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Sharon Schweitzer, JD

By: Sharon Schweitzer, JD
(Guest Blogger)


“What you are speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say!”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson


In today’s world of texting and instant messages, know that very little communicates faster than a first impression. In other words, look up from your smart phone and remember the basics of face-to-face communication! 38% of a first impression is based on voice, 55% is based on body and 7% is based on words. Whether you are a legal assistant with a small practice, or you are a paralegal working with a silk-stocking law firm, be aware that clients and industry leaders are observing body language when making business decisions. Consider these eight business etiquette tips about body language:

1.  Appearance: A first impression is created the moment you present yourself in public. Appearance reflects an individual’s respect for themselves and the situation. Clothing indicates your understanding of the big picture, so dress according to the law firm environment or client culture. Coffee stained clothes, sleepy eyes, scuffed-up shoes, chipped nail polish and messy hair all send a message and according to recent studies, can even hinder your ability to get promoted!

2.  Attention: While an impeccable appearance shows a successful business “snapshot,” your movements could instantly tell a different story. Walk with purpose. Showing energy and confidence in the way you walk, sit and stand makes an impression. Practice restraint, listen to others and remember silence is a powerful ally.

3.  Face: Our facial expressions are crucial to body language. Are you effectively monitoring your facial expressions on a daily basis? Smiles, frowns, arched eyebrows, flared nostrils, grimaces and bitten lips can convey far more than you’d expect – from happiness or contentment to approval, shock, disappointment, fear or anger. Don’t let your facial expression expose more than you’d like your interaction to convey.

4.  Eyes: In the U.S., eye contact shows interest, confidence and respect, and builds trust. It is polite to look at the person speaking and avoid distractions. In conversation, glance away periodically to reflect on the person’s comments. Steady eye contact is intimidating. When speaking with others in a group, hold and make eye contact with everyone in the group; avoid focusing on one person to the exclusion of others.

5.  Hands:  While a handshake is recognized worldwide as a social and professional greeting, improper hand movement can signal immaturity or nervousness. Some people “talk with their hands,” distracting their clients and colleagues away from the conversation. Be aware of your hand movement. Eliminating unnecessary gestures requires effort and willpower. Avoid fidgeting, doodling, nail biting, or picking up your phone during business meetings.

6.  Personal Space & Distance: Different cultures maintain different standards of personal space. In “The Hidden Dimension” by Edward T. Hall, personal territory for the U.S. is broken down into four categories. Intimate distance is 0-18 inches, personal distance (good friends, family members) is from 18 inches to 4 feet, social distance (acquaintances) is 4–12 feet, and public distance (speaking) is 12–25 or more feet. If you stand too close, you may be perceived as pushy or aggressive. If you stand too far away, you may be seen as disinterested.

7.  Standing: When standing, remember to keep your back straight, middle torso in alignment with your backbone, shoulders back and head up. Stand with your feet from 4 to 8 inches apart and face the person with whom you are speaking. During conversation, leaning slightly toward a person indicates interest. Leaning away indicates a desire to depart. It is polite to keep your hands at your sides. Crossed arms, placing hands in your pockets, hand wringing, and slouching may signify dismissal, aggression and uneasiness.

8.  Sitting: Many people do not realize that their seated position and behavior is just as telling as their standing posture. Numerous business deals have been ruined due to improper placement of feet and legs or even foot or knee jiggling actions that signify anxiety, nervousness or ignorance of business customs. It is best to sit with a straight back and both feet flat on the floor. Females are advised to sit with their knees together. Males should avoid sitting with their legs spread wide open or in the “figure 4” position.

It is important for paralegals to be aware of body language in legal settings. It is one of the first steps in ensuring successful interactions with colleagues and clients. Create client confidence before you say a word! Let your body language communicate success, confidence and interest.


Sharon Schweitzer was a paralegal with Chamberlain Hrdlicka in Houston, Texas, before she earned her law degree from South Texas College of Law. Sharon Schweitzer J.D. is now a Business Etiquette Expert and an International Protocol Consultant, and the Founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide, LLC in Austin, Texas, USA. Sharon may be contacted at 512.306.1845, www.protocolww.com, www.facebook.com/protocolww, www.linkedin.com/in/sharonschweitzer, www.twitter.com/austinprotocol

Photo By: Korey Howell Photography

Copyright © 2012 Sharon Schweitzer – All Rights Reserved

A special thanks to Sharon for stopping by The Paralegal Society to share this article with us! We absolutely love getting tips from high caliber, etiquette professionals – don’t you?!  

Wishing you an absolutely fantastic, crisis free, smooth sailing, never been happier, low on the stress meter Monday, TPS readers! We’ll see you next time.