Motivation: The Key to Standing Out as a Lawyer

Self-motivation lets you make the most of your emotions in order to set and achieve your goals, apply your strengths to overcome complicated situations, and continue to grow.

Author: Marisa Méndez, Director of and Associate Professor at IE Law School.

This article is the last in our introductory series on emotional intelligence in the legal sector. It focuses on self-motivation, a skill that allows people to utilize their emotions to set and reach goals while drawing on their strengths to overcome complicated situations. This allows them to continue to develop and grow wiser—not just older!

How can you tell if a lawyer has this skill? It becomes clear as their professional career develops, as a lawyer’s ability to progress is put to the test by challenges and difficulties. From the outside, we can see that self-motivated lawyers are those who reach their goals and do so despite difficulties and criticism. We can also see that these professionals demonstrate a great deal of initiative when it comes to implementing projects and do not give up in the face of difficulty. Moreover, they often have a positive attitude with respect to both successes and problems.

This type of lawyer is generally no different outside of the office. For many years, I was fortunate to work with an excellent lawyer who received exceptional recognition in the sector and drove projects forward with his clients, internally and with co-workers. When working with him, I felt a motivational energy that made difficult things possible—with effort, but nonetheless possible. A few years ago, he fell ill and faced his disease with the same combination of initiative, acceptance, realism and opportunism.

The hardest part is knowing what is going on inside these lawyers: to dig down to the part of them that is home to the true source of self-motivation—a superpower that can be enhanced by a few pieces of advice:

Do you speak to yourself with kindness? Are you clear when speaking to yourself? Internal dialogue is that inner voice we all have. For it to be used in the service of self-motivation, it has to be encouraging, positive and clear. Try to pay attention when speaking to yourself, especially when faced with difficulties.

Are your clients’ matters and projects aligned with what is important to you? Do they bring you closer to your goals? Are they consistent with your values? Better understanding your professional goals and wanting to achieve them is a huge motivation when problems arise, as it will allow you to use your creativity to find alternative routes and not give up.

“Knowing your emotions, their function and their physiological and behavioral expression provides lawyers with more tools for resolving the challenges placed on their desks.”

Are you capable of recognizing the root cause of your tendency to procrastinate? If you truly know yourself and recognize your emotions, you will be able to identify whether your tendency to leave something to the last minute is a result of: a lack of motivation, insufficient resources or skills, overconfidence, or pure exhaustion. Professionals who know themselves well will be able to identify these reasons and address them without beating themselves up, thereby reaching their goals.

Do you congratulate yourself when you reach a goal? Many lawyers tend to feel relief when they close a case or overcome a difficulty, thinking that it is the most appropriate response. However, by not celebrating a milestone, you are dealing a blow to your motivation. Simply congratulating yourself and enjoying successes lets you create a chemical footprint of motivation that makes you feel valued and encourages you when faced with obstacles.

Do you know how your body feels when it is motivated or unmotivated? Your posture helps you overcome difficult moments. Try it when you need a bit of extra motivation. Sit upright with your shoulders back, head raised and smiling. You will get an energy boost without the need to make another cup of coffee.

Do you accept that change is a part of this profession? Accepting that changing circumstances mean that not every goal is attainable lets you focus on the things that are in your power. On these occasions, lawyers with self-motivation can turn on their internal dialogue and ask themselves something along the lines of, “So, what can I achieve today that will let me continue to move in the right direction?”

Motivation: The Key to Standing Out as a Lawyer | IE LawAhead

To summarize, self-motivation is internal energy that activates and maintains your behaviors in line with the goals you have set. This energy is connected to your emotions, and as a result, has varying intensities. It is more perceptible in lawyers when they take on leadership responsibilities. However, it is a skill you should develop from the very first day at university. Motivation is like a muscle: train it regularly and it will activate when needed, while reducing the risk of injury.

This article is the last in our series on emotional intelligence. Its goal has been to raise awareness around the importance of including emotional skills in technical training and curricula. Knowing your emotions, their function and their physiological and behavioral expression provides lawyers with more tools for resolving the challenges placed on their desks. It enables them to better deal with urgent deadlines, assess the impact of their work on their clients’ lives and engage positively with the multitude of personal relationships that arise. I once heard that what you do with your time on the clock determines your present, and how you spend your time off the clock determines your future. Investing in emotional self-discovery is investing in your future.

Self-motivation is key to succeeding in your legal career. Given the huge importance of self-motivation and other essential emotional skills, we are committed to developing our law students’ emotional intelligence. We seek to train T-shaped lawyers—well-rounded professionals who are completely adapted to today’s competitive world. That’s why we incorporate dedicated emotional intelligence programs such as our SHELL module into our world-class academic offering.

Marisa MéndezMarisa Méndez is a psychologist and life coach. Currently she is Director of and Associate Professor at IE Law School. She started her career as a lawyer and solicitor at Clifford Chance, London, and left legal practice to work as a consultant leading projects in Jordan, Brazil and Peru, where she came across the real meaning of resilience, as she worked with people in adverse situations. Years later, Marisa returned to Spain to combine her two passions: the study of psychology and emotional intelligence in the workplace and teaching at IE Law School.

Note: The views expressed by the author of this paper are completely personal and do not represent the position of any affiliated institution.