Tag Archives: motivation

Lawyers Who Love Food & Drink: Successful Entreprelawyers & Motivating Employees

This video (click here) about non-profiteer turned entrepreneur turned lawyer turned foodie is heartwarming. At first, it seems like an unusual look into a lawyer’s unusual life. But, at second glance, law firm professionals can glean much, much more.

Way beyond carrots or sticks, creative incentive systems have been proven to motivate employees.

Take, for example, a recent experiment that offered participants the choice between two rewards for a task measuring productivity: a water bottle gift item or seven dollars cash.

Unsurprisingly, 80 percent of participants chose the cash. However, when different groups weren’t given the choice, the results in productivity were less intuitive.

“The cash bonus didn’t have any effect on the speed or accuracy with which the students did their jobs,” reports the Harvard Business Review blog.

“However, those receiving the free bottle reciprocated by upping their data entry rate by 25%, a productivity increase that more than offset the cost of the bottle itself.”

Employees like to feel appreciated, so a mug given “in thanks” can often farther, when personalized, than cash. And, it reaps in-kind profits. So, find out what motivates your employees most—what products they like, what kind of non-cash incentives are desired—and then redefine your bonus structure.

One of the most effective creative incentives is employee engagement.

“Employee engagement is the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals,” writes Kevin Kruse, entrepreneur and NY Times bestselling author and his latest book is Employee Engagement 2.0, for Forbes.

Many factors increase employee satisfaction and happiness: free meals, higher salary, or larger offices. However, only certain factors increase productivity and profits for your firm. One of these is pro-bono work or participation in charitable foundations.

Employees are more productive when they feel more attached to the work at hand—when they feel like they’re working for a higher purpose. What happens when lawyers love their jobs? They perform them better, faster.

So back to the video, Peter Kim, lawyer turned, discussed his life after graduation. In no small way, Kim demonstrates how passion can drive career choices. After graduating from Brown, he started by distributing food stamps in the U.S. Then, Kim joined the Peace Corps where he started his own non-profit organization. In the end, he went to law school, eventually joining an elite law firm in New York City.

Kim is like many lawyers. As a young person, or young associate, he wants to develop his skills in law, but in a meaningful way. The decision to become a lawyer was largely motivated, for Kim, by an aspiration to do good, improve legal systems, and generally develop public health and education across all nations—both in the U.S. and abroad.

Young associates, like Kim, are often motivated by the deeper societal, philosophical, and normative questions involved in practicing law.

As a law firm manager, find a way to tap into these lofty goals of young employees and conduct round-table debates or lunch-roulette surrounding philosophical themes. Or, ask young associates to tackle your pro-bono cases.

In addition to showing you how advocating creative incentives, like non-profit or pro-bono work, can work to engage your employees, this video also shows law firm managers what happens when you don’t properly motivate them: Kim now works as executive director of the Museum of Food and Drink (MOFAD). Go figure.


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Laws Can Boost Innovation… Or Block It. How Is Your Firm Helping?

Accountability. The word is used by parents to scold young children. The word is used by employers to justify punishment (or, occasionally, promotion). And, the word is paramount in the practice of law.

Lawyers are accountable for the justice and injustices brought by their profession. The question remains: is your law firm helping mold the law in a positive way?

As law firm professionals, we get bogged down with the day-to-day dilemmas: who will argue this motion, who will draft this brief, will the judge grant this injunction?

But, at its foundation, the practice of law has more lofty goals. Lawyers are accountable for protecting the constitutional rights and freedoms of American citizens, clients or otherwise. A firm’s bottom line is important, but its pro bono cases frequently have much more at stake than money.

Life or death. For the family of Aaron Swartz’s family, the law was a matter of life or death. Faced with compound charges stemming from violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), Aaron Swartz was finally found dead in his Brooklyn apartment after hanging himself.

Aaron Swartz’s family criticized the aggressive attempts of federal prosecutors to send the innovator to jail for what are, arguably, redundant provisions of the law that subjects an individual to duplicate charges of the same CFAA violation.

At his son’s funeral, Robert Swartz said, “[Aaron] was killed by the government, and MIT betrayed all of its basic principles.”

What are the basic principles shared by professionals at your firm?

It’s important for employees to know and share the same vision. If your firm hasn’t drafted a mission statement, now is the time. It’s not about politics or proclivities; more basic than that, the vision of your law firm should shed a more basic, common, and universal truth on which each lawyer at you firm can agree.

The American Bar Association (ABA) states:

“The vision is the statement of what you are building. It describes the idea of your firm in a way that captures your passion for your business and inspires you.”

And, to create a vision or mission statement, the ABA suggests you ask yourself:

  • Why are you practicing law?
  • Why will your clients hire you rather than your competition?
  • What are your beliefs and values and how will they affect your practice?

Within your firm, answering these questions will help in the hiring process to employee the best, brightest, and most culturally-appropriate candidates. Outside your firm, answering these questions will help attract clients and set your firm apart form the competition.

“If you want to create a direction for the future of your practice, and a way of doing business that inspires you, your entire firm, and your clients, creating vision and mission statements are a good place to start,” writes Allison C. Shieds for the ABA.

Aaron Swartz had a vision. A staunch supporter of Open Access, he wrote an Open Access Guerilla Manifesto, in which he stated:

The world’s entire scientific … heritage … is increasingly being digitized and locked up by a handful of private corporations….
The Open Access Movement has fought valiantly to ensure that scientists do not sign their copyrights away but instead ensure their work is published on the Internet, under terms that allow anyone to access it.”

Today, we’re one step closer to realizing Swartz’s dream and holding his persecutors accountable for his death with “Aaron’s Law.”

“The Internet is up for grabs,” claims Wired Magazine.

The CFAA is being challenged with new bipartisan legislation called Aaron’s Law, the text of which is available here, along with a detailed summary here. It tackles the vagueness, redundancy, and proportionality problems of the CFAA.

But, “Congress rarely moves with haste. Correcting this complex law — enacted more than a quarter century ago — to work in the Digital Age will take a significant amount of time. To successfully build meaningful CFAA reforms into law will require sustained public engagement and support,” explains Aaron’s Law’s authors.

So, it’s time for your law firm to decide where it stands on a free and open Internet.

“We live in an age where people connect globally by simply touching a device in the palm of their hand, empowered by online advances that have enriched the world scientifically, culturally, and economically,” write Zoe Lofgren and Ron Wyden for Wired Magazine in June 2013.

“But ill-conceived computer crime laws can undermine this progress if they entrap more and more people—simply for creative uses of the technology that increasingly mediates our everyday activities and our interactions with the world. This not only fails us today, it can also become an obstacle to the innovations of tomorrow.”

Law practice isn’t just about profit. More broadly, it’s about promoting justice. Small businesses, entrepreneurs, and the economy at large need legal services to continue to expand and innovate. If your firm were held accountable today, where would its actions stand?


Read more about risk and accountability in law here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Economists & Psychologists Duke It Out… The Final Word On Employee Motivation

Economists are always talking about incentives. Psychologists are always pushing social cognition, including studies of personality and perception. Meanwhile, law firm managers—the pragmatists—realize it’s only the combination of both sciences that help determine the equilibrium of quality and efficacy in work place.

What is the correct combination of salary and responsibility to motivate your employees to work hard?

For economists, incentives matter.

First, law firms must find out what price coordinates to high-quality work product. For example, “If your business objectives aren’t linked to employee compensation, it sends a strong message that they aren’t a real priority, and motivation is adversely affected,” explains Scott Keller, a director at McKinsey & Company and contributor to the Harvard Business Review Blog.

“The flip-side, however, isn’t true. When business objectives are linked to compensation, motivation to drive for results is rarely meaningfully enhanced.”

Wait, what? Money isn’t always enough incentive?

Nope, motivation is an aspect of the mind. And, so, we should now consult the psychologists who research the processes of decisionmaking and social interaction.

Psychologists would look to other types of motivation, such as guilt, vengeance, pride, reputation, or social norms. Consider the following example from the HBR about the rate at which attorneys value their time:

“The American Association of Retired Persons once asked some lawyers if they would offer their services to needy retirees at a cut-rate price of around $30 an hour. The lawyers declined. Then the AARP asked if they would offer their services for free. Most of the lawyers agreed. When compensation was mentioned, the lawyers applied market norms and found the offer lacking. When no compensation was mentioned, they used social norms and were willing to volunteer their time.”

This is an issue of framing. Language matters when it comes to motivation.

There’s a difference between advertising firm litigation as majority wins, versus firm litigation with a minority loss. People respond better to positivity than to negativity, even of the latter is statistically irrelevant.

And, speaking of human responses, economic and psychological studies also discuss production within teams.

As early as 1913, a researcher named Ringelmann presented evidence that people working together in groups did not perform as high as when they had worked on the same task individually. This idea eventually became known as “social loafing” (Latane et al 1979).

When individual responsibility is taken away and the onus placed on the team as a whole, it turns out that employees feel less motivated to produce efficiently.

Instead, they rely on others to either (1) take the blame for failure or (2) set the sails for success.

One thing that both economists and psychologists can agree on, however, is that people behave differently—in how they process and react to information—alone than when they are in mass.

In mass, according to another study, group composition and diversity affects the productivity, as well.

For example, minority members (e.g., women in predominantly male groups) attract more attention from others, and are more aware of the characteristics that distinguish them from others (Cota & Dion 1986; McGuire & Padawer-Singer 1976; see also Frable et all 1990) than do majority members (Levine & Resnick, 1993, 586-612).

In the end, this overt and distracting visibility of team members in “token” races, genders, etc., detracts from overall performance (Lord & Saenz 1985).

Identifying the defining personality traits of your employees and then incentivizing them based on intrinsic (or monetary) incentives to work together is, clearly, a difficult game to play.

So, in the meantime, leverage another Freudian discovery: the human ego.

“Perhaps the most simple application is to not forget that words can be the most persuasive motivators of all. As Sam Walton, founder of Walmart, put it, ‘Nothing else can quite substitute for a few well-chosen, well-timed, sincere words of praise. They’re absolutely free—and worth a fortune.’”

In the pragmatic work of running a business, like a law firm, maybe it’s time to amend the famous words of Ben Franklin, “Nothing is certain but death and taxes…” and the motivational power of flattery.


References are taken from:

  • Levine, John M. and Lauren B. Resnick, “Social Foundations of Cognition.” Annual Review of Psychology, 1993; 44:586-612.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Smiling Worth More Than The Billable Hour

Ron Gutman discussed in March 2011 the hidden power of smiling. His research started at UC Berkley. There, a 30-year longitudinal study examined photos of students in old yearbooks to measure their success and well-being throughout their life.

My HipstaPrint 0-1

By measuring a woman’s yearbook smile, researchers could actually predict how fulfilling and enduring her  marriage would be, how well she would score on standardized tests, and how inspiring she would become to others in the future.

Similar relationships were determined during a 2010 Wayne State University research project that analyzed pre-1950s baseball cards of Major League players. The study found that the span of player’s smile could predict the length of his life. Players who did not smile in their pictures lived an average of 72.9 years. Players with beaming smiles, however, lived an average of 80 years (sadly, the study could not draw a correlation between a player’s smile and his batting average).

Luckily for those aiming at long lives, smiling is one of the first and most natural of facial expressions. According to 3D ultrasound technology, people smile as early as the womb. Babies smile at the sound of the human voice and in their sleep, for example.

So not only is smiling an easy expression to make, but the act of smiling is interpreted the same way across nations and cultures. Smiling expresses joy and satisfaction to New Yorkers, new mothers, and even the Papau New Guinea cannibalistic Fore tribe (Seriously. That was also studied).

As a kid, did your mother ever tell you smiling was contagious? Did your brother taunt you, saying your face could get stuck that way? Well, according to a study at Uppsala University in Sweden, your family was right all along. Smiling is certifiably contagious. It is difficult, according to Swedish test subjects, to frown when faced with somebody who is smiling.

But you can’t fake it. A different study at the University of Clermon-Ferrand in France showed that people were actually quite attune to identifying which smiles were real and which smiles were disingenuous. This was done by the mere act of mimicking them.

If you do fake it, smiling that is, your peers may know the difference, but your psyche does not. Charles Darwin—based on an experiment performed by French neurologist Guillaume Duchenne—theorized that fake smiles send messages to our brain simulating the same relief of stress and happiness that a real smile would.

As modern technology became available, German scientists measured brain activity and were able to prove Darwin’s theory. In fact, smiling was as stimulating to the brain as 2,000 bars of chocolate and a gift of 16,000 pounds cash, thanks to an increase of mood-enhancing hormones, such as endorphin, and a reduction of stress-enhancing ones, like cortisol. Turns out, there is literally such a thing as a million dollar smile.

And when a smile is directed at others, the sense of satisfaction is doubled. Not only do you, yourself, feel better, but the person facing you does too. A study at Penn State University showed a smiling person was considered both more courteous and more competent by onlookers than an unsmiling one. So, next time you face the prying eyes of judge or jury, flash a smile instead of your bar card to gain credibility and their confidence.

To summarize, whenever you want your employees to work harder, be more satisfied, trust your opinions, or follow your instructions, a smile may prove more effective than a bonus. As an attorney, when you need an extra boost in court, late nights in the office, or facing a tough client or critic, remember that smiling may actually be worth more than the billable hour.

See, Morale Boosting Management Methods to Banish Recessionary Doom and Gloom, or Dealing with Difficult People at Work, CCM “First Friday” events.


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

New Business Models: Avatar Lawyers Still Too Space Age For Today

You won’t find large office space, power suits, or even lawyers inside the Penn. Ave.-based bureau of the law firm Clearspire. Confused? Not President and CEO Bryce Arrowood, he is confident. According to Arrowood, Clearspire represents the pinnacle of a changing market for legal services.

Clearspire aims to “change the system,” with a new approach to client billing and legal services. At a typical firm, according to Clearspire, partner profits comprise over 30 percent of typical big law balance sheets. Office overhead accounts for another third. Only the final tranche of revenue—one-third of the billable rate—is earmarked for those attorneys’ salaries diligent and dedicated to client work product. Since October, Clearspire has worked to channel more firm profits into direct value for the client.

To accomplish this, Clearspire has a 1:2 ratio of lawyers to business managers—fodder for reflection on how much information technology and business administration, as opposed to actual lawyering, plays into the smooth operation of a law firm.   For those few Of Counsel at Clearspire, there is no dress code or FLEX schedule request forms. Most attorneys already work from home via high-tech software with virtual meeting rooms and virtual representations of each employee. The Washington Post, first to profile the firm, reports:

“One of the first things new hires do on the job is pose for three photos that become their online avatars—one on the phone, one too busy to be interrupted and one available—which allow their colleagues to begin conversations only when appropriate.”

Clearspire is not off track. Dan DiLuccio, a Principal at Altman Weil, is quoted as saying, “The current economic environment may be the tipping point that causes general counsel to finally demand real financial accountability from their law firms or start moving to firms that are more flexible.”

But Clearspire has chosen an extreme response. In the same way the e-book industry is slow to gain market share, the total digitalization and outsourcing of legal services is perhaps too much, too soon. Although Kindle and Nook sales are high, the general population has shown its preference for the feel of a new hard-backed book. Similarly, individuals filing for divorce or corporations facing high-stakes mergers, though dissatisfied with the current cost-to-efficiency ratio, would not attend a meeting with a lawyer in jeans. Or, for that matter, the avatar of a lawyer in jeans.

By founding Clearspire, Arrowood is trying to respond to clients’ growing frustration with high fees in the legal industry, especially for those lower-level employees. “These people are being billed at $400 at least per hour. And the clients are saying, ‘Why am I paying to train this guy?’”

Nevertheless, Clearspire seems predominantly focused on blue-collar lawyering. If firms only reward middle-level legions, who is left to train the first-years? And, what motivation would they then have to earn promotions to partner level—especially when there’s no partnership at all?

There are, of course, many positive aspects of Clearspire’s practice. For example, the idea that law firms, like any business, need administrators. Too many firms skimp on human resources, or consider themselves too boutique to follow a strict and proper budget. A lawyer is only as good as his paralegal. In the same way, a law firm is only as good as its structure. Administrators are the ones who contribute fresh ideas regarding bonuses, employee incentives, and bureaucracy that both attract new employees and retain the old.

Also, Clearspire’s clear priority on information technology systems, is, in fact, critical to success. If your firm’s budget is pressed for funds in today’s economy, it’s important not to skimp on computers, electronic discovery software, or case management programs. Law firms should embrace the technology revolution, or face a fate similar to Howrey’s, which failed because of its inability to evolve.

Finally, Clearspire is committed to flexibility on the part of its offices and employee schedules. Efficiency is achieved differently by different people. So ask your employees what motivates them, and implement changes accordingly. Remember, a system of monetary incentives does not make the best policy.

A step in the right direction doesn’t have to be a giant leap forward. Gradual but substantive changes will demonstrate to clients that your firm is committed to serving them capably and consistently in this new generation of law.


1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Bureaucracy Benefits Law Firms (And Bails Out RI’s Federal Judgeship Nom)

This week, the GOP took advantage of Congressional red tape to block a federal judge nomination. Republican Party leaders orchestrated a filibuster to stop Rhode Island trial lawyer John McConnell from reaching the bench. And, until yesterday, the GOP almost succeeded in manipulating the American bureaucratic system.  

“A few years ago, Republican senators argued that filibusters of judicial nominees were unconstitutional. They said that every nominee was entitled to an up or down vote,” said Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, who is also chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Well, of course they said that with a Republican president. Now suddenly things have changed.”  

The use of filibusters is still a contentious issue among U.S. policy makers. However, bureaucracy—rule-making, hierarchy of authority, and administrative guidelines—is almost unanimously viewed as a negative entity—inefficient and flawed. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a government or business official who would laud the merits of bureaucracy. Law firms, on the other had, have been shown to benefit from corporatist organization, which maximizes employee loyalty and increases attorney commitment.  

Implementing a strict administrative and hierarchical system at law firms adds structure “by enhancing employee integration, upward mobility, participation in decision making, and legitimacy of the authority system,” which lawyers are shown to highly value. As such, these systems provide incentives for lawyers that increase their commitment to the firm, according to a study by Social Forces.[1]

Traditionally conflict has divided professional goals from bureaucratic ones. In the case of federal judge nominations, the conflict is between professional and political goals. Is the best candidate for the job the best choice for the party?  

But law firms are unique entities. Bureaucracy is built into attorney titles and functions already: first-year associates are belittled by second-year associates, and so on. Status is determined by the number of years an attorney has been practicing law. It is gained gradually and laterally. In the same way, lawyers value and are motivated by a similar structure within their law firm administration.   

“The most significant variables appear to contribute to lawyers’ professionalism and professional careers in that they provide a sense of collegiality, contribute to professional career opportunities within the firm, and allow for individual discretion and control.”   

We’ve already seen how autonomy, mastery, a sense of purpose motivates employees to work productively, more than providing monetary incentives. These three intrinsic incentives can be achieved through the implementation of a strict and transparent bureaucracy. This means standard language on documents and memorandums, policy manuals regarding time and schedules, associate and paralegal training programs, and a reporting chart, so that it’s clear who is responsible for creating or changing these rules.      

The benefits structure should also be outlined in terms of what tangible work product will earn an employee a promotion or other professional reward. And, the system should be a democratic one, where each echelon retains some sort of representation or decision-making power.  

The Senate filibuster failed, and President Obama’s choice for federal judge was at last confirmed in a 50-44 tally on Wednesday. But, that doesn’t mean all members of government weren’t given a vote, voice, and choice of administrative recourse in the matter.  



To read the AP coverage of the confirmation, go here.

[1] Walllace, Jean E., “Corporatist Control and Organizational Commitment Among Professionals: The Case of Lawyers Working in Law Firms” Social Forces; The University of North Carolina Press, March 1995,73(3):811-839.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Color Blindness: Law Firm Shames Lawyers Into Higher Billable Hours

Red, Yellow, Green… the universal color code for stop and go. A system that certain European law firms are now applying to attorney work product as well.  

At least one firm in the UK is green-lighting a color-coded computer monitor, which glows red, yellow, or green depending on an attorney’s productivity level. What does that mean for you? Well, if you’re a lawyer at Reynolds Porter Chamberlain, it means you better stop reading this blog post and get back to work!  

Roll on Friday (via Golden Practices Blog) reported Monday that the London-based firm Reynolds Porter Chamberlain is literally monitoring its lawyers’ billable hour—a green computer screen indicates high efficacy, yellow indicates moderate work speed with room for improvement, whereas red indicates the lawyer’s pace is losing the firm’s cold, hard (colored) cash.  

Administrators at the firm justify this scheme by claiming the system is designed to “develop their commerciality, and understand the work they’re doing and the amount of time they’re spending on it.” But the firm’s self-proclaimed “snazzy glass and steel office near Tower Bridge” is open-plan, so it’s difficult to imagine firm managers aren’t deliberately using shame and peer pressure to motivate competition and increased billable hours among attorneys.  

Above the Law asked the appropriate question, “Seriously, what’s next? A computer that delivers an electric shock every time you log onto Facebook?” That’s a bit extreme. More appropriate might be writing names of misbehaved paralegals on a company-wide chalkboard or giving bad lawyers the switch. If childish antics aren’t enough to encourage you to work harder, what is?  

To innovate, a manager shouldn’t have to manipulate. First, studies show taking periodic breaks from work to play computer Tetrus or send tweets, for example, actually promotes creative thinking and makes employees more productive than those associates exclusively dedicated to the billable hour. This is because pressure to perform tends to confine people to a single mode of thinking. Taking time off work to play an online game, make a personal phone call, or browse facebook has the power to relax the mind and actually inspire a person to return to the problem at hand with fresh perspective and new solutions.

Second, scientific research supports the fact that carrots-and-stick incentives and contingent motivators for tasks actually lead to poorer performance on the part of employees. 

Therefore, law firms are better off leaving the color-coded commands to traffic lights, as employees respond better to autonomy in the workplace than ignominy.



Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized