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Getting to No: Rejecting Opportunity as a Means for Expanding Potential

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I Don’t Get No (ba da da) Re-ejection. I Don’t Get No Reject. Hell, no. Nah. Say Yes to the No. Well, then you’d know I’ve seen “Say Yes to the Dress”. No. Getting to No? A play on words. Better. Getting there. Okay.

Yes. However you caption it, the theory is the same: you can get as much, or more, out of saying “no”, as you can out of saying “yes”.

Lawyers’ time is the most precious commodity. Yet, lawyers rarely treat themselves to it; often, they’re too busy getting caught up in most, if not every one, of a number of daily distractions. Time management is essential to the efficient and effective practice of law, whether you are an hourly biller, or an alternative biller, which alternative billing is yet rooted in a consideration of time spent and output produced. And, a distinct part of time management, a measure of the value of your time, is to know when to say “yes” (this is meaningful and valuable to me and my practice) and when to say “no” (this is not meaningful or valuable to me or my practice, at this time, maybe ever). This is, I suppose a subspecies, perhaps, of knowing when to hold them, and when to fold them. Or something like that.

Especially when you are starting out, whether as an attorney generally, or as a solo, or as a small firm manager, it can be tempting to take on every assignment and every opportunity that comes your way. Remember, though, that doing so is a bad business decision. It means that others are controlling your schedule. It means that your time is not so valuable to you; and this will be reflected in your engagement with others. It means that you’re not properly vetting clients. It means that you’re a candidate for burnout. It means that your work-life balance tends to work. It means that you’re likely doing someone’s else work for them. Most importantly, it means that your time is not your own.

The next time you’re about to nod, but before you verbalize your commitment, consider, first, the folllwing:

To the Exclusion of Others. Since where you’re going, you need roads, you only have so much time. Twenty-four hours in a day is all that you’re allotted. You should sleep during some of those hours, of coure. But, you work hard, and you work much of the time, and, still, you never finish everything you planned when you plan to, and you never will. With this scheme prevailing, think of what effect that next commitment will have on your general availability, to practice, to market, to move your firm forward. Since our time is finite, every obligation you take on is time away from another obligation. Continual robbing of Peter to pay Paul will eventually mean that Peter calls his friends.

Work-Life Balance. Remember that there is life outside of the practice of law. I know. I know. It’s hard to believe. But, it’s true. So, make sure that you leave time available to introduce yourself to your children now and then. Every evening panel you speak on is a night away from home. Every article you agree to write is an evening or some weekend time take away from family and friends and some real fun. You need to get out there and show your expertise; but, measure the cost. Determine how much is too much. Lawyers work hard, and are prone to work too hard. You must set limits on yourself, on your time, and prepare to follow through with your directives. If what you’re being asked to do now is just too much, just say no. You’ll be fresher and more effective when you’re at work; you’ll get more done; and, you’ll have more time to spend at home.

Client Selection. Saying no also means rejecting representation of clients that you know will be trouble, from the outset. Taking on problem clients, when you just know it’s a bad idea, is, well . . . a bad idea. Don’t wear Bad Idea Jeans to work. It is difficult to tell people no, especially people who will potentially pay you cash money. However, you must resist the urge to take on problem clients, or clients whose cases are interesting, but which may not fall into your specialty, or intended specialty. I was watching MTV’s True Life: “I’m a Sports Addict” yesterday . . . well, I mean, my wife was, and, anyway: and this woman on the show was a model with a website at which she appeared in NFL licensed gear, without permission to use said gear. The woman received a letter from the NFL, basically telling her to cease and desist. The website being her only means of income, she did not wish to. So, she went to have a consultation with an intellectual property attorney, at which point, I turned to my wife, and said, “Watch this, he’s gonna take the case.” To my surprise, and delight, he reviewed her claims, paused for a moment, and said to her: “They’re right. You’re wrong. You’re screwed.” Now, that is saying no. Of course, there are certainly less crass methods to accomplish the same object; but, the point is: just don’t take cases that aren’t good for you. Tell your potential client, in no uncertain terms, that you will not take the case. Memorialize that decision in writing communicated to the client.

Technology. We talk a lot about technology at the LOMAP blog. We’re sort of into it, I guess you could say. But, having an appropriate technology base means that you must be considerate of your purchases. Don’t (1) buy every new gadget just because it’s new. Just because something came out brand new doesn’t mean you need it brand new. That’s a Ralphie mentality. Or, maybe it’s a Ralphie’s Dad mentality. (Darren McGavin is the man, by the way.) You should only buy upgrades and upgraded products when the upgrading is useful to you, specifically. So, this is not just about researching a product, it is about determining your needs, and seeing if a product to be purchased truly matches your needs. Oh, and also, Don’t (2) buy more than one (2) of anything, if you don’t need more than one of something. Consider how many phones you have. How many laptops do you use? I visit with a number of attorneys who have different computers for different functions. Why is your accounting software on one computer while the bulk of the rest of your software is on another? Sure, you’re getting two screens, but the idea is to get those two screens tied to one machine. One of one device is easier to manage than two of one device.

Power Hour, OHIO and Hawaii. You can make your
self more efficient by saying no to distractions and to redundancy. Give yourself over to the Power Hour. Close your door. Turn off your email alarms. Turn the sound down on your computer. Put the DND function on on your office phone. And, work on something, solid and steady. You’ll be amazed what concentration can do for you. It’s a bit old-fashioned to stop multi-tasking, maybe even a little American gothic, but it works. I have recently adopted a version of the Power Hour in that I will leave my work computer on behind me, and physically turn around and work on a project on my personal laptop. (I know what you’re saying . . . But, Jared, you just said that you can’t have two computers. Well, I did qualify, as follows: if you don’t need more than one of something. And so, I need a personal computer, which personal computer I give over to work usage, from time to time.) It’s amazing how fast I become when I don’t have email, Twitter, the internet, etc., to distract me. I am quite literally shocked when I look up to see what time it is. It is as if time has slowed down. Try it some time, it will blow your mind. Just ask Alan Klevan. So, works for me. And, that’s part of the point here, too: Processes that you can apply to reduce distractions are not limited to those that people tell you about. Do what works for you even if what works for you is something of your own invention. Everybody talks about OHIO, the only-handle-it-once (at one time–there are stages for completion) principle, for clearing and managing your tasks. But, how you handle specific tasks using this principle is mostly up to you. Maybe your program is HAWAII. I don’t have a program called Hawaii. I just think that if you start to say no more, you’ll have more time, you’ll be more efficient, you’ll make more money, and maybe you can vacation there.

. . .

Liner Notes

Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie and The Postal Service has teamed with Son Volt frontman Jay Farrar on the soundtrack for the Jack Kerouac documentary, “One Fast Move Or I’m Gone: Kerouac’s Big Sur”, soundtrack to be released October 20.

Speaking of Gibbard, I quite fancy “Little Bribes” from Death Cab’s new EP, “The Open Door”. Cool lyrics.

My man Stephen Stills does a great acoustic version of the Manassas’ track “Johnny’s Garden” on “Later . . . with Jools Holland”, out of the BBC. (“Later . . . with Jools Holland”, by the way, is the best live music show you’ve never heard of.)

Here’s some sweet bluegrass to start your weekend. Steve Earle and the Del McCoury Band. Together. That’s right. Drink it in. “Texas Eagle” is just a smokin’ bluegrass tune.

(If you can’t get enough of Del and the boys, here they are doing “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” and here they are jamming with Dierks Bentley.)

CATEGORIES: Client Relations | Law Firm Management | Law Practice Startup | Marketing | Planning | Productivity | Technology

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