For Women in Law By Women in Law

The Art of Saying “Yes” (to Success!)

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In recent years, we have witnessed a workplace cultural shift that promotes work life balance by mastering the art of saying “no” – an important skill that is necessary to promote professional boundaries and avoid burnout. However, before you say your next “no”, consider the potential payoff of saying “yes”. Particularly as a junior lawyer, saying “yes” is an empowering tool that builds confidence by pushing you out of your comfort zone.

Based on my personal experience, saying “yes” has been the three letter word that has helped propel my career. Below are examples based on my personal experience as a litigator when saying “yes” (despite instinctively wanting to say “no”) has paid off:

    1. “Yes” to attending networking events solo. Showing up to an event alone is uncomfortable and awkward. The first instinct is to use work as a very valid excuse to say “no”. As a junior lawyer, I was on a mass, generic invite list to a three day industry conference out of town. Besides sacrificing billable hours to the conference, and the anticipated awkwardness of attending alone, I said “yes”. When you show up at events solo you realize you’re not the only one. You will likely be pleasantly surprised others are in the “same boat” which establishes an instant connection with these attendees. Six years later, I still maintain professional relationships (and friendships) with people I met at this conference. Attending the three day conference gave me the boost to show up at other events alone which has resulted in an expanded network. By consistently attending events I no longer consider myself alone and know many faces.

 

    1. “Yes” to taking on a file no one else wants to do. There may be an obvious reason no one wants the file; the subject is not “glamourous”, the client is “difficult”, the file is “too small”, no one has “capacity” … all of which naturally results in a resounding “no”. Although it is not likely apparent in the moment, by saying “no” over and over, colleagues and referral sources will stop turning to you because they know your answer will be “no”. For my own professional growth, as a junior lawyer, I made a consistent effort to say “yes” to files to build experience and gain confidence running my own files without the “security blanket” of having a senior lawyer on the file. It also demonstrates to colleagues and referral sources that you are reliable and are a risk taker up for a challenge. Inevitably, it will also lead to files that you will readily want to say “yes” to and take on.

 

    1. “Yes” to arguing the court application. In law school I joked that the moot court was the last court I would step foot in (needless to say, I ended up in litigation!). Nevertheless I say this to demonstrate that I am not a “born litigator”. Uncontested chambers applications are the obvious introduction to the courtroom and less likely to receive a “no”. However, as you gain some court experience, you will be presented opportunities to argue contested hearings. My natural inclination as a junior lawyer was to say “no”, shy away from the courtroom and defer to the senior lawyer to argue the hearing. However, after missed opportunities, I realized that saying “no” was a mechanism to avoid failure and the discomfort of the courtroom. I did not need to be “perfect” or a more experienced litigator before I put myself out there. I’m grateful I started saying “yes” when the stakes were lower and the court and opposing counsel had more compassion for me as – the obviously green – junior counsel. By saying “yes” (and the accompanying wins and equally important losses) I have acquired the experience and confidence I need as a senior associate today.

 

When you are presented an opportunity, honestly ask yourself why you are inclined to say “no”. If “no” is the safe answer to avoid failure and discomfort then challenge yourself to swap it for “yes” which may be the shakeup you need on your path to success!

About the Author


Erin Hatch is an associate at Harper Grey LLP in Vancouver, BC. She has a diverse civil litigation practice and is a member of the Commercial Litigation, Insolvency and Restructuring, Family Law, Estate Litigation, and Defamation practice groups at Harper Grey LLP.

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