Coaching in Law Practices

11 min read

The following article was contributed by:

You have been hearing a lot of hype about Executive Coaching in the last five years, but did you know that coaching is not just for executives?  Attorneys all over the world are also taking advantage of coaching to:

Leverage their networking and marketing efforts,

Take a leadership role in their firm,

Advance or even change their careers.

Coaches guide attorneys through the process of improving certain skill sets and the overall quality of their professional lives.  Senior attorneys used to take the time and energy to provide guidance to younger associates, as mentors, and some still do, either formally or informally.  However, there is no assurance of confidentiality, and the quality and consistency of mentoring varies greatly.  An experienced professional coach adheres to ethical standards including confidentiality, and masters listening and guidance skills, just as a lawyer masters the artistry of the legal profession.  Coaches, like lawyers, are trained to ask the right follow-up questions to glean valuable information for their coaching clients.  Think of coaching as a support system to allow you to perform an audit or assessment of your law practice or legal career; it focuses on strategic actions and results that are aligned with your vision and goals for your professional development.

When is coaching right for a lawyer like you or someone you know?  The time to engage a coach is when it’s time for a change or a breakthrough in the status quo of your professional life.  You could be transitioning into a new position or out of the law, needing to improve rainmaking or leadership skills, or have that nagging feeling that there are places where you are holding yourself back.  Take our guided self-inquiry below – or work through it with a colleague.  Coaches often use the methodology of guided inquiry to help focus their clients, explore areas to improve or change, and discover solutions.  If you choose to perform our version of an internal audit below with a colleague or by yourself, don’t be satisfied with the first answer to any of the questions – – listen like you would listen to a client that doesn’t understand the legal impact of the facts, and ask the next questions to uncover deeper layers in the inquiry.

The guided inquiry questions below cover three areas:  rainmaking, career advancement, and career transition.  We’ve included a short explanation of the rationale behind each question to help with this coaching exercise.  The coaching tip at the end gives a hint of how you might approach each inquiry with a professional coach.


What are you doing to develop more business?  In our experience, many lawyers simply don’t know what to do to consistently and systematically develop new business, or are procrastinating for a variety of reasons.  They often claim they don’t have time; they have too much billable work to do, and they are directing their energy to short term goals at the expense of long-term investments.  Take a look at the actions you currently take in order to specifically generate business.  Networking, speaking, writing articles, and sending greeting cards are great and necessary marketing activities but do not, by themselves, specifically generate business.  Coaches often work with attorneys at all stages of their law practice to enhance their marketing and networking skills to produce increased revenue results. Ask yourself whether your actions are aligned with your goals, and whether they are effectively producing sustainable results.  Coaching tip:  Engage in a dialogue with your coach that opens the door to discover what’s getting in the way of your rainmaking results.

Do you follow a specific plan or process for business development?  A lot of lawyers don’t have specific goals or a plan, and approach business development in a haphazard way.  Plans do not have to be complicated or lengthy, but you do have to think through a strategic, targeted approach to achieving your rainmaking goals.  This will allow you to avoid having meaningless meetings and lunches in the name of marketing – what a time saver!  Creating a realistic timetable will help you, too – – many lawyers give up too soon.  Coaching tip:  Your coach is an objective observer who can help you to identify and generate your business development goals and plan how to achieve them.

Do you find it hard to network?  Some lawyers don’t know how to network effectively.  Others don’t really understand what networking is all about.  Many would rather focus on doing good legal work and hope that more business will come of it. Networking properly is about relationship building, matching people with opportunities based on their needs and interests, and building referral sources that want to help you.    Coaching tip:  Explore what it would take to make you a stronger networker.  How are you sabotaging your own efforts?  Are you strategic in your networking activities?

Is your network helping you develop the amount and type of business you want?  Ask yourself whether you have built relationships with people who understand what you do, and are willing to help you.  If you have generated these relationships, are they sending you business?  Coaching tip:  If the quantity and quality of business you want is not coming in, have your coach work with you to evaluate your current relationships with referral sources.  A coach can also assist you to expand and leverage your other business development activities.

Career Advancement

What are your goals?  As with rainmaking, career advancement hinges on a solid plan that starts with clear goals.  Do you want to make partner, be a practice group leader or managing partner?  Know your intentions.  Identify your challenges and issues.  Determine where others are interfering with your success.  Honestly assess where you might be getting in your own way.  Design alternative, proactive behaviors to address obstacles and replace inefficient habits or actions.  Coaching tip: Engage your coach as a trusted advisor to serve as your sounding board as you design clear objectives to help you face these issues head on.

Are you happy in your job and career?  Generally speaking, if you are happy with your work and your environment, you can grow in the direction you want, with some focus and effort.  If not, changes are needed.  Consider your original expectations and how they’ve changed.  Assess your satisfaction.  Think about whether you are excited about getting up in the morning and going to work, or dreading each day – determine where you are on the continuum of job and career satisfaction.  Think about what you’re complaining about and to whom.  Have you been thinking of leaving the firm to go in-house?  Have you been thinking of leaving an in-house position to go to a firm?  Are you thinking of leaving the law but wondering if there is life after law? Coaching tip:  Evaluate those areas where you are and are not happy with your career, your work, your colleagues or your firm, and determine what changes you can influence that will support your job and career satisfaction.  Work with your coach to explore where past patterns of behavior have contributed to your current state and how to remove these obstacles from the path of your advancement.

Career Transition

Are you committed to what you are doing?  Have you ever stopped to think about this?  What are you committed to? What do you want?  This is a tough one…take a few minutes to check in with yourself about what you really want from your career.  Are you handling cases that interest you?  Are you a specialist in transactional work when your heart is really in IP?  Did you make partner yet?  If so, do you think you should be an equity partner?  Does the firm continue to offer you opportunities for growth and professional development?  Do you dream of being the master of your own destiny, yet dread doing the marketing it takes to get clients? Coaching tip:  First, explore with your coach what it would take to confront the reality of your current business/ career situation.  Second, align your deepest commitments and interests with profitable action.

Have you ever thought of leaving the law?  Maybe the actual practice of law doesn’t match what you expected when you became an attorney.  We often meet attorneys who entertain the notion of leaving the law, but after ten or fifteen (or more) years, don’t believe there is life after law.  They don’t know what else they would do, but they know they are no longer happy with their careers.  Coaching tip:  If you’ve thought about leaving law, acknowledge the thought, decide whether to explore your options.  Brainstorm with your coach what you would most love to do if you were not a practicing attorney.  Do not rule out any options as not viable yet…simply generate possibilities for alternative careers.  There is life after law!

Have you ever thought of leaving your firm/corporation, going in-house, or moving back out?  Lawyers also entertain thoughts of moving within the profession.  Sometimes it is precipitated by basic survival; they feel trapped.  Sometimes there are situational circumstances that cause the desire to move. Think about whether it’s really true for you for your long-term benefit or just a passing thought.  If it’s not just a passing thought, see if you can isolate where you might be getting in your own way and your reasons and excuses for holding back from exploring options.  The hardest part is knowing what you really want.  Coaching tip:  A coach can help you to uncover, clarify, and determine what you want.  Focus with your coach to list the benefits and costs of not pursuing what you want.  Then create and implement an action agenda to realistically reach for your dreams.

Are you a senior partner facing retirement? This is a challenging transition.  You may have identified yourself as a practicing attorney your entire professional life, and now you wonder how to think of yourself…recovering attorney?  Retiree?  Former partner?  You may have a hard time letting go, yet you are keenly aware of wanting to leave a legacy at the firm.  Coaching tip:  With your coach as your sounding board, create a plan that will allow you to re-frame retirement as a transition to your next avocation, rather than an end to your current vocation.

Some Additional Thoughts:

Leverage the power of these questions by finding a masterful, objective listener (a coach) who will take the time to guide you through them in an unattached and expansive way.  Regardless of how you choose to use the guided inquiry we’ve presented here, take a few minutes to step back and assess yourself, your situation and your future.  Perform a thorough self-audit of your practice. Focus on areas where you are stuck and getting in your own way.  Once you recognize what’s holding you back, you can do something about it, and ultimate success – – however you define it – – can be yours.

When Your Firm Should Consider Hiring a Coach

Many law firms hire coaches to provide individual and group training for business development or presentation skills.  Often, coaches are engaged to work with a managing partner or the board of a law firm in handling leadership issues within the firm.  Mostly, though, coaches work with senior partners to support and enhance their overall effectiveness and job satisfaction, dealing with many of the issues raised above.

Many firms want their associates to be more efficient and productive, and their junior partners to improve in the areas of generating revenue, building and sustaining lasting client relationships, and mentoring associates. Coaches work with associates and junior partners to grow in those areas as well as others. Coaching for managing partners and management teams often focuses on the improvement of management skills, development of succession planning, instruction for improved mentoring and coaching skills, and leadership problem solving.  Coaches work with retiring partners ready to transition out of the practice of law, particularly addressing their issues associated with letting go and leaving behind a positive legacy. In addition, a team of coaches can work with the entire firm at once to design and implement a firm culture which values all members of the firm, honors diversity, and focuses on interpersonal and interdepartmental communication effectiveness.  Just as the top performing athletes work with coaches to further fine-tune and adjust their skills, accomplished attorneys and productive law firms work with executive coaches to further enhance their success and effectiveness.  Coaching provides a competitive edge in the marketplace.

Download Article 1K Club
Load More Related Articles
Load More By Suzi Pomerantz
Load More In Coaching in Legal Institutions

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Check Also

Résilience et Nature Humaine

écrit par Beth Masterman and Fernando Morais traduit en français par Pierre André Mvuezolo…