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When Law Students, Recent Grads Network: Who Buys Coffee or Lunch?

One of the most common ways that professionals will network with each other, outside of those awful events, involves getting coffee or lunch. For busy professionals, squeezing in some mid-day networking when they wouldn't otherwise be billing hours is just simply an efficient use of time.

However, there's one question that often plagues the un-anointed networker: who pays? Fortunately, there is an easy rule of thumb to remember: the person who extended the invite pays, but the invitee should offer to cover their share, at least once.

Students, Recent Grads, and the Unemployed

For law students, recent grads, and unemployed lawyers, if you extend an invite to a working professional, you better be ready to pay. That means avoid lunch invites and stick to coffee, unless you can really afford it.

Though in all likelihood the working professional you are meeting with will offer or insist on buying the coffee (after all, coffee is chump change for most lawyers). But, especially if it's just a coffee, insisting on buying can show character. However, if your coffee invite gets converted into a lunch meeting by the invitee, your character may have to take a backseat to your finances, especially when they're choosing the restaurant. Order conservatively (i.e. no lobster and champagne) and when the lunch check comes, offer to split it.

If splitting the bill for lunch would leave you financially destitute (or just create a hardship), there's no shame in letting someone know you are being conservative with your money due to your lack of employment and avoiding dining out. Lawyers and other professionals understand fiduciary duties. If they are interested in meeting, will either offer to take you out, or just simply go for the coffee meeting.

Fortunately, there are a few creative ways to prevent the awkward "who pays" question from ever arising:

  • Arrive early to the coffee meeting and buy your own before they get there. It's a bit awkward, but less awkward than dancing around the issue of why you didn't offer to pay for coffee at all.
  • Pick a restaurant that doesn't have table service and order and pay separately (but don't order until they arrive, as that would just be a bit strange).
  • Avoid meetings over coffee or lunch all together. Offer to help out for free around the office, or the next time they're in court.

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