September 25, 2018 Practice Management

Motivating Lawyers to Commit to Business Development

By Kimberly Alford Rice

A previous version of this article appeared in Marketing the Law Firm, an ALM/Law Journal Newsletters publication, May 2018.

Why are some lawyers successful in generating a healthy client base while others struggle? In my years of working with and for law firms, first as an in-house chief marketing officer and since 2008 as a business owner of a legal marketing advisory firm, I have searched for the proverbial carrot that will motivate and propel lawyer clients to accept the fact that they must take consistent, persistent, massive amounts of action over a prolonged period of time if they want to build a prosperous business.

No matter how many ways I have sliced and diced the non-negotiable marketing tactics that must be in play, I’ve returned to the same conclusion: The lawyer must be motivated to make this happen for him- or herself, for it is only then that the lawyer will prioritize and carve out the time that is required. And, let’s not sugarcoat it: Building a prosperous business requires a substantial time commitment over many years, even decades, to truly realize the fruits of the labor.

With that thought in mind, I researched the concept of motivation: What motivates some people and not others? How are most people motivated? Is motivation derived only externally or only internally, or a mix of both, and why? What I learned is instructive to help lawyers address and more effectively manage their business development commitments and, thus, their long-term success.

What Drives Motivation?

In a Harvard Business School study several years back, managers from different companies across the United States were assigned the task of e-mailing the research leader at the end of each day for ten days, documenting their motivation for the day (on a scale of one to five), their emotional level (positive and negative), and their enthusiasm level. In doing so, the individuals participating in the focus group were asked to indicate what happened during the course of the day that contributed to that level of positive or negative motivation. The researchers found that the number-one factor, by far, that drove motivation was maintaining a sense of progress—76 percent of the time. Wow, how revealing and enlightening.

When the folks in the study reported that they had had one of their best days, they also reported (three-quarters of the time) that they felt they were making considerable progress, which contributed to their high motivation level. Conversely, when they had one of their worst days, when they felt the least motivated, they highly correlated this situation with a setback in connection with moving forward.

There are some important implications of this research for how lawyers can get and stay motivated to continue their business development endeavors.

Keeping Lawyers Motivated

As a legal marketing professional, I always strive to recognize and acknowledge my lawyer clients’ progress. For example, an exercise we use with some of our coaching clients is to ask them to take 30 seconds at the end of their workday to jot down three things that they accomplished that day that they feel positive about. It could be a simple task such as sending a follow-up e-mail to a networking partner or inviting a referral source out for coffee. We all know it is the consistent, persistent steps that we and our lawyers take each and every day that will bring them the prosperity they so crave.

Another exercise we support occurs in group settings, whether that be in practice group meetings or in coaching roundtables. We go around the table and ask each team member to name three marketing-oriented tasks they want to accomplish that day, even if they are simple tasks such as researching a targeted prospect on LinkedIn.

Once everyone has had an opportunity to voice the top-three marketing tasks they intend to act on that day, we circulate the list among the group via e-mail. The next morning, the group leader will send a follow-up e-mail to the group checking in on how everyone made out with their list.

Two significant things have happened as a result of this exercise: First, the three tasks have been done because of the accountability and peer pressure created. Second, even if the lawyers had a tough day, they felt better because they were seeing clear signs of progress. When we think of how to motivate lawyers to get and stay connected with their network, to make regular visits to their VIP clients, or even to send a thank-you note to a referral source, we can extrapolate the goodwill and crucial relationship building (and perhaps more work generated) that will occur if they take these simple steps. Sometimes, they just can’t see the bigger picture when client demands and court schedules are clouding the way. Focus on acknowledging the clear progress being made each and every day as a strategy to prompt and drive motivation.

What we have seen is that when business building becomes a part of lawyers’ daily routines and, as importantly, embedded into their psyche as a normal part of their day, it will be easier to stay motivated for the long term and to reach the proverbial gold pot at the end of the rainbow: a prosperous business.

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Kimberly Alford Rice is president/chief strategist of KLA Marketing Associates (, a business development advisory firm focusing on legal services. As a legal marketing authority, Kimberly recently published Rainmaker Roadmap: A Step-by-Step Guide to Building a Prosperous Business, which outlines a guide for how she leads lawyers/law firms to greater success. She may be reached at 609/458-0415 or via e-mail and Twitter (@rice_kimberly).