Strategy Means Saying No

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Strategy Means Saying No

When finishing a client engagement a few years ago, a member of the firm sent me a handwritten note that, in part, was a thank you for helping her learn to say no.

For a small word, “no” is mighty. Whether “no” is provided as a direct statement or as a softly imparted decline, saying “no” to what doesn’t work is a strategy that helps define your boundaries, both professional and personal.

For example, saying “no” can help turn aside work that is not within your wheelhouse, decline an action that is neither in a client’s best interest nor yours, help fine-tune your core practice, and solidify your reputation for sticking to what you do best as well as being true to who you are.

A reckoning is upon the legal market. Now is when firms of all sizes must find the strength to say “no” to what doesn’t work for them—and maybe never really did. In this respect, “no” may mean cleaving off practices that are outside the firm’s core strength or no longer profitable, as well as releasing people whose talents are best suited elsewhere.

While this may sound ruthless, saying “no” and electing to amputate can save the life of your firm or practice. It helps you focus on key markets and sends a message to clients that you’re getting smart about business. And it sure beats bleeding to death.

There are many people who want, need or will pressure you to say “yes”. But if “yes” is the wrong answer, having the guts to say “no” is a strategic and lifesaving skill.


Heather Suttie is an internationally recognized legal marketing and business development consultant. She works with law firms, law companies and lawyers — Global to Solo — BigLaw to NewLaw — helping them thrive in the evolving legal industry by claiming a distinctive position and sustained competitive advantage resulting in greater market share, revenue and profits. Reach her at +1.416.964.9607 or

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