In response to the question “What do you do?”, saying that you are a tax lawyer, or employment lawyer or whatever is not a good reply.  More on that in a moment.

In the online ABA Journal: Law News Now this month, an article entitled “50 Simple Ways You Can Market Your Practice” by Stephanie Francis Ward provides some good tips that will help lawyers develop business. I really like many of them.  However, I take issue with one in particular.  I’m not being critical of the author, who is a journalist after all and not a legal marketer.  My guess is that she just got some bad advice somewhere.

My issue is with Tip “23.The best elevator speech? ‘Hi, I’m a lawyer.  What do you do?’” Although it appears to be a question, the tip comes across as a statement.  Or it is incomplete because it ends there.   IMHO that is the worst possible self-introduction a lawyer can make.  If the other person is not a lawyer, the conversation could very well come to a screeching halt.  Reasons vary, but might include: putting people off, some people simply don’t like lawyers (or maybe they’re jealous), feel less educated, or the statement simply comes across as arrogant, know-it-all or I’m smarter than the average bear, or whatever.  Sorry, but such an opening is just dumb.

Better to say something like, if for instance you are an employment lawyer representing companies, “I help employers avoid and resolve employee issues.” Which may lead to the obvious “How do you do that?”….and the discussion is underway, rather than shut down.

It is advisable to have more than one elevator speech, of course, depending on the circumstances and the audience.  But, it does take work and practice to develop an effective and meaningful one. Try them out on colleagues and friends.  It is best to delay disclosing your occupation until you’ve laid the groundwork as to how you help people with their problems.