Money and Meaning in the Modern Law Firm

Lead Article From The Practice July/August 2021

This article is based on research and content published in our book, Big Law: Money and Meaning in the Modern Law Firm, published by the University of Chicago Press in 2021.

What holds law firms together? As the common adage describes, a firm’s assets go down the elevator at the end of every day, and there is no guarantee that they will return. Partners with books of business can easily move from one firm to another. Other lawyers may be loyal to these partners rather than to the firm and accompany them when they go. This may seem rational in an age in which firms increasingly adopt demanding performance metrics and prune the ranks of those they deem insufficiently productive. One could be forgiven for concluding that the relationship between a firm and its lawyers, particularly its partners, is purely instrumental, based on financial reward. From this perspective, characterizing lawyers as professionals who subscribe to distinctive ideals is mere window dressing―a veneer that tries to hide the fact that law practice is simply a business like any other.

If this is the case, it would mean that lawyers do not look to their firms as places where they can seek meaning in their work. We know that the desire to find such meaning is common to people in all walks of life. Many people want to work in a place that they believe stands for values they regard as important beyond financial profitability. Are law firms now subject to such intense business pressures that they can no longer aspire to meet such hopes? Has the sense that lawyers comprise a unique profession been a casualty of the undeniable increasing business pressures affecting law firms and their lawyers?

A firm’s assets go down the elevator at the end of every day, and there is no guarantee that they will return.

As one observer puts it, “For a genuine professional, the meaning of the work derives from both what it is and the ends toward which it is directed as much as or more than … the return it affords.” Does this still describe law firm lawyers? Is attention to financial performance and to professional values a zero-sum game? Put simply, are pursuing money and meaning inherently antagonistic goals?

Starting in 2019, we set out to answer these questions, conducting research (see “Our Methodology” sidebar below) and ultimately writing a book, BigLaw: Money and Meaning in the Modern Law Firm (University of Chicago Press), published in 2021. In our research and book, we wanted to go beyond the broad proclamations in the press and pose these questions to partners themselves and to those who manage the firms in which they work.

On the one hand, our discussions with more than 250 partners in major law firms indicated that partners are well aware that their firms must operate as efficient businesses in an intensely competitive market for legal services. They know that their firms have no assurance of a steady stream of business and that they must be entrepreneurial in seeking work from profitable clients. They know that their firms evaluate their ability to generate revenues more closely than ever. Finally, they know that partnership is no longer a lifetime guarantee―that they will be asked to leave if their productivity is deemed unacceptable.

On the other hand, interviews revealed that nonfinancial professional values remain meaningful to most partners as a source of satisfaction in their practices. They regard crafting a brief, delivering an argument, structuring a transaction, exchanging ideas with colleagues, and serving others as intrinsically rewarding. As one partner put it, “People want to do the things that drove them to go to law school in the first place.” Another partner described his connection to his firm in this way: “I have a number of people that I have worked with a lot and respect and enjoy working with and who I would not want to let down.” He continued, “I feel like I’ve gotten a lot of good things [here], and I feel like it’s a good place, it’s a pretty humane place, it’s a place that I think has a lot of respect for the profession, it’s an ethical place that supports a lot of pro bono work.” He concluded, “To the extent I have institutional loyalty, that is where it comes from.”

BigLaw: Money and Meaning in the Modern Law Firm

Cover of BigLaw: Money and Meaning in the Modern Law Firm shows a rusty scales in the background, indicating how people weigh obects.

The Great Recession intensified large law firms’ emphasis on financial performance, leading to claims that lawyers in these firms were now guided by business rather than professional values. Based on interviews with more than 250 partners in large firms, Mitt Regan and Lisa H. Rohrer suggest that the reality is much more complex. It is true that large firm hiring, promotion, compensation, and termination policies are more influenced by business considerations than ever before and that firms actively recruit profitable partners from other firms to replace those they regard as unproductive. At the same time, law firm partners continue to seek the nonfinancial rewards of being members of a distinct profession and are sensitive to whether their firms are committed to providing them. Regan and Rohrer argue that modern firms responding effectively to business demands while credibly affirming the importance of nonfinancial professional values can create strong cultures that enhance their ability to weather the storms of the modern legal market.

In these respects, modern long-term partners seek both money and meaning. They know that their ability to derive professional satisfaction from practice depends on the ability of their firms to be profitable enough to remain competitive. At the same time, they want their firms to be more than just successful businesses―they want organizations that respect and support nonfinancial professional values. In particular, they don’t want their firms to be just entities that are held together by the pursuit of profits, in which partners effectively run their own businesses and merely share overhead expenses.

We found that the firms that are most successful in gaining durable commitment from their partners are those that can effectively balance these demands. These firms are able to take necessary steps to be competitive while credibly communicating to their partners that they are genuinely committed to nonfinancial professional values. A firm that does this can elicit greater commitment from its partners than a firm that partners regard as measuring success only in financial terms.

The default culture of a firm is likely to be the pursuit of profitability unless management deliberately takes steps to support nonfinancial values.

This commitment can provide a competitive edge for the firm. Partners are willing to work harder and go the extra mile for a firm they believe in. They are more likely to collaborate than limit their colleagues’ access to clients. Our interviews indicated that profitable partners in this kind of firm are less likely to consider offers from other firms, even if they would gain greater financial rewards. These types of behavior also create a culture that provides intrinsic satisfaction for partners in the form of greater collaboration and deeper personal relationships. A modern firm that hopes to establish and sustain a culture that elicits the durable commitment of its partners thus must be both an efficient business and an organization that provides intrinsic forms of professional satisfaction. If it can do this, it can create a virtuous cycle in which it meets its partners’ desire for both money and meaning.

This may seem to be a simple recipe for a law firm’s success. Successfully following it, however, can be tremendously difficult under modern conditions of law practice. Relentless competitive pressures mean that all firms must pay close attention to profitability. The default culture of a firm is likely to be the pursuit of this goal unless management deliberately takes steps to support nonfinancial values. In addition, some profitable partners may fear that steps to emphasize widespread collaboration will limit their bargaining power. The risk that these partners may leave means that achieving the balance that we describe requires management to convince such partners that taking these steps can build a firm that is both more financially successful and professionally satisfying.

In this article, we seek to address a central question that arose time and time again in our work: How can a firm be economically efficient while giving due consideration to professional values? To do so, we explore three business measures that our interviews indicated are especially important in shaping partners’ perceptions of their firms:

  1. encouraging entrepreneurs,
  2. monitoring productivity, and
  3. recruiting laterals.

These are all practices that have become increasingly prominent in response to fierce competitive pressures. They therefore have the potential to lead partners to believe that their firms are devoted only to profitability at the expense of professional values. All firms adopt these measures, but how a firm implements them can either confirm or refute this belief.

In addition to these three business measures, an especially powerful approach is to use the compensation system to communicate the firm’s values. This is because partners interpret compensation not simply as a distribution of financial rewards but as an allocation of respect based on the firm’s view of what it means to be a good lawyer. In this sense, compensation has both a material and a symbolic significance. Partners strongly believe that, regardless of what firms say, the kind of behavior a firm rewards is the most meaningful statement of what the firm really values. Indeed, a firm also can send a credible message about the importance of professional values by “leaving money on the table” in some cases. Partners regularly use this phrase to describe instances in which a firm is willing to forgo financial gain for the sake of other nonfinancial considerations.

Partners appreciate that their firms must adopt these three business measures to be competitive in a market in which firms cannot count on clients to provide a steady stream of business. Firms that present and implement these measures in ways that affirm the continued importance of professional values, however, are more likely to elicit meaningful commitment from their partners.

Our Methodology

We interviewed 259 partners between July 2009 and August 2014 and reinterviewed 20 in July 2016 for a total of 279 interviews. Overall, 244 (94%) of these partners came from six firms, five of which were in the AmLaw100 and had at least 900 lawyers at the time of the interviews. The sixth firm had more than 400 lawyers at the time of the interviews. After securing cooperation from the firm, we selected the partners to ensure a good balance of practice group, years of experience, management responsibilities, and demographics. In the final sample, the median number of years of law practice was 25, the partners represented a mix of “homegrown” and lateral partners, and 31% were female. We also spoke to the managing partners of all six of the target firms in the study, in addition to the current or former managing partners of three other AmLaw firms.

The majority of the interviews were conducted in-person in the partners’ offices and lasted one to two hours, with the average length approximately 90 minutes. The interviews were semi-structured in format, and all interviews were kept strictly confidential. We recorded our conversations (with the partners’ consent) and transcribed them. We analyzed the transcripts using ATLAS.ti, a coding software designed for qualitative research.

Encouraging Entrepreneurs

With the loss of stable ongoing client relationships, law firms now must explicitly focus on ensuring that they have enough work from clients to be competitive and even to survive. As one leader of an AmLaw 50 firm put it, “None of us are getting a huge percentage of our revenue from repeat institutional clients the way we all did 20 years ago or even 10 years ago. … [Y]ou have to replace work every year, every six months, every two years.” The result is, as we heard regularly, firms push their lawyers to be “entrepreneurial.” The goal of being an entrepreneur is “staying busy.” Staying busy is increasingly important for job security, and partners are acutely aware of whether they are doing it. As one partner said, “When you are in the law firm, you always think about where your work is coming from. You’re always thinking about, ‘Am I busy enough?’ If you are too busy, you are miserable; when you’re not busy, you’re miserable because you would rather be busy, and so there is never that perfect level of work.”

The more partners serve a client, the longer that client remains with the firm, even when an important partner leaves.”

Heidi K. Gardner, Program Chair, Sector Leadership and Smarter Collaboration, HLS Executive Education; Distinguished Fellow, HLS Center on the Legal Profession

It’s necessary for partners these days to be entrepreneurial, but one risk is that they may regard themselves essentially as solo practitioners who are individual profit centers within the firm. From this perspective, partners are responsible for building and maintaining their practices and are held accountable for financial targets set by the parent company. They share overhead expenses with other lawyers in the firm but are not otherwise connected in a meaningful way by a sense of being engaged in a common enterprise.

One partner, for instance, observed, “I am my own sales force. I am my own marketing force. I also have to service all my clients at the same time, and I am effectively my own billing department. If there is a billing dispute, I can’t turn it over to my accounting department. I’ve got to go face the client. So you find yourself a small business within a law firm, and I had no idea that I would be [doing this].”

This can lead to competition for clients among partners in the firm, who may regard a colleague’s gain as their loss. One junior partner observed about the continuing goal to have enough work: “You’re not worried about competition outside of this building; you’re worried about competition inside the building.” Another told the story of a corporate partner who brought a litigator to a client pitch. The litigator “stopped the pitch in the middle and said, ‘I need to talk to you outside the room.’ When they got outside, he said, ‘I’m not going back in until you give me this amount of billing credit.’” All this reflects the observation of one partner that “if you make people paranoid about their future, they are going to do everything in the world to protect themselves, which doesn’t help with the whole philosophy that the firm is supposed to [put the] best boots on the ground.”

Firms attempt to institutionalize clients to discourage such narrowly self-interested behavior. This will not be successful, however, unless they can convince partners that they will be better off collaborating than working in silos and that cooperation will be reciprocated and not exploited. That is, they must emphasize that being entrepreneurial is a collaborative rather than a solo enterprise. A firm that can do this can gain a competitive advantage from its ability to assemble teams who work seamlessly to solve client problems, rather than bicker over individual credit or the desire to hoard clients. As Heidi K. Gardner has found in her research, collaboration “enhances a professional firm’s client loyalty and retention. The more partners serve a client, the longer that client remains with the firm, even when an important partner leaves.”

This collaboration also is a source of nonfinancial professional satisfaction for many lawyers. Gardner notes, “Many partners who had participated in collaborative client engagements reported that the most important benefit for them was the opportunity to meet new colleagues or deepen existing relationships.” Such partners describe “the feeling that colleagues and I are working toward a common goal” and “the camaraderie that comes with working as a group.”

A firm that emphasizes being entrepreneurial as a collaborative rather than individual task can both be more profitable and provide greater professional satisfaction for its partners.

A firm can encourage such behavior by explicitly rewarding cooperative behavior in its compensation decisions. One firm we studied, for instance, asks on the partner self-assessment compensation form both whom a partner has helped during the year and which others have helped him or her. The firm openly and regularly emphasizes the importance of collaborative behavior and compensation decisions. It is not an accident that this firm tends to do better than most in institutionalizing its clients.

Firms also may attempt to foster a collaborative culture by encouraging rainmakers to be generous in sharing credits with others. Some provide guidelines, while one firm distributes information about the extent to which individual partners share credits. On occasion, a compensation committee may adjust a partner’s compensation because it believes that he has been unfairly hoarding origination credits for himself. One committee member reports, “[W]e talk to people about being hogs, and we tell them that they get punished when they are hogs. … [We tell them], ‘[Y]ou might have made this, but you’re making this because you’re not a team player.’”

In sum, a firm these days must encourage its partners to be entrepreneurs, but how it does this is important. A firm that emphasizes being entrepreneurial as a collaborative rather than individual task can both be more profitable and provide greater professional satisfaction for its partners. This highlights that business and professional values are not inherently antagonistic but can be complementary.

Monitoring Productivity

It is no secret that law firms now are more willing than ever to lay off partners whom they regard as insufficiently productive. “If you are not productive for a few years,” one partner told us, “firms don’t carry their wounded that long anymore.” Firms see no choice but to do this in an unforgiving market in which maintaining a competitive level of profitability is crucial. How a firm conceives of productivity, however, and how it holds partners accountable can affect whether the firm is seen as a business enterprise devoted only to financial performance or something more than this.

Management must simply be attuned to other ways of credibly communicating to partners that nonfinancial professional values are important to the firm.

One approach that a firm can take is to consider a broad range of factors in determining partner productivity. Serving on an important firm committee, mentoring junior lawyers, spearheading a change in firm policy, and agreeing to forgo representation to avoid a business conflict with another client all can contribute to the firm’s profitability and its long-term sustainability, even if these activities do not directly produce revenues. A firm that considers these in evaluating productivity and in compensation decisions can communicate to partners that it considers being a good citizen of the firm valuable behavior.

Another way some firms attempt to balance business and professional concerns is by opting to provide a broad range of services that vary in their profitability, with commensurate differences in partner compensation. As one partner described her firm’s philosophy, “Rather than fire partners who aren’t producing or cut our partners by 10 percent, there tends to be a sense that we’ll deal with it in the compensation process.” Another partner in a firm with this approach said, “I would also consider us as being less shy about being committed to culture, less given to embracing profits over people. … If we cared more about profitability, we would probably focus on being more aggressive.” Such firms define productivity in more expansive terms than firms with more focused practices. A firm with a narrow range of practices certainly can meet the challenge of finding a balance. Management must simply be attuned to other ways of credibly communicating to partners that nonfinancial professional values are important to the firm.

At the same time, partners in firms with a broad range of practices believe that this approach makes business sense as opposed to a focus on a more limited set of highly profitable practices. As one partner put it, “In terms of stability and longevity, would I rather have a bigger product offering that can get my billable number, my origination number higher, versus be at this other firm where I can only sell four things? For me that’s a no-brainer, I mean every day of the week I’ll [choose the first].”

A firm also can use close monitoring of performance to identify potential problems at an early point when there may be opportunities to address them. It may help a partner engage in more effective business development or even take time to retool in order to move into a new area of practice. One partner, for instance, said that he believes that regularly keeping an eye on productivity enables his firm to be “more humane” by “balancing the business needs with a sense of decency” more than other firms that let problems become serious before they respond. One firm he mentioned, for instance, “didn’t change with the times and so when it had to, they were brutal, they just overnight became brutal.”

Firms may also signal the need to leave by phasing out a practice area, rather than immediately abandoning it. This involves not devoting new resources to the practice, such as entry-level associates, promotions to partner, lateral partners, increases in compensation, and marketing efforts. It provides time for partners in that practice to find another firm in which their work is a better fit. In addition, firms can differ in how much time they give partners before they must leave. One partner said, “We’ve had practices that just dried up. This firm is pretty good about it; we don’t cut someone off at the knees after one or two bad years, but over some period of time, after cutting people’s compensation, we have told people to leave.” Another said that when her firm needed to let partners go, it “did it in a very humane way compared to when people just got shoved out the door overnight with no notice, no nothing.”

Firms therefore may implement accountability for productivity in ways that can communicate that the firm recognizes the importance of professional values. While no firm can afford to ignore financial performance, how a firm defines it and how it holds people accountable for it can send a message to partners about what the firm values.

Recruiting Laterals

Even if a firm encourages entrepreneurs and monitors productivity in ways that affirm the importance of professional values, a third common business practice can threaten its culture. This is the fact that most major firms are continuously in the market for laterals from other firms. Such a practice can undermine the stability that firms need to create a common culture. As one partner put it, “The market is starting to look [like] sports teams; you know, we trade some stars, stars keep leaving and going, and the whole game, if you are the coach, is to temporarily get together a team and then it moves on.” Another partner said that when a firm brings in a large number of laterals, “they have their culture, we have our culture, and it’s very hard to integrate them. I’ve seen it erode our culture.”

Partners told us that how a firm goes about recruiting laterals can send a powerful message about whether the firm is interested simply in financial performance or in other nonfinancial concerns. They consistently used two terms to describe the difference: “expanding the platform” and “buying a revenue stream.”

Most major firms are continuously in the market for laterals from other firms.

Hiring laterals to expand the platform means attempting to identify partners at other firms whose practices would complement the services the firm currently offers. Ideally, existing clients will have a demand for the services that the new partners will provide, and the new partners’ clients will find the firm’s existing practices appealing. This complementarity of practices increases the likelihood of collaboration between new and existing partners. This can help integrate laterals into the firm’s culture, provide substantial financial benefits, and help partners develop personal ties that are an important source of professional satisfaction.

All this can strengthen ties between partners and firms. As one partner said, “I get a lot of calls by headhunters, but if I [were] to go to someplace else, there is the possibility of me earning a bit more money, yet [here] I really enjoy the work, I really enjoy the clients, I enjoy the people that I work with.” Another remarked, “I could never imagine going to another firm and having a better situation in the sense that I would lose the relationships that I developed over eight years.”

By contrast, partners said that buying a revenue stream reflects an effort to identify prospective laterals whose book of business will increase the profitability of the firm without regard to whether new partners will be collaborating with existing partners in doing so. The new partners simply add their profit stream to that of the firm and will not necessarily expand opportunities for their colleagues. Such partners theoretically could work in their own silos, with minimal interaction with others in the firm, especially if they bring along an entire practice group from another firm.

One partner described the message this sends: “The real risk would be [that] they start hiring people just for the money, so it boils down to, ‘[W]e’re hiring this person for the money, that’s the reason, and we’re not looking at other considerations.’” When this happens, “people will start to catch on and say, ‘Oh, if they are hiring people only for the money then maybe what I’m doing is only for the money; these other things don’t really count.’ You could see how that would break down a culture.”

Another approach to lateral recruiting that can send different messages is how much time a firm spends assessing whether laterals will be a good fit with the firm’s culture. One indication of this is whether the firm ensures that a large number of partners interview a prospective lateral. One partner lamented the firm’s failure to take this approach. “I wonder,” she said, “if our firm interviewed people at the other firm and said, ‘Well we would like to know about the culture of your firm before we bring in 35 people.’ I don’t think that happened.” The message, she said, is “you are a corporate entity, it doesn’t matter whether they are part of your culture or not, it’s a business, you’ve made it clear this is just a business, we’re looking at the bottom line.”

The time a firm spends on integrating laterals into the firm after they are hired can signal how important the firm regards its culture.

Another said, “I don’t think there is time spent thinking as much about the culture of a group of laterals rather than the book of business and how their expertise adds to our resume.” When that happens, he said, powerful individuals may end up in leadership positions who “have a different way of doing business, and they don’t get our culture because that is not them.”

The time a firm spends on integrating laterals into the firm after they are hired also can signal how important the firm regards its culture. Legal recruiter Major, Lindsey & Africa observes that in its experience “often the most unhappy laterals were those whose firms failed to make them true partners with a stake in the enterprise other than a purely financial one.” As a result, “without common ties of some kind, and lacking a long common history of ‘thick and thin’ that once helped to bind partners together, it can otherwise be tempting to abandon ship at the first sign of stormy weather.”

One partner noted that his firm recognized this risk by creating a formal role for him as the full-time head of lateral integration. He emphasized that this role can be important in emphasizing the nonfinancial values of the firm’s culture. “I think the key to keeping the glue,” he said, “is to have enough touch points in the firm that people feel like it’s their home, they like coming to work.”

Finally, a firm can send a powerful message about its values by declining to hire a profitable lateral that it does not regard as a good cultural fit with the firm. One partner reported, “We took a pass on a number of people because we said, you know, that person is just going to be oil and water with this law firm, they are too demanding, they are too difficult, and it’s just not worth it.” Another said that it asks if a prospective lateral is someone “who isn’t really a team player or is going to be difficult or is really out for themselves. Or is this a person who is going to be the kind of person who, if you have a problem on Friday at 5:00, they want to help you as opposed to just wanting to find a way to punt it to somebody else.”

Most major firms these days are active participants in the lateral market. How they approach the recruiting process, however, can send a message about whether financial considerations are paramount. These messages can hinder or strengthen the firm’s ability to create and sustain a distinctive culture that elicits partner commitment to the firm.

Compensation: Leaving Money on the Table

A common phrase that partners used to describe how a firm credibly communicates its commitment to professional values is “leaving money on the table.” This occurs when the firm is willing to sacrifice revenues for the sake of professional concerns. A law firm may do this, for instance, when it asks a profitable partner to leave because of offensive or abusive behavior. It may also do so when a substantial commitment to pro bono practice reduces hours of partners that otherwise could be spent on billable work.

One partner agreed that the firm leaves money on the table in the sense that it “trades off some intangibles for not completely maximizing economic performance.”

Senior partners in management positions leave money on the table when they take less compensation than the amount to which they are entitled, in order to ensure that rising younger partners are well compensated. One partner described the powerful message that a rainmaker in the firm sends by doing this. “[H]e could probably demand five times the compensation he makes, but what he does is that he will take less compensation for himself and say, ‘Compensate these other people who are really important to my practice well.’ And so that simultaneously binds them to him and keeps them happy and keeps them here.” This partner noted that this very rainmaker has “always made a point of saying that it’s a point of pride that he leaves money on the table; he doesn’t extract out of the firm all the money he could, and that’s an example for other people too.”

One firm in which we interviewed several lawyers delayed opening a new office in a location with significant revenue potential. It could have moved quickly by merging with or acquiring a firm in that location. Instead, it waited until it could send an existing partner to open the office because of the desire to ensure that the office would be integrated into the firm’s culture. This effectively left money on the table, in the form of forgone revenues from opening the office sooner.

Some of the steps related to encouraging entrepreneurs, monitoring productivity, and recruiting laterals also reflect leaving money on the table. Firms that provide a wide range of services with different levels of profitability may be more financially successful if they pruned some practices and concentrated on those that are more profitable. One partner in such a firm agreed that the firm leaves money on the table in the sense that it “trades off some intangibles for not completely maximizing economic performance.” Another said that “we have lawyers who spend their time developing expertise and issues that will not necessarily be that remunerative to the firm.” This partner acknowledged that the firm’s approach “comes at a cost because not every practice area is that profitable.” The firm’s approach, in other words, leaves money on the table in the sense that a more selective set of practices could generate higher revenues and profits. Not all firms need necessarily take this approach, but some firms find this an effective way to reinforce their culture.

In addition, firms that decide to terminate partners but provide a reasonable amount of time for them to leave the firm leave money on the table in the sense that their quicker departure would increase profits available for the partners who remain. Similarly, a firm that declines to hire a profitable lateral partner because of the lack of a cultural fit can be leaving money on the table in the form of the lost revenues that partner would have generated. In all these ways, a firm can make decisions that credibly communicate that it stands for more than financial performance.

Money and Meaning

Modern market forces have growing momentum with the potential to drain law firms of distinctive features as they become more interchangeable business enterprises. To the extent this occurs, partners are likely to view any allegiance to the firm as contingent on the financial rewards it offers in comparison to other firms. They also may be inclined to engage in narrowly self-interested behavior that may not be in the best interests of the firm.

Those who apply to law school are motivated to do so by a variety of goals other than financial success.

A firm that wants to avoid this outcome by building a distinctive culture must find a way to gain the commitment and loyalty of its lawyers by conveying the sense that the firm is a common cooperative venture. This can both minimize defections to other firms and encourage cooperative rather than self-interested behavior. A firm must, however, deliberately undertake to do this. Every decision a firm makes communicates a message about its values. Unless a firm explicitly seeks to convey the importance of nonfinancial values, its need to adopt efficient business practices may send the message that financial performance is all that counts. We have described some of the ways in which firms can attempt to do this and have emphasized that it can be a delicate process.

Our interviews indicate that law firm partners maintain a sense of themselves as distinctive professionals, notwithstanding a significant intensification of business pressures on both law firms and law firm partners in recent years. They continue to seek nonfinancial professional rewards from the practice of law that are important to them. In some respects, this should not be surprising. It is consistent with research that indicates that those who apply to law school are motivated to do so by a variety of goals other than financial success. Even though much can happen between applying to law school and becoming a law firm partner, our interviews indicate that many partners retain this orientation. Law firms that are sensitive to this and take deliberate steps to respect it can gain a competitive advantage as well as meet their partners’ desire for professional satisfaction. They can, in other words, be successful by providing both money and meaning.

Mitt Regan is the McDevitt professor of jurisprudence and director of the Center on the Legal Profession at Georgetown University Law Center.

Lisa Rohrer is head of university partnerships at Emeritus Institute of Management, a senior advisor at Fairfax Associates, and a senior fellow at the Center on the Legal Profession at Georgetown University Law Center.