Once a week, a lawyer or a law student asks me out for an “informational” coffee to “pick my brain.” Though these coffees can interrupt a productive workday, I generally enjoy them and believe it’s our duty to assist students, new lawyers and practitioners at a crossroads in their careers.
But I know several lawyers who, when asked to meet over coffee, simply say “no.” In their view, it takes too much time and too much effort, with little to no return. I get it. I’ve had my share of awful coffee experiences. (In truth, this is part of the problem.)
So if you’re thinking of reaching out to other lawyers for advice, treat the coffee with the importance that it deserves. To help you avoid some common mistakes, I’ve compiled a list of the types of people who make me regret saying “yes.” Don’t be one of these people.
The saviour seeker. These people are miserable at work and want to tell me all about it. They complain the entire time and want me to provide a quick fix to their career.
Being ill-suited to a job can wreak havoc on your life — I know, I’ve been there — but consider how a coffee companion can actually help. We’re not therapists or career coaches. (In fact, that’s what this person probably needs.) We’re also probably not in a position to immediately offer you a job. Plus, badmouthing a current employer is never a good idea. The legal community is small. And we love to talk.
The latecomer. Want to annoy me? Saunter in 15 minutes late with no apology or acknowledgement. Then, instead of asking me questions, stare at me. Why did you ask me for a coffee? Is there a particular aspect of my career that interested you?
When you don’t come prepared, I have to guess at the purpose of the coffee. At least come with a few softball questions: What do you like about your job? How did you get into this practice area?
The narcissist. These people only talk about themselves: their awards, their cases, their accomplishments. They dominate the conversation so much that I leave wondering why I was even there. Self-promotion is important, but you won’t learn much if you don’t ask any questions.
The offensive commenter. It’s 2017, but I still meet with people who make inappropriate comments. To be blunt: don’t mansplain my own business to me; don’t tell me my husband is a lucky man because I look “young for my age” (there are so many things wrong with this comment); and don’t comment on the size of your (falafel) balls. If you do any of these things (and people have), I’ll end the coffee and not recommend you to those in my network.
What should you do, then? It’s simple. Show up prepared. Ask thoughtful questions. Most people I meet with are polite, bright and articulate. So next time you meet someone over coffee, be one of them.
Erin Cowling is the founder of Flex Legal, a network of freelance lawyers based in Toronto. Her own freelance practice focuses on civil litigation.
This story is from our Winter 2017 Issue.
Illustration by Sam Island