Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
In a legal career, you get a lot of opportunities to make a first impression. There are first meetings of classmates and teachers in law school, first encounters with prospective employers in the interview process, introductions to lawyers as part of a summer associate or summer internship program — and first meetings with new colleagues at a permanent job after law school (which eventually lead to first meetings with clients). Each situation presents an opportunity to convey a good impression, to set the tone for a further relationship. Because such opportunities are routine, you may get the misimpression that they are unimportant. They are not. The legal profession depends on personal relationships. Making a good first impression can be critical to the establishment of a good relationship, so let’s identify some strategies for making a good first impression. Your style, of course, is your own, and it is important to be sincere. But these points are often useful to keep in mind in making a first impression. DO YOUR HOMEWORK In any first encounter, knowing something about the person you are to meet can be very helpful. The more you know, the more likely that you will talk about, and ask about, things that matter to the other person. Thus, if you know you are going to meet someone, do some quick homework, to learn about their background and interests. These days, there are lots of sources for such information — firm Web sites and brochures, Martindale-Hubbell listings, and Internet resources, to name only a few. You may also be able to gather information from your colleagues. If you have no such information, or if you encounter someone for the first time without the opportunity to gather it, one of your first priorities should be to learn as much as you can about the other person through conversation. Ask where they are from, how they got to be in the position they are in, or anything else that may get them talking about themselves. Most people are quite happy to talk about their background and interests, and will likely form a good impression of you, based on your interest in them. BE POLITE Until you know a person well, you cannot be sure what level of formality they expect. This is especially true of encounters with people who come from outside your country or culture. Thus, it is safe to assume, for first-impression purposes, that politeness will be expected and appreciated. It is better to be thought a bit “stiff” on first impression than to be thought rude and crude. Politeness extends to all manner of behavior, both verbal and non-verbal: knocking on doors before entering, shaking hands on greeting, saying “please” and “thank you,” and closing doors behind you. These — among many others — should generally be the norm in any first encounter. Politeness extends, moreover, to avoiding the too-familiar approach until permission is given. With an older lawyer or client named “John Smith,” for example, in a first encounter your address should be to “Mr. Smith,” not “John,” and certainly not “Jack,” until Mr. Smith tells you otherwise. Similarly, informal banter — sarcasm, profanity, or crude jokes — should generally have no place in a first encounter. Your politeness should extend to everyone connected to the person for whom you wish to make a good impression. Mr. Smith’s secretary may well report to him how polite you were, and will very likely report the opposite, if it occurs. BE ORGANIZED In any first encounter that has a specific purpose, such as a job interview or a first work assignment, for example, the person you meet will most likely have limited time and a specific set of expectations about the meeting. Indeed, time may be compressed due to schedule pressures, and the person may expect you to address a specific point, quickly. Be prepared for the encounter with several versions of the information you wish to convey: 1) a quick summary (30 seconds or less) of your main point; 2) a slightly longer summary (2-3 minutes or less) giving a bit more detail and support for your main point; and 3) a complete outline of your point(s), from which you could speak at length and respond to any detailed questions you might receive. It often helps to rehearse at least in your mind each version of the presentation you might give. A written outline, at least for the more complete version of your presentation, may also help you to collect your thoughts. The people you meet will likely set the parameters for each meeting. They may tell you precisely how much time you have to make your point, or they may bluntly cut you off in mid-point. Thus, being organized means being prepared to respond quickly, in the form requested by the person you meet. Being organized also means taking away from the meeting any vital information or questions the person may address to you. Always have paper and pen available for any meeting where you might need to take notes. If there are take-away assignments that grow out of the meeting, make a clear list of your responsibilities, and consider reciting the list to the other person, to show that you have understood the substance of the directions. FOLLOW UP For most busy professionals you meet, a working day is a series of encounters (meetings, telephone calls, e-mail, correspondence) with a number of people. Often, your brief encounters with a busy professional may leave little lasting impression, because it is lost in the sea of other encounters throughout a busy day. If you truly wish to cement the good impression you have made in a first encounter, you must follow up with some further communication. If the first encounter is a work assignment, the follow-up is usually quite obvious. You should assign yourself the responsibility to report back, periodically, on your progress with the assignment. Many junior lawyers make the mistake of assuming that senior lawyers and clients only wish to hear from you when the assignment is complete. The opposite is often true: if you report back within a days — sometimes, within a few hours — of receiving an assignment, you will show your enthusiasm for the project, you may be able to relate some preliminary results of your work, and you will give the assigning lawyer or client the opportunity to correct any problems that may have arisen, and, in some instances, to give you even more details about the assignment, or other aspects of the work that must be considered. Moreover, the opposite approach — no follow-up — is likely to lead not just to no good first impression, but perhaps to a very negative impression. Consider the circumstance where you get an assignment, begin work on it, and then discover problems or lack of information vital to completing it. Instead of looping back for further discussion, you work long and hard trying to guess the best solution to the problem. The work product you deliver as a result may be late, and may be far from what the assigning lawyer or client expected. The inefficiency of your work, moreover, will likely be reflected in inflated billable hours on the project. All of these may be the source of frustration for the assigning lawyer or client. The first impression you leave, as a result, may be quite negative. If your first encounter with someone does not involve an assignment, it is still possible to follow up with some further communication that says you enjoyed meeting them, that you would like to know more about the person and his or her business area, or that you are available to help on any projects the person may have. In the office, such follow-up may take many forms: a “drop by” the person’s office, a quick e-mail or even a passing comment in the hall or in the lunchroom. If you meet someone outside the office, ask for a business card, and offer your own. Consider a brief note or e-mail, following up appropriately with enthusiasm about the meeting. In some instances, asking a person for more information about some aspect of what was discussed at the meeting may also be a good way to show your enthusiasm and interest. The goal of any first meeting is not to answer every question, or reveal every bit of information, about yourself or the other person. Rather, the goal should be to start a process, in which the person you meet begins to develop a generally favorable impression of you. A favorable first impression will likely lead to more encounters, and more opportunities to develop a relationship that may be quite lengthy — perhaps an entire career, or even a lifetime. Steven C. Bennett is a partner in the New York City offices of Jones Day and a member of the firm’s Training Committee.

This content has been archived. It is available exclusively through our partner LexisNexis®.

To view this content, please continue to Lexis Advance®.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber? Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® is now the exclusive third party online distributor of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® customers will be able to access and use ALM's content by subscribing to the LexisNexis® services via Lexis Advance®. This includes content from the National Law Journal®, The American Lawyer®, Law Technology News®, The New York Law Journal® and Corporate Counsel®, as well as ALM's other newspapers, directories, legal treatises, published and unpublished court opinions, and other sources of legal information.

ALM's content plays a significant role in your work and research, and now through this alliance LexisNexis® will bring you access to an even more comprehensive collection of legal content.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]


ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2020 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.