What Successful Companies Know That Law Firms Need to Know: The Importance of Employee Motivation and Job Satisfaction to Increased Productivity and Stronger Client Relationships

By Neff, Theresa M. | Journal of Law and Health, Summer 2002 | Go to article overview

What Successful Companies Know That Law Firms Need to Know: The Importance of Employee Motivation and Job Satisfaction to Increased Productivity and Stronger Client Relationships


Neff, Theresa M., Journal of Law and Health


 
INTRODUCTION 
  I. INTO THE PRESSURE COOKER: THE DEMANDS 
     OF THE LEGAL PROFESSION AFFECT LAWYERS' 
     RELATIONSHIPS WITH THEIR STAFF MEMBERS 
 II. BUILDING AND SUSTAINING RELATIONSHIPS: 
     MOTIVATED AND SATISFIED EMPLOYEES 
     MEAN HAPPY CLIENTS 
III. EXAMINING EMPLOYEE MOTIVATION 
     AND SATISFACTION IN LAW FIRMS: A CASE STUDY 
     A. Survey Design 
     B. Results 
     C. Discussion 
     D. Conclusions 
 IV. A THEORETICAL DISCUSSION OF MOTIVATION 
     A. Expectancy Theory 
     B. Herzberg's Theory 
     C. The Impact of Teamwork 
  V. STRATEGIES FOR SUCCESS: EXAMPLES OF EMPLOYEE 
     MOTIVATION AND SATISFACTION IN CORPORATE 
     AMERICA 
 VI. STRATEGIES FOR IMPROVING EMPLOYEE 
     SATISFACTION IN LAW FIRMS 
VII. CONCLUSION 

INTRODUCTION

Legendary business icon and General Electric CEO Jack Welch was once asked which was more rewarding to people: money or recognition. (1) His answer was simple: "you have to get rewarded in the soul and the wallet." (2) Mr. Welch understood that it is not enough that companies pay their employees well and expect great work in return. Companies must also empower their employees and provide incentives for them to perform at high levels. Motivating employees and understanding the psychology behind employee motivation are essential to any successful organization. The most productive companies in the world, like Jack Welch's General Electric, make employee motivation and job satisfaction a top priority. Why? Because satisfied employees improve the bottom line. They work harder, longer, and more efficiently because they know they are critical to the success of the organization. Law firms should adopt this same philosophy. Running a law firm is a business. Indeed, one author has noted that because of the changing nature of the legal profession, lawyers who refuse to view the practice of law with a business mentality will be left behind. (3) Employees of law firms who are content and motivated are not only more productive, but also improve client perceptions of and strengthen clients' relationships with their firms.

The idea for this note was based in large part on my business education in addition to my own experiences as a legal secretary at four different law firms. While in college, the underlying concept that my business professors drove home was that customer satisfaction is inherently dependent on employee satisfaction. Employee attitudes can mean the difference between a repeat customer, and one who discourages their friends and family from going back. (4) Yet, while working at the law firms, I was struck by how many secretaries were dissatisfied with their jobs and the lawyers for whom they worked. Most of the complaints centered around feelings that the lawyers they worked for did not value them as employees. They described their superior attorneys as pushy, controlling, easily agitated perfectionists. The most common complaint was that the lawyers expected them to stay late into the evening and come in on weekends. Many secretaries felt that these expectations were in complete disregard for the fact that they had other demands

on their lives and were not receiving the same benefits for long hours that the attorneys did receive or could anticipate receiving, such as job security through partnership, high wages, and prestige. The secretaries' dissatisfaction affected how they treated and responded to clients' needs, and in some circumstances, impaired the attorney-client relationship. (5) My experiences and education led me to question whether my perceptions were accurate and, if so, whether law firms could learn and apply the experiences of the corporate sector to strengthen these relationships.

This note examines the importance of employee motivation and job satisfaction to increased productivity and stronger client relationships with law firms. In Part I, I discuss how the pressures of the legal profession can affect lawyers' relationships with their staff members. …

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