Besides experience and skill, associate, staff, and even income partner performance are a reflection of the law firm’s management effectiveness. Attorney and staff performance are based on a variety of legal and non-legal activities, which can be described as behaviors that require motivation.  Such motivation can be categorized as extrinsic or intrinsic, both of which should be fostered by the firm’s leadership style.

While incentives like compensation and bonuses are obvious management tools to drive extrinsic motivation, it requires a more thoughtful approach to support intrinsic motivation among the members of a legal organization. Intrinsic rewards are positive emotions triggered by the activity itself, in other words, behavior for the enjoyment of the activity. Ultimately, these rewards satisfy needs for self-esteem and self-actualization. Since intrinsic motivation is not controlled by external factors but the self, it is a lot more powerful.

Practicing law, researching legal documents, managing the office, running accounting software, etc. are all behaviors that require motivation. Assuming an individual has the necessary skill set to perform a job, the level of motivation determines the performance. Since intrinsic motivation cannot be controlled externally, it is important to combine supportive workplace conditions with a suitable leadership style. Focusing especially on law firm staff and young attorneys we propose the following management principles to establish a work environment supportive of intrinsic motivation:

  • Competence – an individual’s awareness of their capabilities
  • Value – a sense of meaningfulness
  • Empowerment – autonomy over work performed
  • Personalization – individualized work approach
  • Team orientation – strengthening relationships

By integrating these principles into attorney and staff management, the firm leadership establishes a work environment that fosters intrinsic motivation.