May 12th, 2016


After 22 years of practicing law, the one job that prepared me the most looking back were my years as a waiter, both during college and throughout law school. The charisma and people skills needed for both of these jobs are synonymous. Being a waiter taught me valuable skills that I now use everyday in my law practice. Waiting tables, and dealing with new people everyday require a unique set of skills that have helped me for years to come.

waiter 6Waiting on complete strangers requires a number of character traits that can be applied to the practice of law.  When you clock in to begin your shift the manager informs you how many tables and which section of the restaurant you will work in. When you begin your day at the law office you have to be ready to manage and deal with multiple client issues. As a customers are sat in your section it’s important to approach and acknowledge the table and assess the customers. When a client or potential client enters your office, the same rules apply – someone on your staff or even yourself should greet the client and make sure they don’t need anything before you get started. In both being a waiter or when practicing law there may be other obligations that require your attentions before attending to the customer/client needs. In order to combat this issue, a few words at the start set a tone that you care and acknowledge that they are important.

As with any situation where you meet complete strangers for the first time, it is important to have direct eye contact and to speak with a smile. This gives customers and clients a sense of comfort and  can be the deciding factor in regards to a good tip or a new client hire.  When you approach any group of people it is polite to start the communication with the women of the group first. There is nothing wrong and everything right with proper etiquette, which seems lost these days. In each case you are dealing people and their needs. As you start to get a feel for the type of people you are waiting on, you will notice which person of the group is in charge and what type of attitude they bring as customers. Some customers come in as a family where tensions between the mother and father exist. Some come as coworkers where the manager is having a meeting. Others come as friends where one or more are having a bad day and want to take it out on you. You never know the personality of your table until you begin to have a conversation.

Similar wit the practice of law. With potential clients most of them, if not all, bring stress, frustration, anxiety, sadness to the situation. Some clients bring with them physical and mental injuries, and potentially life changing circumstances. In both cases you must give the immediate impression that you are in control and confident to handle the current needs of the customer/client.  Both in being a waiter and a practicing attorney there will be numerous other situations are presented while you are trying to meet your current obligations.

As a waiter, you will have more than one table sat and you must provide equal attention while keeping track of the orders and needs of all tables.  Timing and the ability to control your tables is the key to success as a waiter. As with the practice of law you may have a large caseload or there may be clients calling all day and night that require immediate attention. Not to mention, you have courts, clerks, adjusters and opposing council all pulling on your time constraints. It is important to surround yourself with adequate help that way all customer and client needs are met.

Equally as a waiter and attorney, you cannot provide the service required without a solid team. Busboys, hostess, fellow wait staff, managers and bartenders alike must work together for the good of the customer experience. If the cook is having a bad day, it could slow down your tables from receiving what they ordered. When your tables become uneasy and frustrated you must stay calm, keep their glasses full and “bread on the table”. Always be honest with your guests and tell them that the kitchen is backed up and it is taking a bit longer than usual. Now, you will more than likely receive anger and aggression as if it is your fault the cook is slow that day. In this circumstance, your attitude must remain positive and keep your head on straight. There are other tables to attend to that equally need your attention.  As with the law practice, you will appear in court with clients that have appeared numerous times just to leave without closure or progress. You are the one that the client will take out their anger on. You are the one that could be blamed for something outside your control. Again, as with waiting tables it is imperative that you keep your head on straight, stay calm allowing your client to vent their frustration. At the end of the day if the customer or client can see that you handled yourself well under the extenuating circumstances it will only reflect better on you.

Both customers and clients will look to you for solid advice regarding what they should order or in the case of client what your legal opinion is. As a waiter you are expected to know the menu from top to bottom. As a lawyer, you are expected to know the area of law that you hold yourself out to practice. In both cases you should only provide information that you know to be the truth. Never, ever promise or guarantee the outcome of the meal or case. Promises and guarantees make it awkward when the outcome is not as expected. As a waiter, there are times where you are not sure how a meal is prepared.  In this situation, relying on fellow wait staff, cooks or management for assistance and guidance is a necessity. As a lawyer, you must surround yourself with other lawyers who specialize in your particular area of expertise for advice and guidance. In both cases it takes a team to service the needs of both customers and clients.  You must learn not to take things personally and not to react without thinking first. Ego has no place when you are working on behalf of a group, individual or corporation. It is all about the customer not you. In both circumstances you must learn to listen and ask questions later. Customers and clients do not care about your problems or what issues you face on a daily basis.  People love to talk about themselves and when practicing law or waiting tables this is not your time to speak about what you post on Facebook.

Patience, knowledge, kindness, understanding, enthusiasm, diligence and hard work are what I learned from waiting tables that transcended into the practice of law.  This article does not claim to compare eating at a restaurant to life changing, devastating legal issues that clients deal with every day. Yet, the experience in dealing with the public or individuals in many capacities and jobs remain the same, that is it all about customer service.

Todd L. Levitt, Attorney At Law

College Lawyer Blog, Co-Founder

Todd Levitt has practiced in the area of criminal defense for more than 22 years throughout the state of Michigan. Each Sunday, Todd is streaming his weakly radio show on 98.5 FM WUPS, www.wups.com. You can download each radio show for free on iTunes! Todd is the founder of Levitt Law Seminars, teaching newly minted lawyers how to run the business of law. Todd’s favorite restaurant he worked at was Uno’s Pizzeria, at the time it was located in West Bloomfield right here in Michigan. Todd is available for public speaking engagements and can be reached be telephone at 989-772-6000 or by email at centralmichiganlawyer.com