Vol. 77, No. 11, November
Coaching for Lawyers
Lawyers in private practice and in corporate legal departments can
benefit from the professional guidance of a coach to optimize
performance. For outside counsel, coaching helps attorneys develop and
grow their practice. For in-house counsel, it helps them navigate their
by Roy S. Ginsburg
Roy S. Ginsburg, U.W. 1982, coaches
lawyers primarily in marketing and career development. He also is an
independent CLE provider. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Executive coaching, a professional development tool that combines
strategic consulting and problem-solving counseling to help
professionals set and reach their business and/or personal goals, has in
the past decade found much support in the business community. Managers
in corporations, including blue chip companies such as IBM, AT&T,
and Kodak, are realizing its benefits. Lawyers, on the other hand, are
just now becoming familiar with the concept.
That the coaching trend is more prevalent in corporate America than
in the legal profession is no surprise. Historically, law firms have
followed the lead of their corporate clients on implementing management
and operational innovations. For example, most companies were using
email and Web sites long before law firms got on board. Coaching has
proven to be no different for a variety of reasons.
But what exactly is coaching, and why should it be of interest to
lawyers? Perhaps it's best first to say what it is not: coaching is
not therapy. A central tenet of coaching is that the person working
with a coach is currently functioning well, but wants to optimize
performance. Moreover, coaching looks forward to achieve future goals;
it is not concerned with the past.
Benefits for Lawyers
Coaching can be of benefit to lawyers in areas as diverse as managing
relationship with clients and colleagues, refining communication and
negotiation skills, productivity, and working out issues of stress and
work/life balance. Career management and practice development are
additional areas where the insight, support, and prodding of a coach can
give an attorney the extra edge to achieve in a competitive market.
Most attorneys will concede that superior people skills are often the
distinguishing characteristics of the most successful attorneys.
Nevertheless, many attorneys, being logical and linear by nature or
training, have been skeptical of opportunities to develop these skills
through coaching. The number of skeptics is going down, however, as more
lawyers recognize that their technical skills alone can get them only so
far in the legal profession.
Even among the attorneys who see merit in the personal and
professional development that can be achieved through coaching, the idea
that "I can do it myself" may be enticing. Attorneys tend to be a
self-reliant lot, and may be put off by concern that taking on a coach
will be perceived as a sign of weakness. But realistically, it's the
rare individual who can change behavior significantly without support.
The problem, of course, is actually doing what you set out to do.
Everyone knows that in order to lose weight, you eat less and exercise
more. But how many people successfully lose weight without any type of
support system? For attorneys, coaching provides the support system with
its structure and discipline to "get it done."
Working with a Coach
Working one-on-one, the coach and client first identify and assess
the client's goals and then devise a strategic action plan to achieve
them. Coaches ask open-ended and provocative questions to help clients
explore options they may not have ordinarily considered. Brainstorming
frequently generates practical ideas, alternatives, and realistic,
attainable solutions. An action plan then provides a structure for
commitment. The most important task of a coach is to hold the client
accountable. In short, the best coaches are part strategist, part
sounding board, part cheerleader, and part taskmaster.
Coaching sessions, usually weekly, continue for a period of three to
12 months, depending on the client's objectives and progress. Sessions
may be held either in person or over the telephone and typically last
30-60 minutes. Frequency keeps the client on track and permits timely
adjustments. Many coaches also make themselves available when
unanticipated needs arise between scheduled sessions.
From a financial standpoint, coaching can be a wise and prudent
investment. Consider practice development coaching: if coaching support
helps bring in just one additional piece of business, it has already
paid for itself and then some. Alternatively, in the case of career
management coaching, by investing in coaching to help retain a
previously dissatisfied lawyer, the firm or corporate legal department
may save itself the far greater cost of replacing that attorney.
Finding a Coach
So how does an attorney find a good coach? In many instances, the
process is very similar to how clients find good lawyers - by referral.
There also are Web sites with online directories of coaches.
Most coaches have received some type of formal training, and there
are both attorney and nonattorney coaches. The advantage of nonlawyer
coaches is that they are sometimes better equipped to bring a fresh
perspective to an issue. Some are also more likely to add a level of
spirituality to the experience, which certain clients appreciate. Lawyer
coaches usually have a better grasp and understanding of the unique
stresses of practicing law. They also tend to be more pragmatic than
nonlawyer coaches, which many clients prefer.
Most critical is the coach's ability to relate interpersonally,
because the coaching relationship is an intimate one requiring respect
and faith. Carefully interview prospective coaches before choosing. If
complimentary sessions are offered, take advantage of the opportunity to
discern and assess the intangibles of the relationship. Work only with
coaches whom you trust and with whom you feel comfortable. Never hire a
coach where there is no genuine rapport and don't be afraid to rely on
your instincts about the personal chemistry.
It is often said that lawyers don't want to be the first to do
anything, but don't want to be the last either. Coaching will become
popular in the legal profession as more attorneys begin to understand
and appreciate its value. What remains to be seen is how soon.