The attorney in front of me gathered her CLE materials, signed her name on the dotted line and promptly placed her nametag in her purse. I followed her into the conference room and took the seat to her right.

“Hi, I’m Sarah. Where’s your nametag?” I asked, as I adjusted mine. I’m always one to cut to the chase. She lowered her eyes, reached inside her bag, took out the identifier and placed it face down on the table.

“I’m here for my CLE credits; I want to avoid being inundated with pitches.”??

“I get it,” I said. “I’m also in-house.”

I feel her pain. I’ve received my fair share of pitches in person, via e-mail, and on the phone. I call it the guppy and shark scenario. In a room of attorneys, some of us are the guppy clients, and others are sharks looking for dinner.

As I watched the attorney slide her nametag back into her bag, I started to think that maybe it’s not a simple matter of us against them. Aren’t all attorneys a little shark-like? And don’t guppies also get hungry? Let’s face it, every esquire in that room had a personal or professional agenda. Some were looking for a job, a client, a friend, an opportunity–or even a snack.

The woman next to me made her agenda clear: She was there solely for the CLE credits. Little did she know, my agenda was to meet in-house lawyers like her and increase my in-house network. I guess I was a shark in guppy’s clothing. Even if we know exactly what we’re looking for in a situation, surprises happen. And lawyers have to be open to alternative opportunities. At the first break, I made smalltalk with my neighbor, and we had a lovely conversation. Being closed off may help prevent the attack of the pushy lawyer. But it is also a good way to avoid other opportunities.

When I think I see a fin in the water, I immediately ask about intentions. Then, if necessary, I make my stance clear by explaining that I am not in need of this person’s services. I try to bring us both to the same page. We both need to have realistic expectations. Once we’ve cut through the sales pitches, we can get on to the regularly scheduled chit chat. And who knows, through honest conversation, the attorney may convince me to rethink my needs. Or I may add a new contact to my network or we may find a mutually beneficial commonality. Or we could just have a conversation and part ways. This is fine, too.

And that’s exactly what happened with the CLE friend. The truth is that we rarely meet people who will change our lives. And I rarely find another person that I could assist. By looking beyond our personal agendas, we may open up unforeseen opportunities. Maybe next time, my in-house friend will wear her nametag proudly. And, if not, she could just put those shark e-mails in her SPAM folder.?