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Learn To Say No When Investing Marketing Spend

Psychologists say that women have a tough time saying no. This can be a real problem when it comes to business development.

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. And that means sometimes saying no to requests from others.

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.

Women lawyers seem to have a particularly difficult time balancing their needs (to invest their limited non-billable time in the ways most likely to grow their practices) versus the needs of others. Yet learning to say no is a necessary skill if you are going to protect your limited marketing time.

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, Judith McClure offers suggestions about how to say no. I've adapted them to help you protect your valuable marketing time.

  • "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 non-billable time to execute it."

    By the way, one of my clients recently used this type of no with the managing partner of her firm when he invited her to join an administrative committee at her firm. His response? "I agree. Doing business development is a much better use of your time and energy than serving on the committee."

  • The Partial No:

    "I can't chair the Summer Associates Committee, but I would be glad to have lunch with the committee members three times during the summer."

    "I can't help you draft the RFP to Lonestar Associates, but I would be glad to review it and give you my comments once you have a draft."

  • The Not Now No:

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

  • The Alternative No:

    "No, I don't have time to write the practice group description, but I think that would be an excellent developmental project for Sue Livingston. 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."

    And finally,

  • The Just Plain No:

    "I'm flattered that you considered me for the position as head of the Associate Evaluation Committee. At the moment, I just don't have time to do it justice."


If you want to be effective at business development, you need to learn to say no. Keep an index card with these five approaches to saying no in your desk drawer, and don't be afraid to use one of them 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 her priorities and someone committed to growing her practice.

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