The incentives administrative support staff care about

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A law firm is a team.


Like all teams, success depends on cooperation, communication, and commitment from everyone…


Which means administrative support staff are also key to the success of a firm. (As cheesy as it is, ‘A team is only as strong as its weakest link’.)


For law firms that want to maximise efficiency and drive consistent growth, the motivation and job satisfaction of their administrative support staff should not be overlooked or undervalued. Why?


Because, according to a study conducted for the Journal of Law and Health, ‘[e]mployees…who are content and motivated are not only more productive, but also improve client perceptions of, and strengthen clients’ relationships with, their firms.’ (Source: Journal of Law and Health). In other words, satisfied employees improve a law firm’s bottom line.


As a leading  provider of PA, document production and administrative support services to the UK legal sector, our ability to effectively manage and develop people is driven by our understanding of what it is that motivates them. In this blog, we share this information with the aim of motivating you to assess how your support staff are incentivised, in order to make choices, and possibly changes, that will ultimately contribute to the growth of your firm.


The theory behind motivation


As social scientists have tried to figure out the ‘what, how, and why’ of human behaviour, numerous motivational theories have emerged. One such theory, The Expectancy Theory (which is based on the notion that an individual’s motivation comes from believing that if they work hard they will get what they desire in the form of a reward) is a leading and widely accepted explanation of motivation in the business world.


Decision makers in firms often, mistakenly, interpret these ‘rewards’ as purely material rewards (or ‘extrinsic motivators’). For example, increases in salary or bonuses. But over 17 years of supplying administrative support services to the legal sector has taught us that while extrinsic motivators do contribute to job satisfaction, it’s not the only reason support staff perform in their role. Intrinsic motivators (the psychological rewards people get from doing well at their job and doing meaningful work) also play a significant role in motivating people.


With that in mind, we’ve covered some extrinsic and intrinsic motivators that, when combined, will ensure that administrative support staff are motivated to do their best.


The top motivators for administrative support staff in law firms:


There are a number of ways you can motivate employees through extrinsic and intrinsic rewards, however it’s important to remember that every firm and every individual is different. The most effective rewards will be ones that are tailored to your employees’ desires. You can discover these by asking your support staff what workplace changes would increase their motivation.


Extrinsic motivation


Employees are motivated to achieve a certain standard of work by rewards. These often come in the form of extrinsic (in other words ‘material’) rewards.


For example:

  • Extra holiday
  • Profit sharing
  • Paid parking
  • Bonus plans


Back when law firms were more bureaucratic, this kind of reward was a major motivational tool for managers. The catch, however, was that this kind of motivator wasn’t everlasting. If/when this kind of reward ran out, people were likely to revert to old behaviours.


Which is where intrinsic rewards come in. Intrinsic rewards (which we discuss further in the next section) aren’t tangible, they are based on feeling rewarded after a day’s work and are created through confidence, accountability/responsibility, and having the power to make a difference (Source: Ivey Business Journal).


Today, managers are finding that when fair extrinsic rewards are in place, the day-to-day motivation that intrinsic rewards offer are great long-term motivators because staff are happier and enjoy their work. In turn, this contributes to cost-effective solutions, higher quality output, and more commitment—all of which will improve that bottom line.


Intrinsic motivation


In law firms, we have found that intrinsic rewards for support staff come from 2 main areas:


1. Respect and positive recognition from fee earners and managers
In the study conducted for the Journal of Law and Health, respect and positive recognition from the employer were almost as important to the staff as salary and retirement benefits (Source: Journal of Law and Health).


Respect and positive recognition can be shown in numerous ways. For example, regularly thanking or acknowledging good work in front of others, inviting your support staff to events (and thus breaking the ‘us and them’ silo that can occur between fee earners and administrative support staff), and regular one-on-one reviews to discuss goals and next steps for each employee.


2. Power to make decisions/actively contribute to the future of the firm and its strategy


When an employee feels they can make a difference, they feel empowered and engaged. You can create this environment through:

  • Performance measured objectives and continuous feedback
  • Giving staff the power to choose to work remotely if/when they aren’t needed in the office
  • Providing training opportunities for support staff in order to give them the confidence to not only deliver what is asked of them, but also have a voice in strategy meetings




To motivate staff members, law firms need to implement both extrinsic and intrinsic motivational techniques. But the time and resources needed to create this environment is often something law firms simply don’t have.


Here at Intelligent Office, we specialise in effectively motivating PA, document production and administrative support staff in order to get law firms working at optimal efficiency. We’re excellent people managers because we genuinely care about what your support staff think and feel.


And it’s not only us who thinks that. In 2012 and again in 2015, we achieved the Investors In People Gold Standard.  Investors in People is a nationally recognised framework that marks high performance in people management and development.  To put this into perspective, of the 12,000+ organisations that have been awarded IIP in the UK, just 8% have achieved the highest accreditation level of Gold.


The range of PA, document production and administrative support services we provide to the legal sector include:



If you feel that your administrative and/or secretarial support staff could be better managed in order to drive a more efficient and streamlined service delivery, you’re in the right place. For a high-level assessment of your firm’s needs (which we can do via a phone call or a visit to your office), and recommendations for how Intelligent Office can ensure your support services are helping (not hindering) your growth efforts, speak to one of our friendly team—no strings attached


Email: or give us a call on +44 (0)7984 252 150.


Alternatively, if you’d like to hear more about outsourcing your law firm’s support services to a third party like us (and hear from the people who are currently doing just that), we send emails twice a month to our database.


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