparted. “If they seasoned their food before tasting, they weren’t hired because they were thought to be people who made rash decisions.” The subject of napkins was particularly illuminating: It goes on your lap when all parties are seated; it goes on the left to indicate you will soon return; it goes on the right — never on the plate! — to tell the waiter you have finished your meal. “It’s important to learn these things,” said Y. Dave Silberman, 25, a corporate associate in the New York office. “A lot of people in my position haven’t really worked before, and now we’re in this very professional environment. The rules are different. “It’s important not to put people off by your demeanor,” said Silberman, a graduate of Columbia Law School. “Not just for the firm, but for the individual associate. Who knows? It could be reflected at bonus time.” As she moved amongst the dining tables, lecturing, Sabath took in the occasional evidences of not being heard. The associate with face in plate, hoovering up the linguini, for instance. The one engaged in a bovine style of chewing. The one who loudly, albeit daintily, licked all 10 of her fingertips. Here and there, as required, Sabath would remove the microphone from her lapel for a private word. Speaking of which, Sabath advised weeding the vocabulary of certain words that are grating to the cultivated ear. Words such as “yeah” and “whatever” and “y’know” — and “like.” Said Sabath, “We all use these filler words, and we should be aware of them. The way to curb is to think before you begin talking.” The bulk of Sabath’s influence did not go unheeded. “We had Rosh Hashanah dinner at my parents’ house,” said Silberman. “I was the only one who waited for everyone to be seated before putting on my napkin. “They all sort of looked at me. Then somebody said, ‘Oh, some fancy-schmancy lawyer!’ “

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