Coaching Skills To Manage Your Law Practice

By Irene Leonard, Lawyer Coach    

Coaching skills are an indispensable tool for managing your law practice. Whether you are a partner in a large firm or a lawyer practicing solo, coaching will help you manage your employees effectively.

In Coaching for Performance, John Whitmore says, “Good coaching is a skill that requires a depth of understanding and plenty of practice if it is to be delivered to its astonishing potential.” Coaching, done well, can improve employee performance. You'll succeed in helping the coachee (the person you are coaching) become more aware of their performance, identify problems and develop solutions.

Here are some of the most important coaching skills to develop.

Questioning

As a lawyer, you are paid for your advice. But as a coach for your employees, it's not empowering to tell them what to do; they need to understand the problem and find a solution for themselves. When they solve their own problems, they find more satisfaction in their work and can begin to take more initiative in solving future problems.

To help your staff create their own solutions, start by asking them effective questions: open-ended, curious questions that invite creativity, rather than leading or pressuring questions. Why questions, for example, may make the coachee defensive; use care with them. Ask more what or how questions instead.

The following are examples of effective, open-ended questions you can use in managing your staff:

Listening

Questions are only helpful if they're accompanied by effective listening. When you ask a question, wait for the answer, even if it takes a while. When you listen, listen without judgment, so that you give the coachee an opportunity to come up with solutions.

Some keys to non-judgmental, effective listening include:

Creativity

One of the most effective things you can do as a manager is to bring creativity into the process. When the coachee is stuck in one way of seeing their situation, it can be difficult to get unstuck. There are a few ways you can introduce creativity to jump-start a stalled employee.

Brainstorming with the coachee involves freeing them to come up with as many options as they can, including options that seem impossible or even silly. The freedom is vital, because you never know where the inspiration for a new solution will come from. Once you've come up with a variety of solutions, you'll be able to help the coachee choose which to pursue.

Reframing helps people see a situation from a different perspective. When you see that the coachee is stuck and not moving forward, you can reinterpret, putting the situation in a more positive light.

Use the phrase "yes, and ..." rather than "yes, but ..." when you want to help the coachee change a way of approaching something, and not stop them cold by using “but.” Do this by first agreeing with something you can agree with (yes); then rather than using the word “but,” which has the impact of discounting what you just agreed with, use “and.”

For example, "Yes, I like the way you set this up and I wonder if you tried 'x' whether that would improve the result?"

Acknowledgment

People thrive when their strengths are encouraged. Compliments can be helpful, but if you want to encourage the coachee to grow into the responsibilities you're asking them to undertake, acknowledging them has more impact than simply giving compliments.

Acknowledging means you:

An example of a powerful, thought-provoking question is: "What do you think of that?"

It's important not to help clients by giving them the answer you think appropriate; wait to hear what they come up with. The originality of their answers may surprise you.

Accountability

Once you've clarified the issues and found solutions, help the coachee follow through by making them accountable. Encourage them to make an agreement to get something specific done by a particular date and time.

Some behavioral changes take a long time, so don't expect instant results. Coaching is a long-term process — stick with it. You'll find your employees become more effective and work flows more smoothly for your whole practice.

After more than 19 years as a business lawyer, Irene Leonard offers coaching services as an executive business coach. She helps lawyers improve their ability to manage and market. Go to her web site at www.CoachingForChange.com or contact at (206) 723 9900 for more information. © Irene Leonard.

>The article was published in the October 2009 edition of the KCBA Bar Bulletin