Coaching Solutions: Turning Associates Into Partners

By Lawyer and Executive Business Coach, Irene Leonard

Reprinted with the permission of the Association of Legal Administrators Puget Sound Chapter, October 2008.

Your associates are one of your firm's greatest assets. Retaining your associates and grooming them into partner caliber is important for the life and resiliency of any firm. How can you be sure they are prepared? Here are some strategies for coaching to give them the tools, motivation, advice and help they need to succeed.

Your goal in using these skills is to help the coachee (the person you are coaching) become more aware and come up with solutions to problems.

1. Hit the Ground Running
Make sure the new associate has what he or she needs from their very first day. The first few weeks at a new job can color the experience long into the future. Bring a new associate into the firm by providing the proper tools, information, and encouragement from their first day.

2. Communicate Clearly What is Required
Lawyers want to know what is expected of them. They already know they need to produce excellent work, and that they must meet or exceed billable hour goals. What they may not know is what else is required for success in your firm, and for getting on track to make partner. Look at your firm's culture, and communicate it to the associates.

Here are some pointers you can give them:

3. Make Sure You Come Through
You can give your associates good advice, but for that advice to be useful, the firm must also provide the resources the associates need to be the kind of lawyers you have inspired them to be.

Besides good advice, you need to give them training and coaching to support their professional development. Mean it when you say their mentor is happy to work with them. Be sure partners know acknowledgement and compliments can help keep associates motivated.

Associates also need ongoing, quality feedback from their supervising partners, to help them be aware of their performance, and how they can improve. Have this be the time for supervising partners to listen to associate concerns, helping them to feel involved and supported.

These suggestions will help you provide an environment that builds associates into excellent future partners.

Coaching Example
Here is an example of how a coaching session might go. Joe, a second year associate, comes to Sue, a legal administrator, for advice about his future.

Joe: Hi, Sue. You seem so approachable—I thought I could talk with you about how you could help me get ahead in the firm.
Sue: Sure, I'd loved to. What is it you would like my help with?
Joe: Well, I don't think I am using my mentor very effectively.
Sue: Tell me what you mean by that?
Joe: Well, I guess I don't communicate well with him.
Sue: What do you mean?
Joe: Well (laughing nervously) I guess I meanů we rarely have conversations. He is always so busy, and I don't want to bother him.
Sue: Joe, I'm glad you brought this up. I know that George is well intentioned, and wants you to succeed. And you are right; he is very busy. How do you think you could seek out his help?
Joe: Well, I guess I've been hoping he would come to me.
Sue: Yes, I can understand that. But as you have seen, that isn't going to work with George. You are going to have to go to him. Based on what you know about him, how do you think you should do that?
Joe: Hmmm. I don't think I know enough about George, but I suppose I could just go and knock on his door and ask if he has time to talk with me?
Sue: Good. How will you make the best use of your time with George, if he says yes?
Joe: Oh, good question. I should have an agenda, shouldn't I? My questions and concerns.
Sue: Good idea. What if George is busy then? What might you suggest to him?
Joe: Oh, I get it. I should have a plan to set up a time to talk with him, when he isn't so busy.
Sue: Yes, and I would also suggest that you might pay attention to when in the day he is more likely to have time. For example, he likes to handle administrative matters when he comes back from lunch.
Joe: Thanks, Sue. I'll try to stop in later today.
Sue: No problem, Joe. Thanks for coming by.

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©Irene Leonard. After more than 19 years as a business lawyer, Irene Leonard offers professional development coaching services as an executive business coach. She helps law firms improve management and marketing. Go to her website www.CoachingForChange.com or contact her at 206-723-9900 for more information.