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Hello again. This month we take on one of the most vexing problems new lawyers face. No, it’s not how to prepare killer voir dire or develop an irresistible negotiating style. It’s how to thrive in one of the most difficult and arcane environments known in the practice of law: lunch. Here are some possible questions on the menu: DEAR ADVISER: My boss has just invited me to go out to lunch with an important client, and I need tips on what to order so that I won’t look like a hick. What menu choices will give a good impression? Hungry in Houston DEAR HUNGRY: Of all the difficult situations new attorneys confront, lunch may well be the toughest. You’re with your boss and his or her client, a situation that just invites the youngest member of the team to be whipsawed as entertainment for the older lunch companions. But if you remember a few tips, everything should work out fine. First, you’re not just there as window dressing. The boss wouldn’t have brought you along if he or she didn’t think you’d have some role to play. So no matter how tempting the baby back ribs look, get something else. No client wants to see your face smeared with barbecue sauce from cheek to cheek at a first meeting. Second, you don’t want to be too aggressive. Stay away from steak tartare; raw hamburger makes you look like a raptor. Don’t ever eat sushi until you know whether the client (or your boss) likes to fish; if he does and you do, he’ll inevitably ask himself why you eat bait. Finally, try never to order anything more expensive than the more senior members of your party. This way you don’t look like you’re trying to make up for years of Ramen-centric eating on someone else’s nickel. Moral of story: When in doubt, go with the chicken Caesar. DEAR ADVISER: I’ve developed a pretty good relationship with a mid-level manger at one of our corporate clients, and I’d like to take her to lunch. Where can we go so that I can get reimbursed from the firm’s business development budget? Expectant in El Paso DEAR EXPECTANT: This is a moment where you should remember that there are things you can’t do and things you shouldn’t do. For example, nobody in management in your firm is going to think twice about the cost if you take a client to Chuck E. Cheese’s, order a double cheese pizza, get 20 bucks worth of tokens and keep the prizes you win. The question is why would you want to? I’m not sure you should take the general counsel of Chuck E. Cheese’s to Chuck E. Cheese’s for a client lunch, unless your idea of client development is letting your guest beat you at Skee-Ball. Corollary: Unless you go to a place that’s so downscale that it’s upscale — you can usually tell them because they have grease-stained pictures of U.S. presidents eating there on the walls and the trans-fat quotient of every entr�e is six miles into the red zone — don’t take clients on business lunches to places where 1) they will have to lug their own trays; 2) animated characters accost you while you eat; 3) industrial-strength dental floss is a necessity; or 4) the staff is more likely than not to swing into a rousing chorus of “Happy, Happy Birthday … ” to the beat of assorted kitchen pots and maracas while you try to eat your spaghetti carbonara. You can talk about all the greasy spoons you want, so long as you don’t go to one until long after the retainer check is in the trust account. Dyspepsia is a strong deterrent to cordial relations. The best way to avoid this problem altogether: Take your client to a place that has a good chicken Caesar. DEAR ADVISER: I’ve been on a few client lunches. We get to the restaurant, and things seem to get started just fine. Then suddenly the conversation seems to peter out and everyone sits silently for the rest of the meal. Can you give me some tips on how to keep things moving along? Tongue Tied in Temple DEAR TONGUE-TIED: Those client lunches sure feel like dates, don’t they? That’s because they are … sort of. You’re there to try to make a good impression in the hope that you’ll get asked out again, so you don’t want to put your foot in your mouth. Now chances are if you’re at a big firm, they’ll have a marketing department that has invested gazillions of dollars in what are called “strategies,” which include comprehensive lists of questions designed to get your client contact to open up and tell you all kinds of things that will enable your firm to get in the door with your guest’s employer. You can get about 98 percent of the same information from reading books with titles such as “How to Pick Up Girls,” which was (honest) a No. 1 best seller on many college campuses way back when I was in school. So either call your marketing department or go to the self-help department at Barnes & Noble and you should be fine. If you can’t do that, remember some basic principles. Be yourself. Listen more than you talk. Ask open-ended questions. Study up on your guest’s business. Ask about their needs. Don’t over-promote yourself, but don’t downplay your real areas of expertise. And never, ever say things like, “I thought 25 years would have been a more than sufficient sentence for your CEO.” Just simmer down and eat your chicken Caesar. Tom Alleman is preparing a monograph on double-chili cheeseburgers, which explains why his cholesterol hovers in the low four-figure range, his book of portable business is measured in the low three figures and he understands so much about the arcana of lunches. Alleman is a shareholder in the environmental practice group at Winstead Sechrest & Minick in Dallas.

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