Using the Awesome Power of the Word “No”

It's sometimes hard to say no. Here are 3 good ways to do it.

One of the most important words in every lawyer’s vocabulary should be a simple, two-letter one: No.

Learn how to say it the right way – and at the right time – and you’ll make good things happen in your practice. Fail to say it when you should – or say it at the wrong time – and you’d better watch out.

No is not always easy to say. We lawyers, after all, are trained to help people. We like solving problems, making lives better, helping our clients get to Yes!

But if we fall into the habit of saying yes when we should say no – whether to a boss, employee, colleague or client – we’re doing a disservice to them and to ourselves.

Below are three proven strategies for saying no the right way.

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Strategy #1: Outline Your Priorities
Entrepreneur Kelsey Raymond, founder of Influence and Co., writes that she had trouble saying no until she realized it was hindering her career.

For a long time, I was generous to a fault with my time and attention,” she writes here. “But I’ve reconsidered my reflexive ‘yes.’”

Before defaulting to yes, Raymond says she consciously takes a moment to ask herself these four questions before responding to a work request:

  1. Will this help my company in some way? Specifically, is this aligned with our top priorities for the next 90 days?
  2. Will this give me energy or bring me joy?
  3. Am I the person uniquely qualified to fulfill this request?
  4. How much energy and time will this require from me?

“If a request clashes with Influence & Co.’s priorities or threatens to drain my energy, that’s an easy no,” she writes. “If I know a better person to handle a request, I’ll connect the asker and expert. If I can offer a less time-intensive alternative, I’ll do that. It’s much easier to agree to answer a few questions via email, for example, than to sit down for a two-hour meeting.”

This four-step process can be easily adapted to a situation where you’re asked to take on a case you feel hesitant about:

  1. Will this help my law practice in some way? Specifically, is this aligned with its top priorities for the next 90 days?
  2. Will this give me energy or bring me joy?
  3. Am I the person uniquely qualified to fulfill this request – or is another attorney a better fit?
  4. How much energy and time will this require from me?

Strategy #2: Write a Script
Create a script like the following, which you should modify to suit your needs. Print it and tape it to your wall. Read it verbatim (or send it as a nonengagement letter) when required:

Dear Prospective Client:

Thanks for contacting our firm for legal services [specify the matter if known]. Unfortunately, we will not be able to assist you.

[Here give a short answer why: we don’t do that type of work, we aren’t currently accepting new matters in that area, we have a conflict of interest, etc.]

I suggest you contact [here give contact information for another attorney(s) – be sure to tell the attorneys you’re doing so – or contact information for your state or local lawyer referral service.]

I wish you all the best in the future. Sincerely,

Strategy #3: Referral, Referral, Referral
Just because you can’t take the case doesn’t mean you have to come away empty-handed. Send the prospect elsewhere. If it’s a good case, both the referred attorney and the client will be grateful. You might be ethically entitled to a portion of the fee. And you might get a reciprocal referral in the future.

Want to learn lots of other ways to keep clients happy? Become a member of Alta Pro Lawyers RPG. You’ll get access to free webinars, the Pro Practice Playbook, Reminger ProLink, Ask the Risk Pro and lots of other practice resources. Here’s how to join.

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