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Getting a complete education

Post and Courier Newspaper
Charleston, South Carolina
April 7, 2009

They have been through college and are almost done with law school. So it's the perfect time to learn how to hold a knife and a fork properly.

That was the course of study Monday when 22 students from the Charleston School of Law attended a luncheon at Virginia's restaurant on King Street.

On the eve of their graduation into the real world, their professor, Elizabeth McCullough, treated them to lunch and a crash course from local etiquette guru Cindy Grosso.

"One of the most common mistakes people make is how they hold their utensils," Grosso said. "Truth is, a lack of table manners is an indication of an incomplete education."

So, without scolding and with great finesse, Grosso takes the students through a meal with tips about what to do and not to do when attending a business luncheon. Because, she says, 60 percent of business meetings are held outside the office.

"Etiquette is about creating a distraction-free environment so business can be conducted," Grosso said. "The number one rule is never embarrass anyone."

Especially yourself.

Million-dollar meal

Professor McCullough, who runs the law school's Externship Program, wants her graduates to know more than the letter of the law. In addition to summer programs that put students in professional environments during the summer months, they also bone up on how to conduct themselves in social circumstances.

"We want them to be polished," McCullough said. "Knowing what to do and when to do it builds self-confidence."

Thus you must know what to do with five different forks, the difference between a fish knife and a butter knife, when to use a fluted champagne glass, how to unfold your napkin, where to put your hands, when to make small talk and how to taste wine.

"There is such a thing as a million-dollar meal," Grosso told the students. "It's all about trust. Small things make a difference. If you make mistakes, they don't trust you."

So you really should not swirl white wine, slurp soup, pass the butter the wrong way, squeeze your lemon slice, or pass the salt without the pepper.

And you should always leave one bite of food on your plate, place your utensils in the proper position, and butter your bread in small pieces.

And for goodness sakes, don't get drunk.

Two drinks maximum.

Because, Grosso warned, "They're watching."

Country-style steak

The luncheon was just part of the school's effort to train its students in professional protocol, including how to work with other attorneys, judges and court personnel.

For more columns by Ken Burger, go to /burger

Indeed, the concept of civility is now a key part of the Lawyer's Oath taken by every attorney practicing in South Carolina.

And it's not lost on these future lawyers.

Lindsey McClain, a Clemson graduate from Laurens, was amazed at how much there is to learn that's not in her legal text books.

"I had no idea how much it elevates your professional manner," she said after the luncheon. "Learning the social as well as the legal aspects makes you a better professional."

The same goes for Joe McMurray, a graduate of James Madison University who hails from a small town in southwest Virginia.

"I learned a lot," he said with a laugh. "It speaks volumes when a country boy like me can eat country-style steak and not get any on my tie."

Reach Ken Burger at or 937-5598. To read previous columns, go to columns, go to


Author: Ken Burger

Source: Post and Courier Newspaper

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