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Recently, while hunting for something in the dusty recesses of my hard drive, I stumbled across and re-read David Maister’s eye-opening article from 2005, Doing It For The Money, which takes law firms to task for using money as the sole or primary motivation to drive additional sales and marketing behavior.

David cites Alfie Kohn’s book, Punished by Rewards, which argues that “all incentive schemes are doomed to failure because they divert people’s attention away from inherent meaning, purpose, fulfillment or fun in the activity. Rather than these things, all motivation is shifted to getting the reward.”

It got me thinking about some questions that have bugged me for years, among them why lawyers eschew business development training by wasting what their firms buy for them (or that they buy for themselves), or by avoiding it altogether. Maister may have answered some of these for me.

For many years, he conducted a survey among professionals around the world. Respondents told him that “they truly enjoy their work 20 to 30 percent of the time, and can tolerate the rest,” and reported that “they really like the clients they work for and find the clients’ sector interesting about 30 to 40 percent of the time.” Again, the rest is acceptable.

He concludes that this explains “why people aren’t all that keen to go out, get active and work passionately on business development. Getting more business just brings in more stuff they can tolerate for clients they don’t particularly care for!”

Does this describe why and how you engage in business development, for the money?

If so, might that explain why

  • you’re so reluctant to do it?
  • you’ll find any number of activities to engage as an excuse not to do it?
  • you’re not that effective at it?

And why, despite acknowledging that you’re not confident about your business development skills, you don’t take full advantage of training or coaching, even after paying for it?

Kohn also argues that “the most important things needed to get rewards in any field of endeavor are the energy and dedication created by meaning, purpose, fulfillment and fun.” These principles were further reinforced in Daniel Pink’s book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.

How much fun are you having with business development?

If “not much,” it’s time to re-examine your reasons for wanting to be good at it.

  • What’s really important to you?
  • What kind of work do you love to do?
  • What kind of clients do you really enjoy working with?

During the planning component of my sales training and coaching program, I ask each lawyer to describe a recent engagement that they’d walk through fire to replicate, i.e., that satisfied all three categories of need:

  1. Practical – the work itself was stimulating and rewarding;
  2. Economic – the fees were sizable, paid willingly and timely, perhaps with a bonus or premium;
  3. Emotional – the client “gave the love,” i.e., expressed appreciation and respect for the lawyer’s work product, skill, commitment and contribution.  

Together, we analyze these dream engagements to figure out their origins so we can model the chain of causes that result in demand, and assess where we’ll find people whose situations make them likely to exhibit such demand.

You can do this yourself. When you've identified that optimum engagement, ask, "What business behavior constitutes the first domino in the causal chain that culminates in a transaction, or a complaint, or other legal action?" "In which industries am I most likely to see this problem occurring with meaningful impact?" There are other steps, but this is a good start.

Over the past 25 years of training and coaching more than 7000 lawyers, I’ve learned that unless the “carrot” (as defined by the lawyer) is sufficiently attractive, and intrinsic, the likelihood of the lawyer expending effort in pursuit of it is virtually zero.

Now, be honest with yourself. To what degree are you able to influence what you do, how you do it, when you do it, how much of it you do, and for whom?

If your answer is, “Very little,” or worse, it’s time to get serious about taking control of your practice and how that practice makes you feel every day.

I'll let Maister have the last word: “The better you are at marketing, the more truly professional you can be, because you are not forced to take money from anyone and everyone just because you need the cash.”

Mike O'Horo

If you want to do work you love with clients you like, get serious about improving your skills, and committing enough time to applying those skills to make them deliver the professional life you want -- which just might enable you to have more of the personal life you want.

To explore how you might do this in a thoughtful, sustainable way, schedule a free consultation with me.