Seven Reasons Why Lawyers Hire a Coach

By Irene Leonard, Lawyer Coach    

Many lawyers are hiring their own personal coach for one-on-one business and personal support because they like the idea of creating their own plan to reach their goals. A coach works with the client to draw out the client's own ideas and inclinations to help design a plan based on what they are willing to do in the future to improve their situation.

The use of coaches for professional development is growing in use. The coaching philosophy is based on the premise that the person being coached actually has the answers but needs a safe forum to discuss them or a sounding board to test them. Coaching uses a style of conversation that acts as a catalyst to encourage action based on increased self-awareness. The coach uses mindful listening and other skills to create a synergy so the client reaches solutions exponentially greater than they would on their own.

The International Coach Federation is a non-profit, professional organization of personal and business coaches created to build, support, and preserve the integrity of the coaching profession. Visit its web site for more information on coaching and coach referrals: www.coachfederation.com.

While coaching conversations are not privileged, they are confidential. Even when the law firm has hired the coach for a lawyer, the lawyer client knows they can address any issue because the coach enters an agreement with the law firm, which sets out terms of confidentiality, scope and reporting issues.

There are seven reasons (at least!) why a lawyer might hire a coach. These examples are based on true coaching stories but the details are combined or altered to protect confidentiality.


Reason #1: To improve marketing skills and implementation

Marie hired her coach because she wanted to improve her marketing skills. She used her weekly coaching calls to check in on how she was doing in developing the practice she wanted, to brainstorm new ideas, to put her week in perspective, and to confirm she had made progress on her goals. That concern is common with all coaching clients, not just lawyers - they don't believe they are doing enough to achieve their goals. So they get an opportunity to notice and relish their accomplishments.


Reason #2: To have a private forum to discuss practice issues

Drew hired a coach to help him build his solo practice. Drew insisted that he could not do any marketing. But working with his coach he noticed he was already doing a number of key marketing activities; he had just been using a different definition of marketing. Meanwhile, he developed relationships with his clients and other lawyers that resulted in referrals of more satisfying work for him.

Wayne used his coaching calls to reassure himself he was a good lawyer. One of his coach's roles was to remind him of the successes he had already achieved in his practice when he was in the midst of a difficult case that did not seem to be going well. Wayne used his coaching sessions to strategize the moves he would make in the case and ended up achieving far better results than he ever anticipated.

Alex used his coach as a weekly means to check in on his practice, to keep him on track, and act as a sounding board. Keeping on track meant keeping his billable hours at the level he wanted them, engaging in continuous marketing activities, reducing non-billable hours, and including time for personal matters.


Reason #3: To work smarter not harder

Michael hired a coach so he could improve the income stream from his practice. He achieved over a 70% increase in gross income within 12 months. He then needed to deal with the real issue in his practice, which was how to reduce the hours he was spending at the office. He learned to say "no" to handling administrative matters that he could delegate, so he spent more time on his billable work and left at a reasonable time of the day.

Roxanne worked with her coach on her delegation and management skills. In working with her associates she learned to turn the work around faster and to trust the associates would get the work done to her satisfaction (because she gave clear instructions and was willing to take the time to train and coach). She let go of having to do everything herself, and learned how to be more effective in asking for what she wanted from her staff, other associates, and partners.


Reason #4: To decide whether to make changes to their practice or to leave the law

Mary had been practicing for 20 years, wanted to do something else, and needed a plan before she could leave. After she hired a coach to help come up with a plan based on her values and desires for the future, she realized there were aspects of her practice she enjoyed and she changed the focus of her practice. She now works with clients whose legal matters interest her. Many lawyers who hire a coach similarly end up deciding to change how they practice rather than leave law entirely.

There are also lawyers like Alice who did not have the courage to take up the unusual career she always really wanted. She decided that working with a coach would help her come up with the plan and the means to stay on track with her plan. She is no longer practicing law and is delighted with her new career.

Ruth took time out from law to raise her children. She felt it was time to re-enter the workforce, but she did not want to practice law nor did she know what she wanted to do. Working with a coach, she decided to follow her dream to be a writer. Today she is a published author.


Reason #5: To determine how their values fit into their practice and tame Internal Gremlins

John was intrigued with the idea of a practicing law in alignment with his values. He worked with a coach to examine his values: What were they and how did they fit into his practice? John also had to deal with the guilt he had regarding the freedom he created in his practice. He had plenty of time for golf, other personal activities, and travel. He learned to manage the voice in his head that made him feel guilty (the internal gremlin). The result was more comfort and contentment with his practice and his life.


Reason #6: To become more focused in their practice

Margaret hired her coach as a support system to keep her focused. She had a tendency to get busy working on so many aspects of her practice that none received enough attention and so they all suffered. With the help of her weekly check-in with her coach she became more focused, effective, and on track to generating more income. She now makes more consciences choices.

Wes also wanted to be more focused. His practice had generated adequate rewards for 30 years, yet he wanted more. His conversations with his coach resulted in his earning more money, feeling more comfortable with his practice, enjoying more quality time with his family, and just plain having more fun.


Reason #7: To improve professional development skills or handle a particular project

Martin wanted to develop a practice area, but he felt he needed to improve his skills in that area. He became clearer on his direction and the way to improve his skills as a result of working with his coach. He also became more confident in his abilities because he noticed how well he performed in certain areas of his practice.

Ross wanted to improve his practice because his clients and partners were not happy with him even though he was extremely service-oriented. Working with his coach he realized that his desire to please was the cause of his problem. He promised more than he could deliver. He now delivers on his promises in a satisfactory manner.

Amy hired her coach to get unstuck on a significant matter that was holding her back from developing her practice. Within three coaching sessions she was unstuck and progressing toward getting the matter resolved.

There are many other reasons lawyers hire coaches including: to prepare for retirement, to get off a derailment path, to implement strategic plans, and so on. The bottom line is that a trained coach can assist them to get beyond their barriers and limitations.

Irene Leonard is a lawyer and business and personal coach. She is the author of "Create the Practice You Want: Law Practice Development Workbook." For more information including CLE approved classes visit her web site www.CoachingForChange.com or call at (206) 723 9900.

Published in the October 2001 Edition of the Bar Bulletin. Reprinted with permission from the King County Bar Association.