You are likely wondering what Warren Buffett and the super rich have to do with you? I promise to connect the dots. Think about what motivates you to do something.

Did you read Warren Buffett’s Op Ed piece Stop Coddling the Super Rich in the August 15 New York Times? After reading it, I had two thoughts:

  1. Since I did not meet the criteria for “super rich,” it would be easy for me to favor increasing the taxes on them.
  2. If Buffett and other “super rich” want to pay more taxes to help the country, why don’t they voluntarily do it?

After having those thoughts, I searched for the website Gifts to the United States Government and found a Forbes piece written by Daniel J. Mitchell: Warren Buffett’s Fiscal Innumeracy and a Cato Institute article, (published by CNN) by Jeffrey A. Miron Why Warren Buffett Is Wrong.

I also consulted a tax lawyer who reminded me Judge Learned Hand once said in an opinion:  “Anyone may arrange his affairs so that his taxes shall be as low as possible; he is not bound to choose that pattern which best pays the treasury. There is not even a patriotic duty to increase one’s taxes.”

I guess many super rich people who want to pay more taxes do not voluntarily do so because they know others who are super rich are taking Judge Hand’s advice.

I also learned, but did not watch, that Charlie Rose flew to Omaha to interview Buffett.

My purpose here is not to praise or find fault with Warren Buffett’s op ed, or Judge Hand’s dictum. Put simply, I want to explore whether law firms and lawyers voluntarily do certain things, or are they only motivated when they are forced to do it.

After consulting with some friends, here is my list for us to explore:

  • What motivates law firms to hire, promote and provide leadership postions to women and minority lawyers? Are some firms motivated only after clients demand it?
  • What motivates law firms to develop creative alternative billing arrangements for clients? Do some law firms only do it after their clients threaten to take their legal work to another firm?
  • What motivates law firms to increase pro-bono efforts? Do some firms require a nudge from their clients, the Bar or by seeing what competitors are doing?
  • What motivates law firms to spend time and money to train and develop their young lawyers? Will some firms only invest after their clients demand to have more highly skilled lawyers work on their matters?
  • What motivates lawyers to learn? Do some lawyers only do it if given CLE credit? Will they only come to programs if the firm provides a free lunch?
  • What motivates lawyers to invest in their careers? Do some lawyers require the firm to pay for it before they will participate?
  • What motivates associates in large firms to develop their career and do other non-billable activities? Do some of them only do it if they receive “billable hour credit?”
  • What motivates partners in law firms to prepare a business plan? Do some partners only do it after firm leaders require it?
  • What motivates partners to cross-sell and expand relationships with their clients? Do some partners only do it if they get all the origination credit?
  • What motivates partners to participate in recruiting the best and brightest new lawyers? Are some partners only motivated to participate at their alma mater on a football weekend?
  • What motivates partners in large law firms to complete their evaluation of associates? Are some partners only motivated to complete their evaluations after receiving word they will not receive their next pay check?
  • What motivates partners in a large firm to turn in their time sheets? In my old firm one partner only turned in his time when his paycheck was withheld.
  • What motivates partners in a large law firm to mentor younger lawyers? Do some of them only do it after the firm establishes a formal mentoring program?
  • What motivates lawyers to take money out of their own pocket and contribute to charities or recovery from disasters? Do some lawyers contribute after they see the firm’s staff contributing?
  • Finally, what motivates lawyers to simply say “thank you?” Do some lawyers only say thank you after being reminded they need to do it? (Reminds me of children being directed by parents to send a thank you note to a person who gave them a gift.)

What motivates your firm and what motivates you to do things you know will benefit your clients, your firm and your career?