Even Helpers Sometimes Need A Helping Hand

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Coaching is most commonly identified with athletic endeavors. You may recall a supportive coach who encouraged your efforts in school or children's leagues. But for athletes who are extremely serious — the professionals for whom excelling at sports represents both their passion and their livelihood — the role of a coach is far tougher and more dynamic.

The same holds true for any professional, including a lawyer, who seeks coaching. Even though you, as an attorney, are in the business of giving advice, you can always benefit by receiving it.

The best way to think of coaching is as a commitment to a career-long, team approach to identifying — and overcoming — challenges. Successful people engage coaches throughout their careers to reach pinnacles of success and to continually reinvent themselves through the coaching they receive to stay there.

Thus, the best coaching experience is an active and interactive process — a dynamic partnership in which the active "pupil" defines and conveys to the coach what he really wants and works in partnership with the coach to achieve it.

Consider these three quick examples from my own coaching experience:

  • A young family law practitioner was trying to do right by his clients while also trying to attract more business, making for 16-hour days that left him exhausted. I advised that he first focus his efforts with a strategic plan that defined his revenue and net income goals, and the types of clients and matters that would support them. Second, I recommended that he hire an assistant who could handle administrative chores and allow the lawyer to do the work only he could do. The outcome was that he soon realized that he had a concrete choice: continue working long hours and earn substantially more, or reduce the hours and earn at least the same. Ultimately, he worked fewer hours and earned more.

  • A solo practitioner had built a successful practice in just three years but felt that it was growing so rapidly that she needed to add an associate to keep up. Together, we assessed her practice and found that the practice's revenues, while growing rapidly, were still below the level that could support a full-time associate. I coached her to focus her community activities where she would interact with businesspeople who would be potential sources of more profitable business and referrals. That increased focus not only enhanced the contributions that she made to the charities of her choice, but also provided more time to do the legal work herself, increasing both revenue and profit. Later, with more work, she would be in a position to hire an associate.

  • An attorney told me that he was stressed because he had so much business that he was worried about inadvertently failing to do something essential for a client. Together, we discussed his procedures for dealing with open files, and I advised that he adopt a project-management system I developed that would keep track of the details. In just a week, the attorney reported that his new system worked so well that he had his best night's sleep in months.

The best solutions are often simple ones, but that doesn't mean they're always easy to see, especially for a busy attorney with more balls in the air than he can count. Coaches don't have all the answers, but they do provide an ongoing sounding board for your problems, questions and ideas, including instant support and feedback through regular meetings that often can be conducted by phone.

An experienced coach can help you achieve success more quickly than you would on your own by applying proven lessons rather than academic theories. The effective coach operates in and understands the real world, and helps lawyers with the things that lawyers didn't consider when they walked confidently off the graduation stage with J.D. in hand.

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