Seven Steps for Maintaining Motivation

Here’s my latest article which was published in the Solo and Small Firm Practitioner Section of the January 2007 issue of The Texas Bar Journal.  To read the original version of the article as published by the State Bar, click here.

Seven Steps to Maintaining Motivation
 By Janet H. Moore

 Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” Yet sometimes the isolation of practicing as a solo or small firm practitioner can drain a lawyer’s enthusiasm.  If this happens to you, try to recapture your motivation with some of these strategies. 

Step #1: Define Your Ideal Practice Area and Ideal Client

Perhaps nothing inspires lawyers more than working in an interesting area of the law with ideal clients.    “When you discover your mission, you will feel its demand.  It will fill you with the burning desire to get to work on it,” said W. Clement Stone, author of Success through a Positive Mental Attitude.

If you are not strongly drawn to your practice area or target clients, step back and figure out why.  Perhaps you chose your practice area simply because it was a logical choice given your undergraduate major or pre-law career.  Or maybe your practice area appeared to be easy to break into or  lucrative. 

Although prior experience, ease of entry, and financial viability are important factors, don’t let them trap you.  If you don’t like spending time doing estate planning for wealthy families, for example, don’t target them as clients just because they can afford your services, or just because you once worked as a financial planner.  If you lack enthusiasm for your practice area or client base, staying motivated will be hard to do.

Instead, explore new areas that intrigue you.  As a practical matter, if you have worked in the same field for awhile, changing practice areas will be difficult.  Try keeping your current practice in tact but explore a new practice area to challenge and motivate you. Educate yourself through CLE classes and the like, and then test the waters through pro bono, reduced fee or contract work.  For example, if you are interested in international law, first take on some pro bono immigration matters to make sure that you really like dealing with foreign clients.  Or, if you long to become Perry Mason, tackle some pro bono cases that will give you courtroom experience. 

Conversely, some lawyers also lose enthusiasm when they define their law practices too broadly.  It’s hard to keep abreast of developments in many practice areas at the same time. Try narrowing your practice to the areas that you enjoy the most, if doing so is financially viable.   

Once you know the practice area(s) that you want to pursue, profile your ideal client.  Be as specific as possible.  If you have a very clear picture of your ideal client, your marketing and client development efforts will more targeted and cost-effective; you will know exactly where to expend time and energy.  It can be very motivating to practice the kind of law you enjoy for clients you really like.

Step #2:  Conduct Creative, Rewarding Rainmaking 
  Many of my clients say, “I want to become a rainmaker, but I don’t know how.”  Unless you are an intuitive rainmaker, or unless you were mentored in this skill by an experienced rainmaker, it is often hard to develop lots of clients.  Although the skill of client development will always come more naturally to some attorneys than to others, it can certainly be learned.
One key to success is making client development an enjoyable aspect of your law practice rather than something dreaded.  Brainstorm with a successful rainmaker, a lawyer coach, or a marketing manager (if your law firm has one).  Customize some creative client development techniques that appeal to you and that engage your target clients.  In addition, consider reading some relevant books, like Mark Maraia’s Rainmaking Made Simple or Sally Schmidt’s Business Development for Lawyers:  Strategies for Getting and Keeping Clients. 
Regardless, don’t try to implement rainmaking or marketing strategies that you dislike— you won’t follow through.   
  Step #3: Create an Inspiring Workspace and Motivating Reminders 
 Some lawyers feel enlivened when they cross the threshold of their dedicated workspace. If yours does not inspire you, alter the space to suit you, even if you share it with others.  Subtle changes to the room’s layout or décor—even temporary ones like importing a favorite painting or lamp—can change its atmosphere and make the space your own.  If clutter overwhelms your office, hire a professional organizer. Make the physical space conducive to practicing law, whatever that means to you.
Visual images can function as both reminders and motivators.  Some lawyers feel motivated by pictures of family or favorite vacation spots.  Because many lawyers spend a lot of time on their computers, interesting screensavers can be helpful triggers. Creating an ambitious business plan can also generate excitement.  A business plan articulates your goals, and also sets benchmarks against which you can measure your progress.  The process of committing a business plan to paper will bring your plan to life.  In the words of economist Arthur Toynbee, “Apathy can be overcome by enthusiasm, and enthusiasm can only be aroused by two things:  first, an ideal which takes the imagination by storm, and second, a definite, intelligible plan to carry the ideal into practice.”  An aggressive business plan—especially when systematically reviewed and refined—can keep you on track.   
After drafting a big picture business plan, list the identifiable next steps to achieve your goals—and set actual deadlines. If lists of tasks bog you down, try some of David Allen’s organizational strategies described in Getting Things Done.  Ask someone else—a colleague, friend, coach or other professional—to hold you accountable; studies show that people achieve more when held accountable for their progress. Rewards motivate many attorneys. Try allocating a block of time for an unappealing task (set a timer if necessary), and reward yourself with a treat at the end of the time.  Make the reward something that is good for you, like physical exercise, relaxation, or healthy food.  Some attorneys also rely on rituals to jumpstart their work.  For some, it’s as simple as reading the newspaper at the beginning of the day, or sitting in a certain chair.  Experiment with different routines to see what works best for you.   

Step #4: Regularly Interact with Other Lawyers  
  Connecting regularly with other lawyers combats the isolation that plagues many solo and small firm practitioners. Commit to attending meetings of your local bar association; not only will you interact with fellow lawyers and potentially get referrals, but you will learn new techniques to improve your skills.
Staying in touch with law school classmates also counteracts loneliness.  Contact a law school peer or former work colleague and arrange to discuss each other’s career progress and share practice tips twice per month.  This will help to build your support base and solidify your referral network. 
 Look for opportunities to be mentored by a more experienced lawyer.  Mentors provide specific career advice—and sometimes pass on overflow clients.  If you live in a remote area, stay connected through continuing legal education classes via teleconference.  Many groups offer information-packed CLE classes via teleconference with opportunities for interactive questions and answers at the end.Attending the State Bar convention and similar conferences will also expose you to hundreds of other practitioners and their “best practices”.  The palpable enthusiasm at these gatherings may also reignite your love of practicing law.    Step #5: Vary your Routine  
 Consciously creating variety in your day can alleviate tedium.  Try allocating your time among a cornucopia of activities; in addition to practicing law, write articles, give speeches, network, and tend to business matters.
Keep track of which activities you enjoy most and which are most lucrative.  Then, farm out the activities that you avoid or postpone or those that are not cost effective to handle personally.  For example, you might hire a law student to help with legal research, or an office administrator to manage your client billing.  Doing so will free your time for more inspirational duties. 

Look for other ways to add spice to your practice.  Volunteer to handle pro bono matters for a favorite charity, teach a class at a local law school, or mentor law students from your alma mater.

Step #6: Design Informal Strategic Alliances

Many solo and small firm practitioners rely on informal strategic alliances with other professionals to grow their client base.  Teaming up with other professionals in complimentary fields to offer services (like workshops) or create products (like books) will broaden your appeal. Brainstorming with other professionals can also improve your career enthusiasm. 

Think outside the box about potential strategic referral sources.  For example, if you primarily work with family owned businesses, develop relationships with other professionals who serve the same client base—like accountants and money managers. Doing so will give you cross-referral opportunities. 

Step #7: Maximize Personal Strengths

We usually enjoy doing what comes easily to us, and we are bound to be successful at doing what we naturally do well.  As a result, identifying your individual strengths and tailoring your practice accordingly can magnify your enthusiasm for your practice. 

If you can’t articulate your natural strengths, read Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Don Clifton, and take the corresponding Gallup Poll-sponsored online assessment.  Identifying your natural talents and redirecting your practice to maximize these strengths will make your work more enjoyable. For example, lawyers gifted in “winning over others” will love using their natural people skills through frequent networking.  Those who are talented in “input” should look for ways to share their wisdom with others by writing articles and the like. Knowing what you do best and consciously looking for ways to use those skills in your practice will enhance your business and career satisfaction.

Even the most enthusiastic solo or small firm practitioner is bound to lose enthusiasm on occasion. Develop a few strategies to bolster your enthusiasm on those rainy days when your enthusiasm dwindles.  Make sure that the strategies appeal to you, given your special talents and outlook, and implement them when you need to boost your motivation. 


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