I had a conversation with a friend last night who had been asked to speak for free (with no travel reimbursement either) at an in-person conference. It can take a surprising amount of time and effort to decide whether to turn these kinds of “for free” or “discounted” requests down or even how to respond, especially if you know the person making the request and they are asking for a “favor.”

I shared my approach with my friend last night and decided that it might make a good blog post.

Before I jump in to the “I have a rule” method, let me note that if someone actually uses the word “favor,” I respond with the classic Godfather quote: “Someday, and that day may never come, I will call upon you to do a service for me. But until that day, accept this justice as a gift.”

Unfortunately, I have forgotten where I got the “I have a rule” method so I can’t give appropriate attribution, which I’d love to do. I also combine “I have a rule” with the social science learning that if you say “because” and give ANY reason, people will generally go along with your request. The classic example in offices is: “Can I jump in front of you to use the copier because I have to make a copy?” Works in most cases.

I Have a Rule

The first part of my response is “I have a rule.” The idea is that I am merely following a rule. It’s nothing personal. I really don’t have a choice. The source or validity of the rule doesn’t matter. We see this all the time in the rest of our lives. “The rule is that you have to use blue ink.”

You simply state the rule clearly and confidently, perhaps with a tinge of regret.


To level up the power of your rule, you add a “because” reason. The beauty of this is that literally any reason will work, but I use a reason that makes sense in light of the request.


1. I have a rule that I don’t discount my fees.


2. I have a rule that I don’t discount my fees because discounts indicate that I have not communicated the value the buyer will receive very well.

My List

I keep a list of my rules tacked up in my office so it’s easy for me to see them. Here’s what’s on my current list:

I have a rule that I don’t speak for free anymore because I have limited time in my schedule and prefer to open up those speaking slots to new and diverse speakers.

I have a rule that I’m not taking on any new volunteer opportunities this year because I made a decision on those I could do at the beginning of the year.

I have a rule that I don’t make buying decisions of more than $200 without waiting at least three weeks because that’s what my wife and I have agreed on.

I have a rule that I don’t discount my fees because discounts indicate that I have not communicated the value the buyer will receive very well.

I have a rule that I don’t give money to people because, unfortunately, I’ve had some unhappy experiences with that and those people have ruined it for others.

I have a rule that I don’t make any new donations this year because my wife and I decided on our donations for this year in January.

I have a rule that I will not take any new projects until I run them through my new project screening tool because otherwise I will get myself overbooked.

We have a rule that I can only take speaking gigs where I get my full fee if I get my wife to approve it, in advance.

I have a rule that I won’t speak for free because we decided to dedicate the money I make from speaking this year to a [big vacation trip for our wedding anniversary OR big purchase].

Your Mileage May Vary

I have a rule that I make no guarantees that anything on this list will work for you because I really can’t make those kinds of guarantees.

However, I’m happy to share this list with you in the hope that it might help you. People often put themselves through the wringer trying to figure out a way to do something that makes no sense for them or to do something that actually costs them money out of pocket.

Try them out yourself. See how they work.

If you hear me use one on you, don’t be concerned because I have a rule and I have to follow it.

I also have a rule that now is a great time to support this blog by buying one of my books or courses, engaging me to speak, or checking out my Legal Innovation as a Service for Law Departments Only offerings because you liked this post and got actionable value from it.

[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (https://www.denniskennedy.com/blog/)]

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