Mark Powers and Shawn McNalis

Originally appeared in the Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly

Q: I am a new associate at a large firm here in Boston. The firm is holding its Holiday Open House next week and I am nervous about how to conduct myself. Do you have any tips for the socially inexperienced lawyer?

A: This is a great question. Young associates need to be especially aware of how they are perceived at social functions so that they make a good impression not only on members of the firm but also on the influencers and clients who will attend. This occasion should not be mistaken for an opportunity for you to kick back and relax. If you want to make a positive impression on the partnership, take a proactive role in making the party a chance for your guests to relax. This party is about them having a good time, not you. This doesn’t mean you can’t have fun, just remember that you are the host, not the guest.

Here are 10 simple tips to help you navigate your way through the dreaded holiday party:

  1. In this particular social setting, the firm’s partners will probably take the lead in meeting and greeting the guests since they will know many more of the invitees than you will. But you should conduct yourself like a minor goodwill ambassador of the firm. This means that you should welcome newcomers if one of the partners is not there to do so; introduce yourself; direct them to where the food and drinks are being served; and offer to tour people through the office (if it is presentable!)
  2. Pay close attention to names as people are being introduced to you. It often helps to repeat the name, either out loud or to yourself several times so that you are actually learning the name as opposed to just hearing it. If you have access to the guest list before the party, review the names of those you know in advance.
  3. When introducing a client who you have been working with to one of the partners, introduce the client first. This indicates to the client his or her level of importance.
  4. When you need the attention of one of the partners or other attorneys at the party and he or she is discussing something closely with another guest, do not blatantly interrupt them. Go over, stand near them and wait for the opportunity to gracefully interject. Ask permission to interrupt so you do not offend them or the person with whom he or she is speaking.
  5. As trivial as it may seem, something as simple as referring to another attorney or a partner by a nickname that they don’t use in formal settings, or don’t like, can make a very negative impression.
  6. When shaking hands, try to stand three feet apart and shake for approximately three to five seconds with a firm grip while smiling and making direct eye contact. A common question people have about shaking hands is what to do when someone approaches you with the left hand. If the thumb is extended upward, take it with your left hand and if the thumb is extended downward, take it with your right hand.
  7. Limit yourself to two drinks. Don’t allow yourself to become overly relaxed in this environment. This is a work-related party, and an opportunity to interact with and build rapport with a variety of different people — don’t ruin it by drinking too much.
  8. Don’t be the first to leave an occasion like this — make a substantial effort to last the entire event.
  9. Consider the image you want to convey at the party and plan your clothing ahead of time. It is ok to ask about the dress requirements. Typically, it is better to err on the side of formality — unless your firm has an extremely informal culture. Men should wear a navy or gray suit with a tie. For women a dressy suit or nice dress with minimal jewelry. If it is a more casual “after work” open house, a nice version of what you wear on a daily basis will be fine.
  10. Even if you are impeccably dressed, remember that your physical appearance is not the only visual cue. The state of your office also reflects upon you and can ruin the impression you make on clients and influencers. Straighten up your office before the party starts if guests will be touring the office.

In conclusion, developing yourself as a professional depends on an important variable we often forget: our social graces. In this competitive market, your future won’t depend on job performance alone. Everything about you — your behavior, dress and tone of voice — is a reflection of you as a professional. It’s important to pay attention to the details ahead of time so that during the party you are not focused on yourself. Free yourself up to focus your attention on your guests — it will leave a very positive and lasting impression.

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