You don't schmooze you lose // Bar Code

Corporate cheerleading is part of the job

By Sandra Rosier

On Monday November 14th, 2011

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 This year I have already billed 2,000 hours and, despite that, during my review I got flak for not being “social enough.” They spent more time telling me that I should attend firm events than talking about my job performance! It’s unfair and hypocritical because everyone knows you have to exceed target to make partner here. I’m willing to work the hours but I don’t do corporate Kool-Aid.  – Slave Boy

Whoa, Slave Boy! I feel your pain. Nothing worse than being stuck in a room full of lawyers who would rather be somewhere else. The sucking up, the perma-smiles, the bad jokes — brutal. But guess what? That is also part of your job. Yep. It’s not just about brute force, billables and writing the perfect memo. Firm socials and corporate pep rallies are an opportunity for you to brand yourself, practise networking skills, build deeper relationships with the people that you work with in a more relaxed environment, and cultivate the marketing and schmoozing skills that will serve you well for client development.

The best piece of advice that I ever got during my early days as an associate was from a partner at a Boston law firm who took me aside and told me to “learn the environment.” Because he had been an English literature major in university like me, when he became an associate he put as much effort into “learning the environment” as he did learning the substance of corporate practice.

He made two specific suggestions that had a tremendous impact on my experience at that Boston firm. He suggested that I read business news to learn the language of the deal. After all, I serviced corporate clients and was supposed to be a business person. It was actually the first time that I thought of myself as a “business person.”

Secondly, he told me to make sure everybody knows me by name. He suggested that I make myself visible by attending firm functions, sitting on committees and volunteering for events that get noticed. That advice helped me to reposition myself as an insider within the firm and really boosted my confidence. Corporate cheerleading might make you bristle, but it’s part of your job and it can help your career.

As a summer student, my mentor would always joke that I should be prepared to assimilate. It took me a while to realize that this is not necessarily a bad thing.  Learning to adapt to firm culture makes you an active player in your own professional destiny and positions you as a key player with demonstrated commitment to the firm.  Gag.

Unfortunately, to make it in most corporate environments, you have to bring your pom-poms to work. Assimilating to firm culture means that you are being strategic about identifying how your particular needs can be met by the firm. You are leveraging your personality and skill set to take advantage of the opportunities that arise which will become more visible to you as an insider.

Boost your visibility by taking part in firm committees, recruitment campaigns, charity drives, community outreach programs and other firm events. Keep them honest by baking this into your performance objectives since it might mean that you cut back on billables. The corporate Kool-Aid need not be so bitter, Slave Boy.


Sandra Rosier is a former Supreme Court of Canada clerk who has worked at large firms in Toronto and Boston. Having come to her senses, Sandra currently works as a tax advisor at a Toronto-based organization. Her etiquette column for lawyers appears every other Monday at lawandstyle.ca. Got a question for Sandra? Email us.

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