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On Etiquette

Our first year here, the dean and his wife hosted an afternoon tea for all the 1Ls.  We each got a printed invitation in our school mailboxes, asking us to RSVP.

Being one to never turn down an invitation to such affairs involving tea and cucumber sammies, I said “I do” to the event promptly.  I arrived with a few friends and enjoyed the conversation and nom noms the whole time we were there.  However, I will never forget the dean’s wife, having arrived late from a previous engagement, taking command of all of us mingling in their living room to give us a speech about etiquette.

You see, it turned out that only a small fraction of my 200+ person 2012 class had RSVP’ed one way or another to their event.  The dean’s wife gave an impassioned speech on the need for basic matters, and how rude it was for the majority of our peers to ignore her invitation.  The woman had a point.

I sometimes wonder if VLS students would benefit from a professional etiquette refresher course, preferably at orientation.  Here we have the Emily Post Institution right up in Burlington.  Certainly, this would clarify such questions as, “when is it proper to send a thank you note?” or “can I ignore an invite to the dean’s house the same way I can ignore a facebook invite to a show happening in my old college town?”

Surely, such social blunders reflect poorly on the institution, especially in a small state like Vermont, where a limited choice of venues can make it difficult for VLS students to find a place to party for an event like, say, Barristers Ball, without upsetting the hosts.  However, ultimately I have a hard time seeing how much it is the school’s responsibility to instill the values that an adult 21 years old and up should already have by now.  Indeed, the dean’s wife knew she was preaching to the choir that one afternoon.  To all those who could not be bothered to RSVP one way or another, the joke is on them.  As with all aspects of life, thoughtlessness and rudeness says much less about the person who bears the brunt of such poor etiquette, and everything about those who exercise such a self-centered approach to life.  May the consequences of people’s actions fall as they may.

To take one from the original Ms. Post, “manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.”  This applies to law school and the legal profession, as well!


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