Law school provides aspiring lawyers with a ton of information. For example, I learned about the Constitution and I learned how to panic. While studying for the bar, I learned about commercial paper and I learned that I cannot grow a full beard.
What law school fails to teach aspiring attorneys is how to act like a normal, functional, regular business adult. Most law students go straight from college to law school without stepping a foot outside of their childhood bedroom.
These “lawyers” can draft a brilliantly researched brief on the substantive and statutory procedural requirements of the admissibility of expert testimony in federal court. These “lawyers” cannot conduct a client meeting, cannot figure out how to bill time, and oftentimes cannot find the bathroom. Unlike other professions, we lawyers are simply not properly trained.
On the first day of practice every year, legendary basketball coach John Wooden of UCLA gave an hour-long demonstration on: How to Properly Tie Your Shoes. I generally wear slip-ons. Therefore, my yearly demonstration to new attorneys will involve: Handshakes.
My Three-Step Instruction Guide on the “Don’ts” of Handshakes
These tips are based on intensely personal experiences, so here you go:
1. Dryness is next to godliness. On March 2, 1992, I was introduced to a new kid in my school. His name was Josh. He looked cool. He was tall and apparently was already on the basketball team before tryouts were even scheduled (at least that was the rumor). Our parents were somewhat friends through a PTA event. When introduced, he stuck out his hand for a shake.
Instinctively, my right hand rose to meet his. Upon contact, I immediately felt like I was grabbing a sea sponge from a “PET BUT DON’T GRAB” tank at an aquarium. To be specific, the hand of Josh was not wet. No, no. It was much worse than wet. It was moist. A moist hand, even at that young age, conveyed dirtiness, weakness, nervousness and godlessness. Josh did not make the basketball team.
I never spoke to Josh again.
Tip 1: Dry that hand. Use your pants. Use your pocket. Use anything but the other person’s hand.
2. Never, ever go southpaw. On December 17, 2005, I was in a Starbucks in Chicago. It was snowing outside and I desperately needed a coffee. They screwed up and gave me a latte. No worries, I just needed something warm. The line moved swiftly and within minutes I finished pouring in some sugar and securing the lid. As I looked up toward the exit, my name was called from across the room. The source was a man named Mark, my father’s tennis buddy. As he approached, he extended his right hand for a shake.
My right hand was already holding my coffee. With nowhere to rest my coffee in this busy Starbucks, I extended my left hand to shake his right. Important note: A standard grip in an opposite-hand shake is impossible. As we embraced palms, my name was called out again. As I shifted my body around, I spotted Amy, the girl I was trying to date. She froze. She froze because from her angle and based on the way I turned, I was standing in Starbucks holding hands with my older boyfriend. Side-by-side. My left hand holding his right hand. Both of us holding lattes. Amy and I never dated.
I never spoke to her again.
Tip 2: Go right hand or no hand at all.
3. Do not improvise. On August 30, 2010, I was meeting a potential client for the first time. He was an older guy who had a small pie business; however, his background was in horses in Vietnam. A real man’s man. About five minutes before our meeting, I was told that he was already seated in the conference room with a coffee. Great. As I entered the conference room, he started to get up. “Don’t get up!” I exclaimed as I extended my hand for a shake. He stayed seated, but leaned forward and, with a powerful grip, shook my hand. Then, he did something I had only seen in the movie Braveheart. With his left hand, he reached out and grabbed my right forearm while continuing with his powerful right handshake. Not wanting to feel inadequate, I improvised.
Since he was seated, I reached forward with my left hand to give a man-pat to his right shoulder. However, as I stepped slightly forward, my toe caught the leg of a chair and I started to fall. I was able to stop from falling by stepping my right leg between the client’s legs and placing my left hand on the side of his face. To recap, I am now standing between his seated legs with my hand cupping his right cheek, while he is fully gripping my right hand and forearm with both of his hands. I did not get any business that day.
I never spoke with that man again.
Tip 3: Just shake the hand.
I may not know what I’m talking about, but I think you understand.
William Melater is a young associate attorney working at a firm focused on commercial litigation and transactional work. A self-described legal hunter and gatherer, Bill has accumulated a plethora of legal certificates and diplomas—all of which have been appropriately framed and hung behind his desk. Bill has a distaste for emails, suspenders, fake tans, paralegals who cry, sea urchins and attorneys who repeat the phrase “this is my bottom-line offer.” When irked, Bill blogs about his experiences at Attorney at Work.
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