Home Concepts Strategy Coaching in Legal Institutions The Good, the Bad and the Non-Billable: The Reality of Coaching Lawyers

The Good, the Bad and the Non-Billable: The Reality of Coaching Lawyers

19 min read

My Approach to the Lawyer Personality

So, how does this need to be right and stay in control manifest in my lawyer clients? I find that litigators, in particular, are often very careful and protected in their response to coaching questions.  They look at the questions like part of a chess match, trying to figure out where the question is going, what the angle is, etc.  They are try to get the “right answer” and the idea of coaching being an inquiry to help them discover answers within themselves is a very foreign concept.  Even when I have a wonderful rapport with a client, I find this can occur.  My approach is to address it directly.  I point it out, normalize it, point to it being about control and then have an organic conversation based on their thoughts on the subject.  As with all clients, loving them and thinking they are terrific creates the foundation that allows me to have such conversations with them.

Being smart is such a huge part of a lawyers’ identity that this can make creating a partnership somewhat tricky.  Many lawyers are insecure about their intelligence.  They feel that their value is largely based on how smart they are, and as such there is a constant evaluation of their own intelligence relative to others.  So it is not surprising that clients often test or compete with the coach.  It’s not deliberate or ill intentioned; rather it is just a default way of interacting.  I find that this creates a great opportunity to address their beliefs about intelligence, value, and winning, among other fundamental principles.  I introduce the concept that we all have default tools that we use to “win” in the world, but those tools don’t actually serve us well in every situation.  For example, being smarter than one’s spouse and always having the better argument in a fight is not the road to a happy marriage.  Sometimes other tools and approaches work better than intelligence and logic.

It’s hard to get someone to put aside, even temporarily, a strategy that has worked well for them in the past.  Being smarter and “righter” than everyone else was a highly effective strategy in college, in law school, and as an associate.  I have found that the only way people will put aside something that has worked so well is to get painfully clear about how much harm it is doing now.  Consider Joe*, who came to me originally because he was having trouble retaining clients.  Joe had an impressive background.  He had an Ivy League education, worked at a top law firm, and was fortunate enough to work in a highly specialized area of law.  Consequently, Joe was able to find clients remarkably easily; but after they worked with him for a year or two they tended to leave.  He was mystified and wanted me to help him fix this situation.  Joe was the typical know-it-all.  He came to me for answers and didn’t like the fact that I kept asking him questions.  To the degree that I did give him answers, he didn’t like those either.  He kept telling me what was wrong with my coaching.  Needless to say, it was easy to understand why his clients were leaving him.  I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t have continued if he hadn’t paid for the six months of coaching up front and if his managing partner hadn’t been asking him periodically how the coaching was going.

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