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Your Firm's Noble Purpose:
The Key to Partner Engagement


The story is old and probably familiar, but it illustrates a powerful point.

One morning, during the construction of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, Sir Christopher Wren, the Cathedral’s architect, came upon two stonecutters, and asked what they were doing. The first man answered, “I’m cutting stone.”

But the second man said, “I’m building a cathedral.”


This story demonstrates how your perception of what you do profoundly affects how engaged you, and your partners, are in your firm’s work.

I thought of this the other day when I was having lunch with a partner from a medium sized law firm. I asked what was the purpose of his job, of his practice. His first response was “bringing in more clients, preferably large-volume clients.”

I asked if there wasn’t more to it than that. He replied, “I know where you’re going. Profitability. Yes, we want to improve our firm’s profitability.”

(Does any of this sound familiar?)

That wasn’t where I was going, so I decided to dig a little deeper by asking, “What keeps you doing your job?” At first, he talked about providing for his family. Next, he talked about his experiences in law school, and then finding his niche in his specific practice.

Eventually, he came to the idea of “helping people” by providing legal counsel and advice.

The Noble Purpose 

Ah, I thought, now we’re getting to “building a cathedral.”

You see, I believe that to engage ourselves, and the partners, associates, and administrative staff we’re leading, we must be aware of the grand or noble purpose in what we do.

To illustrate this to the partner, I looked around the restaurant and said, “You see that guy over there? Your legal advice means he can sell his business for a good price, so that he can retire comfortably.”  

“Or over there, you’re helping that single mom start her own business, and protect her intellectual property. Or the couple in the corner, you’re saving their business by defending them from charges of wrongful termination and sexual harassment.”

In short, I said, you’re “helping people” achieve their dreams.

Which would engage the passions of your partners, would motivate them to do the best they can? Seeing themselves as attorneys or partners? Or as people who help others achieve their dreams?

Maybe “achieving their dreams” doesn’t fit your firm. But you get the idea.

Perception, Performance, Attitude 

It’s not just a matter of semantics. It’s about how you perceive your role in this complex world we live in, because your perception of that role influences how well you perform in that role. Everyone needs to feel a part of a noble purpose, a grander scheme in life.

Otherwise, what you’re doing is “just a job.” No more, no less.

And when your attitude is “it’s just a job,” how hard will you work? You’ll probably do just enough to get by. But that’s not enough for you as a leader, as a managing partner in your firm. No, we want to do the best we can, and we want to inspire others to do the best they can.

I don’t care what practice your firm is in, you and your firm must have a sense of noble purpose. You may have to look for it, but you can find it. This is what engages everyone in your firm.

People who aren’t engaged in their work are usually task-oriented. They, like the first stonecutter, are focused only on the task or activity at hand. It’s hard to get excited, or passionate, about that.

Engaged partners, on the other hand, are focused on the purpose; they are purpose-oriented, results-oriented. The attorney I had lunch with only got excited when he talked about helping people achieve their dreams. That’s his purpose.

What about You?

Are you focused on “just a job?” Or on the noble purpose? More important, what about the partners in your firm? And the associates and administrative staff?

What are you doing to get those around you to see the noble purpose? Are you, and they, cutting stone? Or building a cathedral?


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About the Author

Terry Wall
Managing Director
T.G. Wall Management Consulting, LLC

A recognized expert on strategy, leadership, and productivity, Terry has a BA in Psychology from Rockhurst University in Kansas City, and an MBA from Drexel University in Philadelphia. He's a professional speaker, and a professional writer who co-authored a book on Teambuilding, and has been published in many publications. He can be reached at 856.218.7200 or