Lawyers look for certain mannerisms in associates

ST. LOUIS – Joan Newman, a former partner at St. Louis law firm Thompson Coburn LLP, remembers interviewing job candidates on the campus of a prestigious law school. She was expecting to see the usual flow of dark-suited young men and women, but her jaw dropped when one male candidate showed up in shorts, a T-shirt and flip-flops.

The meeting, said Newman, highlighted the casualness that pervades some young lawyers’ lives and their idea of the norm, a view that won’t cut it in the law profession.

While new graduates may be savvy about law, they may not have a clue about how to dress or act in a profession that serves high-powered, conservative clients.

They might be sporting visible tattoos, for example. Some women don’t wear hosiery or bras, and some men don’t iron their shirts. Many have no idea which is their bread plate or how to make small talk.

“I watched for years as associates came and went, and as bright and competent as they were, they lacked social and strategic skills,” Newman said. “If an associate doesn’t look and act the part, the likelihood of his or her success is slim.”

Newman said a light bulb went off in her head late last year and she decided to leave her law career to start an “associate training and development” business teaching young lawyers everything from where their water glass goes to how to work a room and build relationships.

And while some of Newman’s friends questioned her sanity for leaving a lucrative career for such an odd and risky business, she is on to something quite big in the legal industry.