I was forwarded an article from Friday’s issue of The Recorder, “Building a Book.” I wanted to pick up the phone and shout out, “Hey, did you read that whole part about financial motivation?”

Associates are encouraged to wine and dine potential clients with the help of an unlimited expense account. And they’re given an incentive: 15 percent of any fees from work they bring in, according to [Stuart] Liner.

Articles like this keep me marveling about the several generations of attorneys bred to be motivated only by numbers, and why we, legal marketing and administrative professionals, continue to fight against this, only to be frustrated again and again.

Right now, I see attorneys primarily motivated by:

  • GPA
  • LSAT
  • Law school rankings
  • Class placement
  • Hours
  • Billed
  • Percentage realized
  • Dollars originated
  • PPEP
  • AmLaw 100 ranking

And the list goes on.

Larry Bodine recently wrote in an article posted to his website, Memo to Senior Partners: Motivating Younger Lawyers to Generate New Business:

You have to make law practice cool again.

While I agree with Larry that we need to bridge the gap between the generations in the workplace, I believe that the current law firm business model does not support it. The business model has yet to adapt to the concept of “work-life balance,” technology and outsourcing, let alone the work ethics, or lack there of, of Generations X, Y or the Millenniums and what motivates them.

How many firms out there support associates attending industry or trade conferences, or to take CLE courses which involve air travel and hotel? How many firms out there are handing out raises and bonuses to partners based on client feedback results? I know many firms offer marketing or business development hours, but how many require that they be used? How many firms actually allow associates to bring in new clients, and to receive origination credit, other than Liner? They might get a “finders fee,” but origination credit?

Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe most firms out there are only rewarding their attorneys based on a percentage, a dollar sign or a decimal point. Until the business of law changes, why do we continue to try and motivate attorneys in a fashion foreign to them?

We might not have the “power” in the law firm to evoke change, but we have the benefit of knowing the art of persuasion and we can certainly encourage, at the least: a better compensation system which encourages cross-selling; a reward system for marketing and business development activities; a client feedback program tied to attorney bonus; an associate development program, with supportive leadership; and a retention program for women and minority partners.

And while in a perfect firm attorneys will embrace business development, cross-selling, attorney development and retention all for the betterment of the firm, in reality they will remain motivated by a number.

Until then, I say complexo numerus! Embrace the numbers!