What Drives You? Dan Pink Interview on Lawyer Motivation

Everyone from researchers to business moguls are devoting energy and study to the subject of “drive” and whether traditional motivation techniques (like the carrot and stick) are enough to steer us down a successful and fulfilling career path in today’s world.

As I explored this motivation issue as it relates to the legal field, I sought out expert advice from Daniel Pink, the New York Times Best-Selling author of “A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future” and his newest book, “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.” Both of these books have critically important information for all lawyers.

Dan Pink earned a JD from Yale, but he never used his law degree to practice because he realized early on that his “drive” was not to practice law.

He went to law school because it was the next logical thing for him as a smart kid with a top-notch college degree. His parents valued financial and job security and convinced him this would be a stable career to support himself and his family for the rest of his life and at the very least something he could always fall back on.

This might sound quite familiar to you. About half of the lawyers I come across went to law school for these same reasons. And today many of them are mighty unhappy.

When Dan Pink and I talked, he acknowledged there is another group of lawyers who went to law school with the drive and motivation of really helping people and making a difference in the world. That was me. Which is why I was so disillusioned by the practice of law when I went to work for the big law firm where the focus was not so much on making a difference as on billing hours and form documents.

And it may have been you too, but then you took a job in a law firm that keeps you stuck in the transactional rut or you have gotten so desperate running your small or solo law firm that you take clients and cases that leave you miserable in practice.

I was there, too.

So what do you do if you are unhappy being a lawyer because you are not aligned with your drive? You can start by asking yourself the following questions:

  1. Why did I go to law school in the first place? Was it because I really wanted to be a lawyer or was it based on extrinsic motivators such as security, prestige, uncertainty about what next to do life, etc.?
  2. If I did go to law school because I really wanted to make a difference, am I still motivated by that drive?
  3. Do I sthll have motivation to be a lawyer, am I currently in a practice area that allows me to fully manifest my drive? Or do I spend more time taking clients and cases I hate just to get by?
  4. Where is the motivation in what I do?

These are very serious questions that you may not be ready to face, but the answers to these questions will save you years of anguish if you will begin to notice what things drive you and adjust your practice (or your entire career path!) so that your motivation shifts from the extrinsic (making money, prestige, etc.) to the intrinsic (joy, helping others, what really feels great).

For more on this, be sure to grab the free download of my call with Daniel Pink. Dan had a few priceless nuggets for those of you frustrated and burnt out with the practice of law right now. His words of wisdom may be the last little push you need to change practice areas or shift your focus all together so you can finally start living life on your own terms.


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  • Good post, but what if you answered question #1: I went to law school for all the extrinsic factors? Then, questions 2-4 do not seem to follow. What should those people do? Does Pink address how to shift your source of income to something that gets you beyond the extrinsic? What if you just want to bag law practice all together?

  • Hi @BarAdvisor. Definitely listen to my interview with Dan because we did talk about that. Before you bag the practice of law altogether, really take a look at what would motivate you intrinsically. The interview is a good starting place. Let me know what comes up for you after listening.