Elevator Etiquette: How to reach the top in a law firm

James Franklin 14.10.2019

If you want to reach Partner level at your law firm, there are certain expectations that you will have to meet. Every interaction you have can be a contributing factor to your success.

What is Elevator Etiquette?

Although most people consider it an urban myth, I have had it reconfirmed to me this week by three separate individuals that there is a prescribed etiquette at a well known corporate magic circle firm when using the elevators. But what is elevator etiquette? Well, it’s probably more common than you may think and not a trifling matter when Partners are rushing to their next business meeting. No one likes being held up by last minute latecomers who prevent the doors from closing or those who press the button for every floor, just to wind up some poor rushing lawyer.

Allegedly, the rules are that if you see an elevator door about to close, you do not - under any circumstances - prevent that elevator from departing by trying to re-open the doors through putting a body part in the way or tapping the button. This is strictly forbidden. Historically, Associates were not allowed to travel in the same elevators as Partners and in some firms there were exclusive express elevators for clients only. Goodness knows what the health and safety police thought of this in the case of a fire. Probably that associates are dispensable and a new crop will appear soon…? Alas, now all elevators are open to everyone.

Important things to consider if you want to rise to the top

One of the most famous elevators is probably the Great Glass Elevator in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. That went really high and was full of knobs and buttons that allowed it to go in all directions – sideways, diagonally, as well as straight up. There are multiple metaphors hidden in this type of elevator for Associates. Every movement internally can influence your direction. Your hours, your lack of hours. Your ability to work under pressure. Your availability to be on call at a moment’s notice. Some of what you do will certainly affect your trajectory. Are you seeking the top? Do you wish to be seated in that Utopian partners’ dining room, away from the common Associate. Your direction of travel starts earlier than you may think. The more knobs and buttons you push in the correct sequence will ensure your journey is timely and to the height you require.

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Some Associates clearly push the wrong buttons and find themselves in free fall. It’s lucky that the emergency brake kicks in, often in the guise of an in house role, which allows them to get off at the required floor and continue with their journey. Often they will enter a new elevator on the in house side and off they go, catapulted through a meritocratic career journey.

The blueprint for a successful career in law

Back to our Elevator Etiquette: ultimately, respect and courteous behaviour will assist your journey upwards. Offering your services and displaying that you work well in teams under pressure, at all hours, together with a strong desire to forge out a unique or value added service offering to the firm will ensure a smooth ride to the top floor. No doubt, blood sweat and tears will all be in play, but the allure of reaching the top floor of the law firm will be enough of an incentive. Continue the level of billable hours at the required number. Demonstrate commercial acumen and show willing to build a business. Couple this with the deemed acceptable behaviour, and you will reach your destination. The elevator etiquette is a blueprint for your success. Strange that.

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