Top 100 Tips for Working the Room

By Jeffrey M. Horn

Level I — Beginner Learnings
Before the reception

1. Think about who will be attending. Who do you want to meet? Who can you introduce to whom?
2. Practice a self-introduction. Think about what you will say when asked, “What do you do?”
3. Bring a stack of business cards
4. Have some topics to talk about: read a newspaper, watch the news

At the reception

In General

5. Arrive early
6. Try wearing your name tag on the right
7. Don’t be pond scum
8. Avoid off-color humor
9. Avoid smoking
10. Avoid being loud
11. Avoid complaining
12. Don’t sit
13. Avoid excessive food
14. Avoid excessive drink


15. Meet more people rather than fewer
16. Focus on introductions and relationships, not selling


17. Look at and encourage the speaker
18. Resist interrupting
19. Spend 95 percent of time asking questions about other person
20. Try to spend 5 minutes not using the word “I”

Remembering Names

21. Repeat the name throughout conversation (judiciously)

Business Cards

22. Ask for business cards (rather than offering yours) and spend some time examining the card

Body Language

23. Smile
24. Make and maintain eye contact
25. Speak at a medium pace and clearly
26. Stand up straight

Graceful Exit

27. Keep one hand free to shake hands in next interaction
28. Don’t be afraid to say, “Excuse me—I see someone I need to say hello to”


29. Send thank-you notes

Level II — Intermediate Learnings
Before the reception

1. Create an action plan of how you are going to “work” the event
2. Set one goal for the event and write it down — make the goal attainable and realistic (e.g., meet two individuals and collect two business cards)
3. Get a copy of the attendee list

At the reception

In General

4. Position yourself near the door
5. Think of yourself more as a Host, as opposed to a Guest, and act accordingly
6. Avoid sizing up name tags
7. Avoid the “sympathy vote” by beginning conversations complaining (about weather, health, room temperature, etc.)
8. Carry a half glass of beverage and order only half a glass of beverage to greater facilitate separation
9. Avoid people you know unless they have the opportunity to give you a cross-introduction


10. Initiate handshakes, but respect people’s personal space — don’t crowd them
11. Repeat the name of the person when you meet them
12. Be sure you have a brief, effective introduction of yourself — it should be less than 15 seconds and identify your name, areas of interest, and what you do
13. Look for individuals in the room with “white knuckles.” Although they may be “wall flowers,” they might be valuable people to spend time with


14. Repeat what you hear during the course of a conversation — it reflects that you’re listening, and it clarifies points
15. Refer back to conversation later in the dialogue — “As you said earlier, …”
16. Discuss any subject other than doing business
17. When you enter a group; listen for 3 minutes and avoid “striking up the conversation”
18. Focus on be interested vs. interesting
19. Try to find two things in common with the other person

Remembering Names

20. Introduce yourself in a way that teaches people your name: “My name is Jim Hanley — it rhymes with manly…”

Business Cards

21. Make notes on the back of a person’s business card — “Let me write that down on the back of your card…”
22. Keep your business cards in an easy-to-reach pocket — pulling them out of your wallet can be clumsy

Body Language

23. Be relaxed
24. Watch when you nod
25. Pause and listen
26. Don’t look over the shoulder
27. Be sensitive to body language

Graceful Exit

28. You should anticipate that you will spend no more than four to seven minutes with any one individual. After that, you should be prepared to “move on.”
29. You feel more uncomfortable about leaving the interaction than the other person. It’s acceptable to say that you have to make a phone call, get a drink, go to the restroom or say hello to someone you have seen.


30. Follow-up as soon as possible (within 1 week)
31. In follow-up letters, see if you can remember something to ask them to send you. This puts a little bit of the ball in their court.

Level III — Advanced Learnings
Before the reception

1. Pick one name from the registration list to call. “I noticed you were also attending this conference and I was wondering if you were going to the reception as well. I was hoping to steal a few minutes and meet you to find out more about you and the ABC Company…”
2. Think of several questions in advance: “How would I know if I ran into your ideal client or prospect?”
3. If attending with co-workers, share thoughts, strategy, and mental checklist of action items before attending

At the reception

In General

4. Study clothing, shoes, etc. — you can tell many books by their cover.
5. Never sit at an empty table or next to an empty chair
6. Work one-on-one or with small groups
7. Never be critical of anyone at the reception to their face or behind their back
8. Be extra courteous to the staff — they can be a friend or an enemy


9. Volunteer your name
10. Split up with colleagues and circulate
11. When introducing someone to someone else, tell a bit about each person, something that might connect them
12. If you have met two people, introduce them to one another
13. Introductions are perfect times to “market” new colleague
14. Look for Meet


15. Ask for interpretations: “What do you mean by ‘often’?”
16. Control your body language — be aware of messages you are sending and those you should be receiving
17. Be hypersensitive
18. Ask questions requiring more than a one-word answer
19. Explore comments another makes—more questions are a way of demonstrating interest

Remembering Names

20. Ask the other person their name and then spend time on it, asking the person about self, unusual-sounding name, or other aspect of her introduction
21. Give a memorable description of self, and self-deprecating is okay: “I’m the only one here who can’t break 150 on the golf course.”

Business Cards

22. Use notes on business cards to forward articles of interest

Body Language

23. Keep a level head
24. Don’t fidget
25. Use entire physical being to express yourself
26. Don’t respond to distractions
27. Show people what you mean
28. Maintain an approachable expression

Graceful Exit

29. “Well, I don’t want to take up all your time. I’m sure you have other people you want to talk to and so do I. I’d like to continue our conversation, so why don’t we plan to get together? I’ll call you next week.”


30. Stay in touch: mailing list, invitation to participate

Ten Strategies for Grooming Future Firm Leaders

Firm struggle with succession.
Esp important for smaller and mid-size firms
Once great firms fall part.  Founder and benevolent dictator

Quality lawyers is a given.  Quality systems, training, planning, service.
It’s about talent.  Sustainability.


  • Personality profile
  • Big picture, good at delegation
  • Look for those who go the extra Mile – mid-level associate level
  • Team-oriented, Goal-oriented, Results-oriented.  Mange up v mange down
  • Leadership outside law school – organization involvement
  • The IT factor

ROLE IN FIRM – Finder, minder, Grinders

Visionary, communicator, role model, mentor, cheerleader, disciplinarian



Committee assignments

Department Heads – Co-chairs


Assoc Development Committee

Website, Newsletter, Intake Forms, Technology

Job Descriptions

Track and Reward Non-Billable Contributions

Give responsibility and authority

Older lawyers must step out of the way. Not second guess.


Leaders of Mid-Size Law Firms Report that Things Getting Better

No doubt, most law firms – including “MidLaw” – have seen profits squeezed the past ten years. A growing oversupply of lawyers, an increasingly demanding client base, a persistent global recession, and numerous other market forces, have led to intense competition. Clients – especially the large institutional variety – know this and have been pressing law firms hard to discount rates and implement alternative free agreements. 

So how are midsize firms faring as the economy rebounds?  Read on.

Each spring, we present the MPF Leadership Conference, a conference designed especially for law firm managing partners. Our 2014 Leadership Conference was held in Atlanta on May 8th with 85 managing partners in attendance. They lead firms ranging in size from 10-500 lawyers, with most in the 20-100 lawyer range. 

During the Conference, we employed audience polling technology to gather input on key issues facing law firm leaders. The responses are instantaneous, anonymous and provide great bench-marking data. This year, we asked several questions firm economics and profitability and we’re pleased to share in this month’s column some of the highlights.

Encouraging News for Mid-Size Law Firms

Among the first questions we asked firm leaders  was: “How is your firm performing financially so far in 2014?” 43% said they were performing as expected, while 36% said they were doing better than expected. Only 3% said they were not doing well. 

We next asked about revenue per lawyer compared to a year ago. 56% said RPL was up, with 24% reporting an increase by more than 5%. 35% said it was “about the same” as last year with just 9% reporting a decline.

Not bad, considering all the doom and gloom we’re been reading and hearing about the past five years.

Alternative Fees Arrangements – A Slow-Motion Riot

Despite all the fuss, alternative fee arrangements aren’t exactly taking over the manner in which law firms charge for their services. 

When we asked MPF Conference participants about the percentage of revenue generated through alternative fees, nearly half said less than 5%. 21% said 6-10%. 27% reported that they proactively pitch AFAs to clients with 2/3 of them saying clients aren’t all that interested. Nearly half say they adapt AFA only when clients press for them, with 25% saying they haven’t had to deal with it. Not exactly a tidal wave of change, is it? 

Susan Hackett, former General Counsel of the Association of Corporate Counsel, describes the trend as a “slow-motion riot.” My friend and colleague Bob Denney says the issue of AFAs reminds him of a quotation from Shakespeare’s Macbeth: “A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying (almost) nothing.”

Firm-wide Profit is the Preferred Barometer of Financial Health

We next asked the managing partners, “If you had to select just one metric to measure your firm’s financial health, what would it be?” The top three in order were: Firm-wide profit (25%), Revenue per Lawyer (21%), and Profit as a Percentage of Revenue (19%).  

We (and most consultants we know) believe that Revenue per Lawyer (RPL) is the best single indicator to assess firm-wide financial performance.

Strategic Planning Leads to Improved Performance

For several years, we’ve drilled down on the issue of strategic planning and its impact on firm performance and profitability. Historically, about 40% of MPF Conference participants said their firms had a firm-wide strategic plan. This year, however, a whopping 71% said their firms had a plan. Naturally, we thought this was a statistical anomaly. Separately, we conducted an online survey in March 2014 in which 152 firms participated. 59% said they had a firm-wide plan. 

So maybe it’s not an aberration after all. Maybe, just maybe, law firms are starting to value and recognize the importance of a well-executed firm-wide strategic plan. Why? Because it works! 

Of those with a plan, 65% report positive results with 28% not sure. Of course, planning without implementation is a colossal waste of time effort and energy. Those who reported the best results from planning also gave their firms high marks on implementation.

Start Grooming Your Future Firm Leaders Today

Our closing question at this year’s event asked about whether the current associates of the firms are “up to the task” of inheriting the firm. 65% said no. Wow! Succession planning is among the most neglected aspects of firm leadership and management. Consider, for example, that 70% of first generation firms don’t survive their founding partners. 

Now is the time to identity and groom future leaders of your firm. Get young lawyers involved in leadership and governance at the department or practice group level. See who rises to the challenges of the position and move them into more meaningful positions in firm governance. A firm-wide strategic plan and passionate, committed leadership are absolutely critical to a successful law firm of the future.

About the Author

John Remsen, Jr. is President and CEO of The Managing Partner Forum, the country’s premiere resource for managing partners and law firm leaders. He is also President of TheRemsenGroup, one of the country’s leading consulting firms for mid-size law firms, and can be reached at 404.885.9100 or

Fourteen Tips for Running a Good Meeting

Nothing can drain the happiness from you faster than a long, unproductive meeting. You’re bored; you’re not getting anything done; emails are piling up while you sit, trapped.

On the other hand, a productive meeting is exhilarating. A long time ago, when I was working in Miami, I remember a friend who worked at our company saying, “Joe Brown runs a meeting so well, it brings tears to my eyes.” 

Meetings come in all shapes and sizes, so not all of these strategies will be useful, but here are some things I try to remember when I’m in or running a meeting:

Start and End On Time
Very obvious, I dare say, but something that doesn’t happen very often. Once people see that meetings are starting late, the bad habit builds because people see there’s no point in showing up promptly. Here’s one solution for late starts: a friend worked at a law firm that started fining partners $100 if they were late to a meeting, which turned out to be very effective. If the meeting has to run long, say, “We’re not through with the seven points, so can everyone stay fifteen extra minutes to wrap up?” That way, people know that the end is in sight. 

Spend a Little Time in Chit-Chat
At the same time, remember that it’s helpful to start off the meeting with a little small talk. For a long time, I didn’t believe this to be true, and I tried to be hyper-efficient, but now I realize that it’s important – and productive – for people to have a chance to relate on a personal level. People need to build friendships; they need a chance to show their personalities, they need to establish rapport. Meetings are very important for this process.

Bring Out the Wallflowers
If some people hesitate to jump in, find a way to draw them out. Ability to grab the floor doesn’t necessarily correlate with capacity to contribute. 

Accept Blame to Gain Responsibility
One of the most insightful things my father ever told me was, “If you’re willing to take the blame, people will give you the responsibility.” Meetings often involve blame-giving and blame-taking, and although it’s not pleasant to accept blame, it’s a necessary aspect of getting responsibility (if deserved, of course). Proving my father’s point, one of my best meeting experiences ever was a time when I took the blame – rightly – for something done by a team of people working with me. Doing this ended up dramatically increasing my organizational credibility on all sides.

Share the Credit Whenever Possible
Along with blame, a meeting is also a great place to give people credit for their ideas and accomplishments. Be quick to point out great work or to call for a round of applause for a colleague. For some reason, people often act as though credit is a zero-sum goody, and if they share credit, they’ll get less themselves. From what I’ve seen, sharing credit not only doesn’t diminish the number of gold stars you get, but adds to them – because people so admire the ability to give credit.  

Let People Know There Are No Stupid Ideas
Making people feel stupid isn’t productive, and it isn’t kind. A friend has a good suggestion: “Be cheerfully, impersonally decisive.” 

Have an Agenda and Stick to It
Circulate the agenda a few days in advance, along with anything else that needs to be read to prepare for the meeting. Make sure people know if they should bring anything. Along the same lines…

Be Clear on the Purpose of the Meeting
Never go to a meeting if you don’t know why you’re supposed to be there! This seems obvious, but it’s a situation that arises surprisingly frequently.

Schedule Standing Meetings Well in Advance
Standing meetings should be scheduled on the same day and at the same time (i.e. first Wednesday of the month or every Thursday morning) throughout the year. In addition, try to keep them as short as possible and very structured. Have rules for canceling the meeting when appropriate – if such-and-such doesn’t happen; if only a certain number of people can attend, etc.

Watch What You Say
Don’t say things that will undermine or antagonize other people. Turns out they do in fact notice this, and they don’t appreciate it. If you wonder if you’re an offender, check yourself against this list.

Develop Very Specific Action Items and Circulate Meeting Notes
Be very specific about what the “action items” are (to use the business-school term). Who is agreeing to do what, by when? Make sure someone is keeping track of what is supposed to happen as a consequence of the meeting, and at the meeting’s end, review these items so it’s crystal clear to everyone. Follow up by email.

For Long Meetings, Schedule Breaks Every 75 Minutes
If a meeting is long, schedule breaks when people can check their email and phones. Otherwise, they get very distracted by feeling they’ve been out of touch for too long (for some people, this takes about ten minutes), and they start sneakily emailing under the table. As if no one will notice. Which they do.

Stay on Point
Meetings should stay tightly focused. If people want a chance to discuss side issues, theoretical problems, or philosophical questions that aren’t relevant to the purpose of the meeting, they should set up a separate meeting. 

Consider Standing Room Only
Here’s a radical solution: no chairs. In Bob Sutton’s terrific book, The No A**** Rule, (printed that way not out of prudery but to avoid spamblockers), he points to a study that showed that people in meetings where everyone stood took 34% less time to make an assigned decision, with decisions that were just as good as those made by groups who were sitting down. 

What am I missing? What are some other strategies for improving meetings?

The Evolving Role of Today's Managing Partner

We all know that the legal profession has changed dramatically over the past two decades.  Too many lawyers.  More demanding and less loyal clients.  More demanding and less loyal partners and associates.  Staggering advances in technology.  Tort reform in many jurisdictions.  Sky-rocketing operating expenses.  Mergers and acquisitions.  And unprecedented competition.  

Certainly, these and other trends have created tremendous pressure on law firm leaders.  Like it not, law firms must change the way they operate if they want to remain viable and competitive in the long run.      

Yet, Most Firms Aren’t Keeping Pace

In the midst of all this change, many – dare I say most – law firms have not changed much at all.  They run the place essentially the same way they did 20 years ago…..a loose confederation of sole practitioners sharing office space.  

Why?  Because lawyers hate change, according to ground-breaking research conducted by Dr. Larry Richard in 2002.  They also love autonomy and resist rules and structure.  They also don’t like risk and fear the unknown.  They have little patience and want immediate results.  For many firms, it’s easier just to leave things alone.  

On the Other Hand, Some Firms “Get It”

Conversely, many firms are fundamentally changing the way they do business, with streamlined governance, standardized systems and procedures, strategic plans, and marketing and business development programs.  They enforce minimum performance standards for partners and associates.  Many are divesting themselves of low profit clients and practice groups.  They are de-equating underperforming shareholders and asking disruptive lawyers – even those with big books of business - to leave.  These firms are emerging as the new leaders in the marketplace.

The Managing Partner as Change Agent

In today’s most successful law firms, the role of the managing partner has evolved significantly….from that of a “care-taker” trying not to rock the boat, to that of a dynamic consensus builder and change agent. 

In addition, a successful managing partner must be a visionary, a communicator, a negotiator, a coach, a disciplinarian, a cheerleader and a psychologist all wrapped up in one person. Needless to say, it’s not an easy job and they sure don’t teach much about it in law school.

The managing partner is the CEO of a multi-million dollar entity in a rapidly changing industry.  It is a most important role and it’s critical to the overall success of the organization.  

Most Managing Partners Are Winging It

In 2007, we surveyed over 170 managing partners from firms ranging in size from 10 to 2,200 lawyers.  60% had more than 50 lawyers.  

We asked what their most important contributions were in their roles as managing partner.  Building consensus among shareholders and initiating change topped the list.  In contrast, we asked where they spent most of their time.  Day-to-day administration ate up way too much of it.  

We asked if they had a job description.  74% did not.   We asked if they had a clearly defined exit strategy.  76% did not.    

Our Advice to Firm Leaders

Here’s our advice to help them enhance their effectiveness and improve the performance of their law firms.

Be Passionate and Committed

Become the best firm leader you can be.  Read books and articles.  Attend leadership conferences.  Learn from other managing partners.  If the leader isn’t committed, there aren’t likely to be many followers.

Get a Job Description

Every managing partner should have a well-defined job description and exit strategy.  It should set forth the primary responsibilities of the position, the amount of time required and how the managing partner will be compensated for his/her non-billable contributions.  Department heads, practice group chairs and office managing partners should also have job descriptions.

Develop a Firm-wide Strategic Plan

The evidence is clear.  Law firms with plans outperform those that do not.  Planning helps to bring everybody to the same page….sharing the same vision for the future.  Firm leaders should embrace and encourage the planning process at the firm, practice group and individual lawyer levels.  Implementation is another story!

Build a “Firm First” Culture

Managing partners and firm leaders should always encourage and reward a “firm first” mindset and attitude.  For example, insist on the term “our” clients instead of “mine” and “yours.” Do everything possible to promote trust, teamwork and fairness within the firm.

Appoint Strong Leaders

Too often, department and practice groups are led by the most senior lawyer or the lawyer with the biggest book of business.  This may or may not be the right person for the job.  Passion, commitment and leadership skills are required for these important roles.

Lead by Example

A managing partner can’t be a hypocrite.  He or she must “walk the walk,” as they say. The managing partner should be among the first to submit his or her individual marketing plan, get his or her time in, and return client phone calls.  

Delegate to a Solid Firm Administrator

A managing partner’s time should be spent mostly in the areas of planning, communication and building consensus.  But too many managing partners get caught up in day-to-day administration, a function that should be performed by a capable law firm administrator.

Invest in the Future

According to the 2007 Juris Law Firm Economic Survey, the top performing and most profitable law firms spend more per person than underperforming firms.   They are investing in the future.  Resist the temptation to enhance profitably through cost cutting.  That’s a short-term fix.  

Groom Your Successor

An effective managing partner would be wise to identify and mentor his or her successor for the role.  Give that person important, high-profile assignments so that the firm’s partners gain trust and confidence in his or her leadership skills.  In addition, managing partners should have a well understood exit strategy.  

There are exciting times for the legal profession and those firms with strong, passionate and committed firm leaders will emerge as the most successful law firms of the future.  The role of the managing partner is more important now than ever.

About the Author

John Remsen, Jr. is President of TheRemsenGroup, a marketing consulting firm that works exclusively with law firms to help them attract and retain the clients they want. He is also the Founder and CEO of The Managing Partner Forum.  He can be reached at 404.885.9100 or