To choose the right coach, ask the right questions

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Published on 2/27/06

This column is called "Coach's Corner" for a simple reason. I coach attorneys on how to increase their revenue and their profits, providing advice based on years of 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 clients. With a little help, we're able to cross these barriers and generate more productivity, income and enjoyment in the practice.

Have you wondered whether a coach would be right for you? If you want to be more successful in what you do, the answer is undoubtedly yes. The issue then becomes knowing the factors to consider in engaging a coach.

Given my experience, 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?" Is or was this person a lawyer (not just a law degree, but an honest to goodness practicing lawyer)?

  • If your coach was but is not now a lawyer, why did he or she leave the practice of law? Seems to me that it's disingenuous to advise people 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?

One of these points - background in the law - requires elaboration. The coach who was not/is not a lawyer must be familiar with the rules of professional conduct. Other than that, a coach who is experienced in the areas of greatest interest to the lawyer/client - marketing, finance, technology, psychology - can be a worthwhile choice.

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.

The per-person cost of a group coaching session may be a bit lower, but 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. Without the coaching (and accountability to yourself through the accountability to the coach), you would accomplish less. More is better than less and it is on this basis that you should view the benefits of the process.

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