Research Findings on What Motivates (and Demotivates) Lawyers

Source: businessnewsdaily

I’ve asked more than a thousand lawyers over the last ten years what motivates them at work.

I’ve asked lawyers across Europe, Asia and the Americas.

I’ve asked lawyers in big firms and small firms.

The results are somewhat consistent and are perhaps not surprising. What is surprising is the extent to which their supervisors are behaving in ways that demotivate them!

What Motivates Lawyers

A minority claim that what motivates them is a high salary or bonus. US lawyers have money as a higher priority – maybe because of the high cost of their legal education.

But the vast majority confirm that the main motivators relate to the work itself. It’s receiving challenging work that provides a sense of responsibility, autonomy and ultimately achievement. And it’s being appreciated and recognised for their contribution.

What Demotivates Lawyers

A surprising number of lawyers say they are not given stretching work. Their workload seems trivial and mundane. They also say that they don’t feel valued or appreciated.

I receive comments that there seems to be an unequal allocation of work and they sense others are not pulling their weight.

Other aspects that demotivate lawyers are:

  • Not receiving any constructive feedback
  • Others taking the credit for your work
  • Inefficient matter management
  • Poor work-life balance
  • Supervisors who are overly nit-picky

Advice to Supervisors

  1. Try finding out what motivates and demotivates junior lawyers in your team. Ask what matters they’ve enjoyed most and least.
  2. Consider more carefully what stretching work you can delegate. Try to avoid the view that ‘it’s easier to do it myself!’
  3. Delegate thoroughly so juniors know how best to carry out the work. This minimises the risks of work needing to be redone.
  4. Give constructive feedback so junior lawyers can learn. This is particularly important for Millennials.
  5. Give a few more ‘well done’s’. And make these real by being specific about what was good.

Remember, all your new hires almost certainly started off very motivated to be great lawyers. Let’s try to keep it that way!

For more see


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Giving Feedback Using Radical Candor (or Candour for the Brits!)

Avoid the feedback sandwich – too much bun!

Kim Scott tells a great story about getting feedback from Sheryl Sandberg whilst working at Facebook. It goes roughly like this…

After a presentation, Sheryl said: ‘You know you say ‘um’ a lot.’ Kim, who thought she was a pretty good presenter brushed this off politely. Sheryl than added, ‘I know a good presentation coach’. Kim brushed this off saying she’d think about it. Sheryl went on to say, ‘You know, when you say ‘um’ every three words it makes you sound stupid!’.

Kim finally got the message (after the third attempt) and started wondering why nobody had told her this before.

She also wondered why she’d taken the feedback from Sheryl and concluded that it was because:

  • She had the skill to challenge me
  • She cared about my personal development

Obnoxious aggression, as demonstrated by the Meryl Streep character in The Devil Wears Prada, doesn’t work – lots of challenge but no care. Nor does what Kim calls Ruinous Empathy, where there is lots of care and consideration but not enough challenge.

Too many managers want to liked too much and are frightened to be more challenging. As Colin Powell said, rather bluntly: ‘You got to be willing to piss people off to be a good leader!’

And we need to be careful using the feedback sandwich. You know the sort of thing. Lots of bun (praise), a bit of meat (criticism) and lots more bun (praise). The criticism gets lost and we don’t enjoy the sandwich!

For more on motivating your team members see:

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All Advisers Should Have a Personal Marketing Plan

And it’s easy to write one…here’s how!

Firstly, why is a personal plan important? There are several reasons, but a key one is that it makes your career less open to random chance and makes you more focused on doing the kind of work that makes you fulfilled.

Strategy first, plan second

You need to be aware that a plan should follow some strategic thinking. Otherwise your plan will probably be unsustainable. It will just be a wish list.

A quick tip on strategy. It’s a matching process. Start by assessing your marketable assets:

  • What knowledge and experience do you have?
  • What are your skills?
  • Who is in your network and thinks well of you (inside your firm and outside)?

Now consider the market you are in. What areas of work are big? What areas are likely to grow? What types of work are more profitable than others? You don’t need to quantify anything. Just rank the areas as High, Medium or Low in attractiveness.

Then match your marketable assets to the more attractive sectors or areas of specialism. As you do this, ask yourself whether you feel passionate about doing this kind of work? This passion bit is important! It will have you through the tougher times.

Choose two or three areas to focus on and then write your plan.

Headings for a personal marketing plan

Many firms have long complicated documents that make planning a tedious and potentially bureaucratic process. I recommend having just four headings and you can get your plan on a single page. The headings are:

  • Objectives – ‘Smart’ objectives are important (ie specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound) so you can measure your progress
  • Profile-raising activities – to make yourself the ‘go-to’ person internally and a bit famous externally
  • Key clients and target clients – make sure you don’t put too many on your list, so you’ll have enough time to invest in building these key relationships
  • Product innovations – to ensure you have something with more added value than your rivals to offer your clients and can legitimately charge a premium (eg risk-sharing pricing options, project management processes, checklists etc)

Final comments

Many professionals (consultants, lawyers, accountants etc) work in what seem like hierarchical organisations. Too many staff members believe that their role to do the work handed down by a more senior professional. I urge all professionals to be tactfully assertive on matters to do with your careers. Too many talented juniors are leaving because they are not fulfilled. The problem is that the grass is rarely greener somewhere else.

So it’s actually in the interests of professional firms to encourage staff to produce personal plans. It’ll be a win-win!

If you’d like to receive the proformas that relate to this process of producing a strategy and personal plan, just ping me an email ( and I send them to you.


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How to Deal with Objections when Selling

When selling your services, you are bound to receive objections and need to deal with what feel like tricky conversations. Here are some tips for dealing with push back from clients.

Firstly, what type of conversations am I talking about? Here are a few comments you might receive:

‘But what about x?’

‘I’m not sure that will work…’

‘That’s too expensive’

It feels like bad news to hear such comments. But the truth is that they are buying signals! They wouldn’t be bothered to have listened to you or be bothered to start negotiating if they didn’t have a serious interest in buying.

So, objections are good news and there is no need to get flustered. Stay calm, don’t get defensive and go through this simple process!

  1. Express gratitude for this feedback.
  2. Demonstrate some empathy for the client – avoid telling them that they are wrong at all costs! There may be a misunderstanding.
  3. Probe to find out more about their concern. Sometimes there is an underlying concern that the client hasn’t expressed yet. Think about objections as icebergs with 90% below the waterline. Gently probing lowers the waterline.
  4. Listen and show you understand their perception. More empathy will deepen the relationship with the client.
  5. Explore alternatives and ideally do this with the client to build a collaborative relationship.
  6. Demonstrate the value of your proposal and check understanding by the client
  7. Ask if there are any further concerns.

Sometimes a rival firm has a genuinely better proposition and it doesn’t matter how you negotiate, you won’t get the sale. Arguably, you might have recognised this earlier and avoided wasting time on a lost cause. Assess the likelihood of success before preparing your proposal.

Another tip…at the outset, consider what objections you might get and prepare your answers. You’ll get fewer objections.

Final tip…learn from each pitch so you can make a note of what works and what doesn’t. You’ll get better each time!

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Pricing for Profit for Professional Firms

Margins for professional firms are under pressure. It’s a tougher, more commercial world and clients are becoming more demanding when negotiating on fees.

Here’s the 3-step process we used in my consulting firm to improve margins:

  1. Establishing and building the value of the work in the mind of the client
  2. Working out a minimum price based on actual costs and a minimum margin
  3. Negotiating to achieve ‘win-win’, both at the outset and during the work, as well as at the point of billing

Some initial thoughts on particular factors that are relevant to these approaches are included below.

  1. Establishing and building the value of the work in the mind of the client 

Clues as to whether work should be given premium pricing include:

      • Urgency of work to the client
      • Importance of work to the client (what Americans call ‘you-bet-your-ranch’ work)
      • Expected savings to the client (tax work in particular can provide such savings)
      • The dominance of the firm in the category of work
      • Successful previous experience with the firm
      • Low level of competition for the work
      • Low level of experience working with lawyers

Factors which might lead to discounting include:

      • High level of competition (eg beauty parade)
      • Fixed client budget
      • General market expectation from experience of similar work
      • Lack of realisation in the client’s mind as to the value of the work
      • High level of experience working with lawyers
      • On-going relationship (eg Key Account)

Then there is the skill of authentically articulating the value of the work in the client’s mind. I say ‘authentically’ because you should be aiming to be seen as a trusted advisor, so the client should not perceive that you are trying to exploit them!

2.Working out a minimum price based on actual costs and a minimum acceptable margin

This probably represents your ‘walk away’ price. The prime skill here is that of a project manager who should itemise the tasks and estimate the level of resource required to carry out the task and the length of time required. The other approach to use is to review how much similar projects cost. So you have a ‘top down’ and ‘bottom up’ approach. This is a good example of using a belt as well as braces!

Other factors to consider are as follows:

  • Utilisation and mix of staff – if some staff are currently under-utilised, there may be a case for reducing the price of that resource
  • Volume of work – volume discounts may be worth considering when higher than budgeted utilisations can be achieved
  • Duration/continuity – staff can work more efficiently when working on fewer projects for longer periods of time
  • Strategic considerations – it may be desirable to work on a ‘loss leader’ in order to get some valuable experience which may then in turn provide you with profitable work (eg Securitisation work in 90’s)
  • Unusual extra costs – particularly in the areas of support staff

3.     Negotiating to achieve ‘win-win’

The ideal is to establish a basis for charging that both client and firm feel offer them good value. Factors to consider are:

  • Having the right ‘mindset’ (this is particularly important early on in the relationship when the client might not fully trust the law firm in terms of billing)
  • Having the skills to build credibility, rapport and trust with the client
  • The basis of billing – what are the advantages and disadvantages to you and the client of offering straight £/hour, estimated fees, fixed fees, contingency fees etc
  • How to respond to client counter-demands and the skills of establishing their underlying need
  • Strategies for offering concessions – always ask for something in return and the ideal is to offer those things that are really valued by the client but which cost you very little
  • How to resolve deadlock – a more senior person or a panel can play an important role if the issue needs to ‘escalate’
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Partner Interview Questions to Sort the Wheat from the Chaff

Here is a list of penetrating questions to assess whether an existing senior associate should be made a partner.

On Transition

  1. What does being a partner at this firm mean to you? Why?
  2. What do you see as your principal challenges in your first year as a partner?

On Generating Fees

  1. How will you generate a minimum of [X] in fees in your first year?
  2. How much of the [X] will be taken from existing partners and how much is extra?
  3. What value of instructions came to you directly last year and this year?
  4. Have you generated fees from clients that were not existing firm clients? If so, how much and how did you do this?
  5. What could be done to improve the profitability of your workstream? Probe use of technology?

On Business Development

  1. How would you describe your practice? How is it changing?
  2. How do you keep abreast of market developments?
  3. What clients are you focusing on and why?
  4. What business development have you done?
  5. What are the key selling messages for your practice area? How are we different to competitors?
  6. Tell us about a difficult client situation and how you addressed it?

On Team Development

  1. What are our challenges in motivating associates? What HR policies would you change to improve morale or motivation?
  2. What contributions have you made to any HR initiatives (eg recruitment)?

Tips for Senior Associates Being Interviewed

  1. Rehearse your answers – a lot!
  2. Before you go into the room, take some deep breaths, be tall (ie lift your head a bit) and envisage yourself in a positive environment (a visioning technique used by sports professionals).
  3. Walk in positively and confidently. Smile, but not inanely. Sit forward with hands on the table.
  4. Give yourself a few seconds to think before answering. That’s allowed!
  5. Try to structure your answers using ‘there are 3 aspects…’, ‘there are pros and cons…’, or tell a story starting with what the situation was, what you did and ending with what impact your action had. Use ‘I’ not ‘we’.
  6. Be honest!
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The Two Workshop Process for Developing a Strategy

Mention that you are devising a new strategy and your staff will probably be full of dread. And cynicism! After all, the last one didn’t amount to much!

Here’s my Two Workshop Process to devise a practice group strategy and plan that will be effective and that partners and staff will be committed to.

Pre-Workshop 1

For a large department (say more than 30-50 lawyers), appoint a small project group comprising some partners and associates to lead the process and a small steering group (comprising other influential partners) to act as the internal client.

At the outset consider why you need a strategy. Here’s how to address the cynicism and ‘sell’ the project:

  1. Review what work the firm has lost because it wasn’t ‘top tier’?
  2. Analyse client feedback (comments such as ‘We gave the work to a rival because it was bet-your-ranch work’)
  3. Review any macroeconomic trends to see what will affect your area of work

There are two persuasive arguments: either, look at this description of nirvana if you change (ie move up a tier), or look how bad it might get if you stay as you are!

Also, start thinking what your compelling vision might be. People will be more attracted to a strategy if the ship is sailing to Rio than some other places I could mention!

Another initial approach would be to conduct a confidential survey amongst partners and staff to ascertain concerns and aspirations.

Workshop 1

The first part of the discussion should be on data and diagnosis, such as:

  1. Where are the opportunities and threats?

You could analyse in further detail the market by looking at the sectors you are interested in to assess the market sizes (H/M/L) and likely rates of growth and profitability of this work.

You might also carry out an analysis of profitability by sector and work type before the first strategy workshop.

  1. An honest appraisal of your capability.

What are you good at? Be honest! What, if added to your capability, would make your service offering even more compelling? 

  1. Competitor activity?

Is there anything you can learn from other firms? What are competitors doing to improve their offering? Are there new potential competitors or business models to consider that might radically change the market for your services?

If you do spend time on this, of course, you should probably choose not to do what competitors are doing and deliberately do the opposite. Focus on your unique strengths! 

Output from Workshop 1

The second part of your first strategy workshop should focus on answering the question ‘so what?’. You need to provide an overall strategic focus for all associated practice groups (a sort of departmental glue!). Specific outputs should be:

  1. High level strategic goals – these could be in terms of reputation, growth (revenue and profit), geography, sectors, type of work, service offerings etc
  1. High level strategic options – what are the general approaches you need to do more of, less of or differently to achieve these goals and the opportunities in the market. Being all things to all people doesn’t work very well as a sustainable strategy.

Options are likely to include developing more distinctive service offerings and remaining flexible so the team can take advantage of opportunities as they arise.

The Project Group then presents the output to the Steering Group members. Have they missed anything? Ultimately the output should be shared widely with colleagues to get initial buy-in. What about involving some friendly clients as well?

Workshop 2

The second workshop develops the details of the strategy (ie put ‘flesh on the bones’) and addresses any feedback given.

Start the second workshop with this question: ‘In what ways is it important for us to be better than our competitors, whilst building on our strengths?’

Answers can be collected on post-its and clustered to see the themes. Project team members vote of their preferred responses. Then brainstorm creative approaches for putting these projects into action.

The following topics should probably be on the shortlist for larger firms:

  • How to be more innovative,
  • How to build closer client relationships,
  • How to get more international referrals,
  • How to stay ahead of the curve on technology etc

Champions would be sought to develop ideas. Tell them to select someone outside the project group to partner with. Champions to be given two weeks to provide more detailed and costed plans. Ideally the plans should include how to get quick wins.

Post-Workshop 2

Individual partners and senior associates should draft their personal business plans which need to be aligned with the overall plan. Progress against these objectives should be monitored and reviewed as part of the appraisal process.

If this process looks too onerous, you have two choices:

  • Do nothing and let your competitors get ahead with an effective business strategy
  • Appoint a good facilitator to guide you through it…I know a few!




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