The power of ‘no’

By Steve Emmert, Letter To The Editor, Virginia Lawyers Weekly – 10/7/2019

Dear Editor,

Thank you for publishing Dr. Shawn Healy’s piece on means of combatting lawyers’ stress (“Under pressure,” VLW, Sept. 30).

Members of our profession need to hear plain talk about a problem that besets us daily, sometimes with tragic consequences. But there’s a glaring omission in his story, which presents six palliative measures to treat the symptoms but never even touches the underlying cause.

The cause is our collective inability to use the most empowering word in the English language: No. Lawyers have unwisely embraced the very scarcity mentality that Healy explores as it relates to our free time, but never touches when it comes to our incoming business. Too many of us think, in essence, I have to accept this new client because I might never get another one. We thus overload our schedules to the point that we don’t have time to devote to the cases we already have, even as we suffer from the mounting stress.

It doesn’t have to be that way. The judicious use of no is liberating. It allows you to have a life, including time for the precious sleep that Healy encourages.

I hear the howls of protest building. “Yes, but I don’t want my clients to desert me; I’ll go broke.” “Yes, but my firm requires me to bill 2,000 hours a year.” “Yes, but I’m a Public Defender and I have no control over my incoming clients.” Okay, for that last group, saying no is a challenge. But for everyone else, you’re just making excuses so that you can continue to torture yourself, all in an effort to maximize your income. Know that doing so carries a cost: You’re minimizing your life, measured by its quality and maybe by its duration, to say nothing of your own personal development.

Our profession suffers from elevated levels of stress, depression, and suicides. We do so because too many of us surrender to their own “Yes, but” excuses. You can do better than that. You can be better than that. You have a choice. Remember that you’re a person first, and a lawyer second. The word is pronounced “no.”

Steve Emmert
Sykes & Bourdon
Virginia Beach