October 23, 2012

Do You Know How to Say No?

Law Practice Magazine

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Taking Ownership

Practice Building Strategies for New Partners

Thinking like an Owner.

 Table of Contents

July/August 2007 Issue | Volume 33 Number 5 | Page 39

Transistions: Becoming a Partner

Do You Know How to Say No?

Saying no is never easy, but it is essential to maintaining business development goals. Here are five tactics you can use to protect your valuable time.

Setting boundaries to focus your time where it is likely to have the most impact can be an especially important skill when it comes to doing business development, which will become an increasingly important part of your practice once you have made partner.

If you are like most successful lawyers, your business development time is very limited. To make sure that you invest your marketing time where it is likely to have the greatest impact, you must be strategic about how you spend your time. Because you are bright and capable, others are likely to ask you to serve on time-consuming firm committees, give speeches to non-targeted audiences, or participate in long-shot marketing pitches. These activities may make sense from the requester’s point of view, but that doesn’t mean that saying yes makes sense from yours. If you want to be effective at business development, you need to learn to say no.

The challenge is to say no without being viewed as “not a team player” or as a poor firm citizen. In her book Civilized Assertiveness (Albion Street Press), Judith McClure offers suggestions about how to say no. They are adapted here for a lawyer’s use to help you protect your valuable marketing time.

1. The NO BECAUSE...

“I’d like to help you on the recruiting committee, but I’ve spent a lot of time developing a focused marketing plan, and I promised myself that this year I would use my nonbillable time to execute it.”


“I can’t help you draft the RFP to Lonestar Inc., but I would be glad to review it and give you my comments once you have a draft.”


“No, I can’t give that speech to the local bar association this quarter, but please
keep me in mind for next quarter, when my schedule may have eased up a bit.”


“No, I don’t have time to write the practice group description, but I think Sue Livingston might be able to help. She has indicated an interest in getting more involved in business development, and I think that this would be a great opportunity for her to get her feet wet.”


“I’m flattered that you considered me for the position on the associates evaluation committee. At the moment, I just don’t have time to do it justice.”

Don’t be afraid to use one of these when the appropriate opportunity arises. Not only will saying no help you to protect your valuable business development time—handled smartly, a no can also ratchet up your reputation as someone who has a clear sense of your priorities and is committed to growing your practice.

About the Author

Sara Holtz is the founder of ClientFocus, a coaching company that helps women lawyers become successful rainmakers. She was previously general counsel of a major consumer products company and was the first woman chair of the Association of Corporate Counsel.