Mind your manners: An etiquette guide for students

Mind your manners: An etiquette guide for students
When I was in law school, one of the first things I learned wasn’t about the law; it was about the importance of my professional reputation.
I was taught to carefully monitor the way I acted and treated my colleagues and fellow students. These lessons didn’t really surprise me; I was, after all, learning to be professional.

So it made sense that the reputation I built for myself at the beginning of my career — from the day I began law school — would follow me for the rest of my days as a lawyer. From that moment on, I became careful about protecting my professional reputation. I didn’t want one false move to unravel everything I had worked so hard to achieve.

The early lessons I was taught about my reputation have only been reaffirmed now that I’m practising. A lawyer’s reputation really gains importance when he or she starts applying for his or her first legal job.

Is your cover letter riddled with spelling mistakes or typographical errors? You may be regarded as someone who doesn’t have an eye for detail.

Have to cancel your interview at the last minute and fail to give the firm a heads-up as soon as possible? You could be remembered for your lack of courtesy.

You may tell yourself that securing a position with a firm you don’t care about does not ultimately affect you, but it’s important to remember that you never know what the profession holds for you or if you’ll ever require the favour of a lawyer you’ve offended in the future.

The process of securing a summer or articling position is a difficult one to navigate for many students because it is fraught with a whole new set of social rules and experiences. How do you maintain and build upon your reputation when you have to worry about finding a job?

Keeping a few of these simple tips in mind may help you get through the ordeal with your reputation unscathed.

Don’t lead a firm on

It’s simple: If you know you aren’t interested in working somewhere, don’t pretend otherwise. This means declining invitations to dinners and parties or even offers for interviews if you know you don’t want to work there. Remember that there will be students who are likely interested in that firm. You could be taking that person’s job opportunity away from him or her.

Don’t keep an offer open longer than you need to

Firms don’t always put out more offers than they have available positions. This means that while you’re mulling over your decision, a firm that has made you an offer is unable to make another offer without hearing back from you first. If you ultimately don’t accept that position, you may be inadvertently depriving a firm from hiring a student and conversely preventing a fellow student from getting a position you don’t want in the first place. Deciding where to work is an important decision for every student and should be well thought out, but your courtesy in deliberating early will take you far.

Be honest and courteous

Not only is this a difficult and stressful process for students, but it can also be a stressful and difficult process for firms too. If you aren’t interested in the work a firm does, don’t say so in your cover letter. If you don’t think you’d fit into a firm’s culture, don’t pretend you would. If you don’t think you should take on an interview because your schedule is already jam-packed, don’t accept. Your honesty and courtesy at this stage will go a long way towards saving everyone involved a lot of trouble later and will only further your reputation as a professional in the field.

While the application and interview process is a daunting one for many students, treating firms and fellow students with the same courtesy and respect you would hope to receive throughout your career will not only make this process easier and less stressful for you, but will go a long way to ensuring that your reputation in the profession will be a positive one from the start.

Maureen Salama is an associate at Brauti Thorning Zibarras LLP in Toronto. She is also in charge of student recruitment at the firm and can be reached at msalama@btzlaw.ca.

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