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The Definitive Guide to Law Office Employee Motivation

Employee motivation matters just as much in law firms as it does in any other industry. In fact, we happen to think it’s more important. It’s imperative that law firms attract and retain talented staff who are engaged in fulfilling the values of the office. Retention is important for two distinct reasons. First, there is the expense of hiring and training new staff, even if they’re experienced. To keep this cost to a minimum and to break even with it, retention of staff is crucial. Second, many law firms rely on the creation and nurturing of long-term relationships with their clients. That is much easier done when a law firm doesn’t experience massive or frequent turnover.

The Definitive Guide to Law Office Employee Motivation

And the Key to Retention? Employee Motivation!

The key to retention of talented staff in law firms is both simple and complicated. It’s simple because the answer is employee motivation. It’s complicated because employee motivation is a broad term that encompasses a vast array of ideas. It’s also complicated because what motivates one employee may not be something that motivates another.

To help law firms retain their staff, we’ve created this definitive guide to law firm employee motivation. In this guide, you’ll learn about some of the best motivation tactics you should consider using. Remember, though, no one motivation strategy will work for every law firm staff member. It’s crucial for you to get to know your staff so that you can better understand what makes them feel motivated.

The Two Types of Law firm Employee Motivation

There are two types of law firm employee motivation.
 
  1. Intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is motivation that comes from within the individual staff member. This is why we explained that there is no one perfect motivation tactic that works for every law firm employee. This highlights the importance of getting to know your staff members. It’s how you learn what really motivates them. Consider yourself for a moment. Take away the external motivation factors, such as your paycheck or the feeling you get when you’re victorious in advocating on behalf of your client. What motivates you to get up each and every day and do what you do? Is it a zest for justice? Is it your love of entrepreneurship?
  2. External motivation. These are factors that come from outside of an individual that encourage them to make great strides. While money is certainly an external motivator for many, it doesn’t motivate everyone. Again, though, this points out the importance of getting to know your staff.

Both intrinsic and external motivators can change over time. While we consider this the definitive guide to law firm employee motivation, you’ll need to adjust your strategies as your staff members grow as people and even as your law firm grows and adds new staff members.

Give Staff Members the Authority They Need to Solve Problems

The legal industry is, of course, highly regulated. As the supervising lawyer, you carry the responsibility of supervising the non-lawyers in your office. Review the rules in your jurisdiction as they relate to what responsibilities can be delegated to non-lawyers and the level of supervision you’re expected to have. Then, read the jurisdiction’s definition of the unauthorized practice of law (UPL) as well as any opinions issued by the state bar.

This information directly affects how much authority you can provide to a non-lawyer and what you’re required to do as their supervisor. As a lawyer, you should focus your time on the matters that only you may address as a lawyer admitted to practice law. Providing your employees with the authority they need to solve problems frees up your time to focus on serving your clients. When you give your staff members authority and allow them to use it without constantly micromanaging or overriding them, you motivate your employees by showing them that you trust them. They’re also more likely to remain with the law firm.

Keep an Open-Door Policy and Really Listen to Your Staff

It isn’t just members of the public who may feel intimidated by the fact that you’re a lawyer. You could have staff members that feel the same way. One of the best things you can do to motivate your employees is to keep an open-door policy. Encourage staff members to come to you at any time with issues related to cases or with issues related to workflow. Keep in mind that while you may have created policies and procedures, you may not truly know just how effective they are since you’re not in the trenches using them.

Really listen to your staff when they come to you about issues or with suggestions. It may not seem like it, but this one technique can help you get to know your staff while also getting a better idea of what would make the law firm a better place to work. Creating an easy way for your staff to be involved with the decisions that affect how they do their job is very empowering. You could see an improvement both in motivation and in production.

Recognize Your Staff for a Job Well Done

Believe it or not, a kind word goes a long way for motivating law firm staff. Studies show that recognizing staff members for a job well done could lower turn over by over 30%! Find something positive to say on a regular basis to staff members. This could be anything from how they manage their tasks to how kind they were on the phone or in person with a demanding or upset client. Maybe they completed a major task before the assigned deadline. Maybe they discovered a better workflow that improves their productivity. Maybe they come to work even during bad weather conditions.

Provide Opportunities for Professional and Personal Growth

As you get to know your staff members, you’ll get a sense of their strengths, their weaknesses, and some of their untapped potential. You may also be lucky enough to learn about their goals. You can provide opportunities for both professional and personal growth in many ways. It could be that you pay for continuing education that can help your staff members move toward their professional goals and that will also benefit the law firm. You could provide mental health days, opportunities to work from a remote location from time to time, and give gifts that encourage professional and personal development.

Be Supportive of Your Staff

Yes, you hired your staff to perform certain tasks. Yes, you hired your staff to serve your clients. Yet, they’re human…just like you. They have good days. They have bad days. They get the flu. They could have children that get sick. Car batteries die at inconvenient times. While we’d all love a perfect world where personal issues don’t impede on our ability to be professionals, it just doesn’t happen. And one of the best things you can do to motivate your law firm staff is to just be supportive. You don’t necessarily need to solve every personal problem they have. What they need to know is that you understand that life happens…and that it happens to everyone. And that it’s okay and you’re not angry with them for issues that are most likely totally out of their control. Being supportive creates loyalty among your staff. Loyal staff members who feel supported are less likely to quit and they’re also more productive.

Don’t Underestimate the Power of a Perk

It goes without saying that you should offer competitive pay and benefits. Another way to motivate your law firm staff and reduce retention is to offer perks. Ask your law firm staff what sort of perks they wish they could have. Do some research on what your competitors offer their staff members. And get creative. Perks don’t have to be expensive (although we doubt your staff would say no to a nice bonus). They just need to be something that your employees want. Here are some ideas to get you started:
 
  • Unlimited sick leave or vacation days. These days don’t have to be paid. Unlimited sick leave or vacation days can be helpful for employees who may have physical or mental health issues, parents, or elderly parents. This can help inspire loyalty to your law firm because your staff members won’t have to worry about getting fired because they caught the flu from their three year old right after they needed to help care for their elderly mother after a hip replacement.
  • Free yoga or gym membership. It’s no secret that working in the legal industry is stressful. You could partner with a local yoga studio or gym to provide memberships to your employees. Encouraging stress management and healthy lifestyle choices can make your law firm a place where everyone wants to work.
  • Cater lunch every month or every quarter. Paying for your entire team to have a nice lunch together gives them something to look forward to doing. It’s also a great way to show your appreciation…especially if you cater lunch from somewhere really nice!
  • Bring your dog to work day. If you work in a small law firm, you might consider implementing a monthly or quarterly day where employees are encouraged to bring their dogs to work. Of course, you may need to create a policy about bringing dogs that are okay with other dogs.
  • Offer help with personal chores. No, you personally do not have to offer your free time to do their laundry or pick up their dry cleaning. But you can consider hiring a concierge service that can do just that for your employees!
  • Create a remote work policy. A remote work policy is possible for most law firms now that secured law firm management platforms like ZolaSuite and Clio exist. This benefits your staff by allowing them to get some or all of their work done if they’re out of the office because they are caring for a sick child. It benefits your law firm because your staff has the opportunity to keep up with their tasks when they can’t make it into the office.
  • Paid days off for volunteering. Everyone loves a paid day off. Volunteering has become an important part of our society. Giving your staff the opportunity to take a paid day off to volunteer for a worthy organization encourages loyalty as well as creates goodwill toward your law firm.

There Is No One Size Fits All Motivation Strategy for Law firms

You’ve learned some great ways you can motivate your law firm employees. You can implement the ideas from this guide that you found the most useful and intriguing. Don’t let this be where you stop, though. Remember that there is no one size fits all way to motivate law firm employees. Law firms are made up of people who have their own lives, interests, goals, and problems. Be flexible and find ways that you can motivate employees individually as well as your law firm as a whole! 

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