Handshake 101 for Lawyers

lawyer handshakeGiven that I’m prone to pointless over-analysis (just get a load of this!!) here’s my take on that black art of handshaking for lawyers (or anyone meeting and greeting in a professional context). I know lots of people don’t like shaking hands and only fall in line with convention because they feel obliged to. I certainly fall into that category.

Firstly, a few obvious, trite points – just for the hell of it. If you’re away from the office for the meeting, ensure you’re carrying your briefcase in your left hand so your right is free to shake hands like a trooper. Solicitors meeting clients in their offices shake an awful lot of hands, so that discrete bottle of alcohol-based cleansing gel is an absolute must.

The majority of the time you’re aiming for a balanced, neutral handshake that’s like a well-chosen peach: dry, smooth and firm.

Types of handshake

The Bone-Crusher Handshake – You’re revealing more than you thought by opting for the bone-crusher; your overdosed macho grip is to cover up what deficiency exactly? Inferiority complexes tend to happen for a reason.

The Sweaty Palm Handshake – are you nervous, hot, or been doing something dirty in the corner? You could have at least wiped it surreptitiously down your trousers. Whatever the reason, shaking hands with someone with a sweaty palm is never a pleasant experience.

The Textbook Shake – playing it safe is often best, as going for a homerun kind of handshake can often leave you being remembered for the wrong reasons. Short, sweet and unremarkable is the textbook approach and the one I favour wherever possible.

The Take A Card Handshake - it might have worked for yuppies back in the 1980s but as Alan Partridge found out much to his chagrin, combining a business card with a handshake can prove a hazardous practice. He tried it once but “gave a paper cut to a man from Nestle”. Best avoided.

The Reluctant Handshake – Always an awkward one, where both parties go through that “should I... shouldn’t I?” moment of dilly-dallying. If you’re going to, do it. If not, don’t. But make your intentions clear.

The Steep Bank Angle Handshake – Usually occurs when you’re sitting down and the shakor leans across suddenly and expects the shakee to perform a very difficult steep banked handshake where their right arm has to be contorted close to their body. Making these look natural are always difficult and avoidance is better than cure. If you find yourself in one, get it over with quickly; go to full power to minimise chances of a stall and get the hell out.

The Glaring Awkward Handshake – one party clearly doesn’t want to shake hands; the other clearly does, but doesn’t feel able to make the first move and proffer his hand. What follows is pure, unadulterated awkwardness in which the party wishing to shake glares at the other for not proffering their hand. Whether you ultimately shake or not, the meeting is already a disaster.

The Suspicious Substance Handshake – it all seemed fine going into the handshake; the person looked respectable and you’d no indication this was going to turn nasty. But you’ve been left with a disconcerting substance on your hand and you’re not too sure what to do with it. Is it snot, remnants of their alcohol-based hand gel or something much worse?

The Open Wound Handshake – You spied that gaping sore on the other person’s hand as soon as you entered the room and you’ve already decided you don’t want to touch that thing, but it’s going to look so rude not to. So you end up doing that ‘I’m-going-through-the-motions-but-it’s-so-clear-I-don’t-want-to thing with a look on your face as though you’ve smelt something bad and you’re groping a leper. You’d be better off not bothering to shake at all.

The I’m-Carrying-Something Handshake – Firstly, this is a faux pas on the shakor’s part, as they should have waited until set your load down or omitted the handshake altogether. But once they extend their hand, it’s already too late unless you’re within spitting distance of a table and can set whatever items you’re carrying down. Otherwise, it’s a difficult and awkward manoeuvre - you have to somehow try and pull off a convincing handshake, which often ends up more like a finger shake and both parties are left feeling unsatisfied, awkward where each tries to pretend that it hadn’t just happened.

The Two Handed Handshake – Seriously pervy and OTT whatever the circumstances. You know, like Gareth tried in ‘The Office’ when he was introduced to Donna. Avoid at all costs and you’ve permission to cringe should you suffer the misfortune of such a shake.

The Dry-Skin Deirdre Handshake – touching that sucker is an exfoliating experience in itself (and slipping on a disposable glove just wouldn’t have seemed right). So you gritted your teeth, braced for impact and anxiously got it over with. But that doesn’t stop you spending the rest of the day worrying about what kind of fungus you might have contracted.

The Distinctly Feminine Handshake – a lot of the time, you don’t notice that much difference between male and female handshakes and a distinctly feminine handshake seems very rare these days.  I had the pleasure of a lovely lady’s hand recently (ahem) and I have to say, it was like a breath of fresh air. You shake some women’s hands and it’s like handling a dried-out kipper with nicotine stained cuticles that are about as palatable, but this was something all together different. The skin was just the right temperature, smooth and pale and the hand was proffered at the right angle with the right pressure applied and for the perfect length of time. It could only have been the result of a fine finishing school. Seriously, it was a textbook lady handshake and a lot of ladies would do well to emulate it.

So, yes, esteemed members of the ‘sphere – you know what I’m going to ask… what kind of handshake do YOU favour?

Btw, I’m thinking of running a weekend course on handshakes. Any shakers takers?Be right back


  1. My Dear Michael,

    While I would consider my own handshake to fall into the distinctly feminine category,I confess to being in something of a quandry when it comes to ACTUALLY shaking hands, and tend to go with the rule dont do it unless a hand is extended, but what happens when the other person employs the same rule?! Even worse, what happens to the handshake when, as I am, one is sitting in a wheelchair?! The possibilities for double entendre are endless eeeeeee!!!!

  2. Best advice I was ever given as a barrister, was to always carry your folders under one arm and books under the other, so you can look apologetically at your client and avoid the handshake altogether!

  3. For me the big problem is the fast whip up handshake, where the hand comes out of nowhere and you're out of position.

    I think people with sores or open wounds get excused from hand shaking without too much arguing really. It's like how you don't need to play football with a broken leg.

  4. The annoying thing with handshakes for me is I attend a client meetings carrying all the documents for everyone else. The partner and/or solicitors will shake the clients hand (they aren't carrying anything) and then the client will proceed to extend their hand for me only to realise I actually have to set everything down before I can shake - awkward.

  5. How spooky - I didn't notice your post until after I'd published mine.

  6. Minxy - I think that's the best approach. I didn't know you were 'on wheels' as it were.... how do you feel about people bending/crouching down when meeting you so they 'get on your level'? Always seemed a bit offensive to me.

    Anon - sounds like good advice!

    Travis - ah, sounds like you're familiar with the 'I'm carrying something' handshake. Always tricky so I salute your handshakemanship! ;-)

    Stephen - damn, I knew a missed a category... I should have added fast-whip as well!

    Barmaid - hehe, just read your post... I'm sure you have a distinctly feminine handshake, despite what you say about furniture-restorer's hands! ;-)

    btw, I'm thinking of substituting handshakes with a good ol' hug in the future (you know, with a hefty slap on the back too). That might get me out of having to attend so many meetings! ;-)

  7. Where's the usual April Fools overview? :)

  8. Fear not - http://lawactually.blogspot.com/2011/04/have-googles-april-fools-ideas-jumped.html

    Better late than never I guess! ;-)

  9. You forgot the ice cold handshake!!!


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