In The Quest For Success: Choosing When To Say No

Excellent performance at your job is what you expect will help you advance professionally. Partly, this is true. But modern society requires a whole bunch more if you want to become a respected and well-known expert in your field. Volunteer work in the community, pro bono cases, serving on committees and sitting on boards. Speaking at CLE’s and maybe even teaching on the side. These are just a few of the things that young lawyers are expected to do if they want to have a good chance at establishing themselves in the legal ecosystem, building referral streams and start to generate business. This requires a massive time investment, a lot of effort and surrendering a nice chunk of your free time. All while balancing the demands of your “day job.”  We are, essentially, young legal jugglers, desperate to keep all the balls orbiting around in a nice, neat circle without one rolling out into the audience, our flaws exposed.

I know so many wonderful young lawyers in this exact position. And, when your efforts and talents start to become both noticed and known, the offers for more opportunities start rolling in faster than you can manage them.

“No.” First, it starts as a whisper in the back of your mind. Your tongue flirts with saying it but can’t, Nodoesn’t want to decline something that could be important! The months roll by, the commitments mount. And “no” is now screaming at you like “why didn’t you listen to me earlier?!”

I’m telling you now, think about using the word “no” more frequently, and very judiciously. Here are the questions you need to ask, before “yes” comes flying out of your mouth:

1. Will this grow my business?

2. Will this grow my personal brand?

3. Will this be fun?

The first two questions, I believe, are relatively easy to answer.  Will your activities have a positive net effect on your chosen field and reflect positively on your reputation? Many, many, many things fit the bill for that. But, make sure both questions are answered in the affirmative. Don’t sacrifice your personal brand for any old business opportunity. The two should work together synergistically.

The third question is the doozy. You don’t really know what’s going to be fun and what’s not going to be fun when you’re beginning to establish yourself. Unfortunately, you have to try a few things out before you know where to concentrate your efforts. With fun comes passion. With passion comes terrific outcomes. So, when you decide to get involved in your professional community, cast a wide net at first. And then whittle down according to wherever your heart takes you. And say no to the things you don’t enjoy!

These activities will cut into a lot of your personal time. You want to enjoy the people you are with, and the goal you are committed to. Otherwise, you’ll pay for it with a significant cost to your happiness.

6 thoughts on “In The Quest For Success: Choosing When To Say No

  1. lawmrh says:

    I am sure these might be expectations for some young lawyers but for many others who are underemployed or unemployed — just getting a foot in the legal door is challenge enough. Once inside, especially inside ‘Big Law,’ burnishing a CV to advance a career is all well and good — so long as we follow Polonius’ “to thy own self be true” admonition and remember your most important point about fun and happiness. Too many young lawyers I see make it too obvious that their ‘volunteering’ for boards, bar committees, and community service are merely career stepping-stones and a soul-lessly sincerely-insincere means to an end.

    I’ve always thought the saying, “Do what you love and the money will follow” was a lot of psycho-babble nonsense. I instead prefer what someone else said (even if it doesn’t always pay the bills), “Do what you love and the happiness will follow.”

    – Mo

    • thelimberlawyer says:

      You make excellent points. I’m a few years out now so most of my peers have jobs at least. And at that point, the focus becomes developing your “reputation,” as it were.

      As to your point about sincerity, you are absolutely right. I find many people think showing up to a meeting means that someone will offer them a lucrative position. That’s simply not the case. You have to do it the other way around. Find a job and then work at developing your community involvement.

      Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment.

      • lawmrh says:

        One more add on sincerity, at Christmas time, I met a long time private hospital fundraising executive who admitted having an aversion to lawyers on his non-profit foundation boards. He said “they don’t want to work” and only volunteer to serve because their firms send them in order “to enhance the firm’s reputation.”

      • thelimberlawyer says:

        That is disheartening to hear. We should be doing better. I read an article from HBR today about developing a vision, both for yourself and your organization. I feel like law firms often lack a core/common vision, and this clearly translates into cultural problems. There is nothing to believe in, aside from profits, in many instances. Not so, blessedly, where I work.

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