Lawyer Well-being

Publication year2023
CitationVol. 36 No. 4 Pg. 27
Lawyer Well-Being
Vol. 36 No. 4 Pg. 27
Utah Bar Journal
August, 2023

July, 2023

What Motivates Lawyers?

by Joshua Baron

The Price of Shoveling Manure

Traditionally, many law firm managers have assumed that compensation was their main tool for motivating lawyers to work hard for their clients and to produce profits for their firm. Yet we know that salary alone is not enough to make someone love their job. Consider a hypothetical employee who is paid $1 million per year to shovel manure. That employee probably wouldn't say, "I love my job because I get paid a ton of money to shovel manure." The person would be more likely to say, "I hate my job, but I can't quit because I get paid so much. I guess I'll have to keep doing it because no one else will match my pay."

Law firm managers who misunderstand what motivates their lawyer employees may try to solve motivational problems using tools that are destined for failure.

"Just as you can't treat a plant that's suffering from a lack of water by giving it extra sunlight, an overworked lawyer can't compensate for unhealthy stress by earning more money."

More than fifty years ago, Frederick Herzberg argued that there are two primary sets of factors that influence employee satisfaction: extrinsic factors and intrinsic factors. See, e.g., Frederick Herzberg et al., The Motivation to Work (1959). Herzberg called them "hygiene factors" and "motivational factors." Extrinsic factors relate mostly to the employee's external environment. Examples of extrinsic factors include salary and company policies. Intrinsic factors are internal to the job itself. Examples of intrinsic factors include the meaningfulness of the work, achievement, recognition, responsibility, and advancement.

But Herzberg's contribution wasn't simply showing that employees are motivated both intrinsically and extrinsically. His insight was that these factors work on two distinct spectrums. Extrinsic factors meet needs, without which an employee can be extremely dissatisfied. Intrinsic factors breed fulfillment in a job, and can motivate employees to truly love their jobs and do their best and most creative work. Put another way, the extrinsic factors will never make employees love their jobs. But almost all employees will hate a job if the extrinsic factors are mismanaged. The intrinsic factors, on the other hand, won't meet the employee's needs, but if the extrinsic needs are met, intrinsic factors can create a highly fulfilling and motivating environment.

Notice that salary is an extrinsic factor. Salary will never turn a horrible job into a wonderful one. If you aren't paid enough to pay your...

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