By Chip Gentry
“What if I am not successful?” “What if I am not very good at bringing in clients?” “What if I can’t handle the pressure?” Those and other
questions are common. If you could remove fear from all of your decisions, how many more things would you try? In my opinion, when one decides to try the private practice of law, the opportunity for accomplishment is great. Is there fear? Absolutely. However, are there rewards that can add happiness and fulfillment in your life? No doubt about it. I believe there are 10 tips that will improve your ability to succeed in private practice. Here is the fifth tip:
- KNOW WHEN TO SAY NO. At the beginning of your career, you may find it nearly impossible to turn down a possible client. You may feel uncomfortable telling a partner of your firm why you won’t or can’t do something. You may not want to disappoint the individual or company calling you for advice. Fear of the unknown heightens the pressure to accept every new client. You certainly don’t want to have a reputation of not being a problem solver. Of not being available to those in need. However, taking each and every client that walks into your office is a recipe for disaster. I don’t mean to not take a little risk and push yourself. At times, due to your lack of knowledge (and your lack of time to learn), your work load, or other factors, you simply need to politely tell the client “no.” What you will find is that if you accept every client, you end up with files dealing with areas of law you are not competent to handle. You will end up with files that demand a lot of your time for very little pay. By building upon relationships with other lawyers and firms, you will build a referral network where you can refer clients and files you won’t or can’t handle. Your network will be a great source of business that you do want to handle. Now, when you turn down a client, I would recommend you don’t simply call them and say “no can do.” My practice is to typically write the client an analysis of the issues I addressed, what I analyzed, and my opinions of the issues. That way, even though you said “no” to a particular potential client, they will at least walk away with the knowledge you took the time to look into their issues and, very likely, they will call you when they have another legal need. The biggest file I have ever worked on came from a referral from a client that I said “no” to.
On another level, you may also find yourself in a position of saying “no” to another attorney in your office or saying no to an existing client. You may be asked to do something you feel is unethical. You may be asked to work on a file where a conflict exists. You may be asked to bill clients inappropriately, either directly or indirectly. Your license is your license. You only have one. You worked for years to obtain it. It only takes one mistake to lose it. Know when to say no. It will help you focus on the proper times to say “yes,” and, as you move forward in your career, success will come.