The Development of Coaching For Lawyers

During the past 10 years, executive coaching has become the training method of choice for developing the capabilities of high–potential performers. The increasing use of one–on–one coaching as a management tool has been driven by the recognition that it is by far the most effective method of improving executive and professional performance.

Over the past two decades, law firms have been evolving as businesses. Active practice development and marketing have been critical factors to survival and success, and in recent years firms have struggled with learning how to best ensure that they remain competitive and profitable.

Initially, firms focused primarily on broad firm–based strategies and initiatives. Over time, there was a shift toward group based planning and training, and programs were built around departments, practice groups and client teams. Most recently, there has been a movement toward focusing on development and training at the level of the individual lawyer.

Although it is now widely acknowledged that the key to practice and business development is focusing on the individual lawyer, there has been an unfortunate failure to recognize that the philosophies and approaches that were historically applied to firm–wide or group level planning and training cannot be successfully applied to individuals.

Many “coaches” working with the legal profession today bring what is better characterized as a “consulting” approach to their coaching sessions: they focus on providing models and templates, assign standard activity plans to implement, teach tactics and techniques, and tell the lawyers they work with “what to do”. This approach to coaching has met with very limited success: standard models and plans rarely fit the individual, and tasks assigned to or imposed on lawyers (by someone either within or outside the firm) tend almost never to get implemented.

Lawyers are intelligent, strong–willed, determined individuals who tend to be self–driven and who work independently. They function best when they are in control of their careers and practices, and when they make their own decisions. Commitment is always at its highest when they pursue the things that they believe in and are positively disposed toward. In short, lawyers do not respond positively when they are told what to do. When it comes to the legal profession, the “command–and–control” approach does much to generate resistance and resentment, and does very little to motivate change and move lawyers forward.