The joy of saying NO

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April 20, 2014 by williamsjustliving

This week will mark my sixth month of being a barred attorney, practicing in the small firm arena with me as my most immediate supervisor. As the person signing my paycheck, the first impulse is to absorb as many clients and cases as I can.

In fact, many people will tell you that saying NO to cases and clients is a luxury, a foolish practice, counter-productive for the new lawyer.

I have come to believe that NO is a necessity, more than I ever did before. Until about a month ago, I knew only the power of NO. I can now see that there is a joyful necessity to no because I have started saying it more and more. There is a lightness that comes of being able to budget my own time without the dread of knowing that others, with good reason, expect me to say yes.

Refusing certain cases allows me to focus on refining my skills in particular areas. An example: no matter what anyone tells you, it is difficult to refine and strengthen your discovery-phase skills if you are a small-firm practitioner and you have a slew of cases in discovery at the same time. I have three cases in discovery now, and it is manageable most of the time. But, when those deadlines start stacking……… Maybe some day I will be able to juggle 5 to 10 cases in discovery phase at the same time. But, in my most convincing Aragorn voice I say: It is not this day. Panic is the mother of invention, but not a very good teacher.

Refusing certain cases and tasks allows me to retain at least a shred of dignity, self-efficacy and autonomy. Not every client is on the up and up. Not every case is within my level of expertise. In that same vein: refusing certain cases and tasks is crucial to building my reputation. I happen to think that “building a brand” is a shallow way of referring to building a reputation, which is serious business.

Saying no goes beyond cases and clients and tasks. Saying no can, in some situations, go directly to the heart of professionalism and ethics. Saying no can, sometimes, drastically elevate the level of customer service I am able to provide to my current clients.


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