More lawyers are coming to the coaching table realizing that they need greater peace of mind or greater control of their practice. They're not getting it now, their colleagues can't help them and their families don't know how. That's when the coach becomes a key team member, an independent, objective ally who can listen to the challenge the lawyer faces and provide advice based on years experience and years "in the field," as a practicing lawyer.
Many of the lawyers whom I coach have workplace issues involving their relationships with colleagues, staff and sometimes even clients. With a little help, we're able to cross these barriers and become more productive; sometimes we're even able to enjoy our work more. And for those who prefer a more tangible measure of benefit, I recently was quoted in the ABA Journal as saying that "most of my clients have increased their revenue by five or six figures" as the result of coaching.
Some might feel that seeking the help of a coach is an admission of personal inadequacy. The more logical conclusion is that you should engage a coach from the moment you decide you want to be successful. A coach can help you achieve that success more quickly than you would on your own. In sports, that is proven so many times on a daily basis that it is axiomatic. Earlier in the football season I read how Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre – three-time MVP, 15-year veteran, future Hall-of-Famer – engaged a strength and conditioning coach in the off-season for the first time. If someone at that level can benefit from coaching in his profession (too bad his teammates didn't try it!), it demonstrates that accepting coaching is a mark of strength, not weakness.
That said, there are a number of hurdles that many people must overcome before accepting the idea of coaching. Here are some of the ones I hear most often.
Cost. Many shy away from coaching because of the perceived cost. When you look at the issue through the eyes of expense, you're lost before you begin. I believe you must look at coaching through the eyes of investment… investment in yourself. Seems to me that you want to ask yourself: How much can I earn (or how much can I reduce my level of stress) as a result of working with this coach?
Commitment. Before pursuing coaching, ask yourself: "Am I prepared to make the commitment for success?" Many people can't succeed because they are not willing to invest (that nasty word again) in themselves – the time aspect, not the money aspect. There is, in the minds of many, the issue of "balance of life." Sometimes success has a price … the time required to do the things necessary to get yourself educated/skilled, known to the community you want to serve, and to run your "business of law"®. If you're not prepared to spend to time to do these things, don't waste your money on a coach.
Compulsion. A good coach is neither a buddy nor a mentor nor an assistant. A coach can only guide you, not do the work for you. A really great coach will be a member of your team, someone you work with closely and someone who will compel you to be better. I recently read a musing by someone who, after years of exercise on his own, decided to begin working out under a firm but skilled coach – and soon, despite the toughness of the sessions, felt better than ever. "I still hate the sessions and bemoan the work, but the physical and emotional payoff is greater than ever," this coaching beneficiary wrote. "We all need expert guidance. To seek and accept it is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of the strength of someone pursuing his or her personal best."
Communication. Some people feel that they have to establish a personal relationship with a coach in order to take the coach's direction. Meeting the coach is nice, but not necessary, and impossible if your coaching business is national or international in scope. I don't think you need to meet a coach in person. Almost all the coaching I do is by phone. My clients contact me by phone, interview me by phone and we conduct our coaching sessions by phone. And these are the very same folks whose revenues increase by five and six figures as a result of the coaching process.
If you can dispose of these objections, you're ready for the next step: considerations to be aware of in engaging a coach. Given my experience in coaching, these are some of the traits I suggest you look for in any coach you consider.
- First and most important, what is your gut feeling about the person? Do you have a good rapport with him or her, even without personal contact?
- Do you respect the person's reputation and experience?
- Has this person "walked in your shoes before?" Has this person been a lawyer (not just a law degree, but an honest to goodness practicing lawyer for a significant number of years)?
- If your coach was a lawyer, why did he or she leave the practice of law? It seems to me that it is disingenuous to advise individuals to be lawyers if the person didn't like the law practice in the first place.
- What has been the experience of the person as a coach, not just as a lawyer?
- If you're looking for a particular trait, for example business, or life balance, or career change, or marketing, what has been the track record of the coach in this area of experience?
- Does your coach believe in the value of the coaching process so much that he or she also has his/her own coach in order to constantly improve in the coaching and consulting business?
To this point we've been discussing individual coaching. I do think group coaching works, though the dynamics are different and some confidential issues would/could not be addressed in a group setting. If the choice for a group coaching session is based on economics, my experience has been that the pricing may be a bit lower on a per person basis, but not that much. In other words, I would suggest that the group dynamic be selected for reasons other than money. Cheaper by the dozen doesn't mean "cheaper" overall, because the price also involves the loss of confidentiality and the inability to raise certain personal issues where guidance would otherwise be beneficial.
A final note; if everything suggested by the coach or committed to by the lawyer is not achieved; it still does not denigrate the value of the coaching process. The fact is that without the coaching (and accountability to yourself through the accountability to the coach), less would be accomplished. Thus, more is better than less and it is on this basis that you would want to evaluate how the process benefits you.
As an example, I love cycling. Several years ago, I engaged a coach who works under the Carmichael system of coaching (Lance Armstrong's coach). As a result of the program he lays out for me each month, I am much better trained, I enjoy the time on my bike more and I've gone to cycling camps I never would have attended but for the coaching. Have I reached my optimum/maximum level in cycling? No. I have greater potential. But, I've reached my optimum level given the opportunities and constraints of my life. Without the coaching, I would have achieved less and enjoyed cycling less. I'll never be Lance Armstrong, but I'm much better at something I want to be good at. That's what happens when coaching works.
Life After Law
"Through Ed's invaluable coaching and no-nonsense approach, he enabled me not only to stay employed at the firm, but to make partner and have a future with the firm."
JM, Los Angeles, CA
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