World over, one-to-one coaching is a highly effective method used for achieving better performance. While coaching has been an extremely popular concept across the globe, in India coaching for lawyers has started to gain importance over the last few years. Keeping in mind this recent growth of coaching for lawyers in India, this article aims to discuss how coaching for lawyers can be a catalyst to their growth and evolution through the stages of career transition while also promoting workplace confidence, wellness, resilience, and mental strength.
THE CONCEPT OF COACHING
Coaching is a transformative conversation – a conversation that involves listening, exploring, bringing awareness, and making choices. It is focused on the ‘coachee’, i.e., the one who intends to change the status quo. A coachee is the one looking for a change – this could be something as macro as a quest for personality transformation or reaching a goal; or this could be smaller bite-sized initiatives like pursuing a hobby or aiming for fitness, etc.
Now, if a coachee is the one intending to change, then what does a coach bring to this conversation? The coach is the change agent, the catalyst, the one who sees the coachee’s higher purpose and enters the transformative conversation only to accelerate change and maneuver the direction towards desired outcomes. It is not necessary that the coach has the expertise, background, or experience in the area of interest of the coachee or the situation at hand. The coach doesn’t bring domain expertise or content knowledge to the coaching session. A coach doesn’t give answers but asks the right questions for the coachee to delve deeper and find the answers within.
The basic concept of coaching revolves around conversation and asking questions. For lawyers, coaching can bring numerous fixes which they face in their professional life. The key questions circle around work-life balance, efficient working, progression in one’s career and choosing from the various opportunities in the legal field. The beauty of coaching lies in not answering a question or making a decision on behalf of someone, but in asking the right questions to the coachees to make a decision which fits best for them. Several times, coaches hold the hand of coachees and aid the process of introspection.
ADDRESSING MENTAL HEALTH CONCERNS
Most of us are aware that the legal field comes with its own share of pressure, deadlines and stress, which are often associated with anxiety, depression, mental health issues and day-to-day behavioral changes. For instance, the senior lawyers working in law firms are expected to generate revenue as per financial targets, which are often overwhelming. This adds up to their existing workload, thereby making the working condition more miserable with all the added stress. This gets worse for the young partners, who find the transition difficult, as they have been used to working under the guidance of their seniors, without worrying about business development and targets.
A coach dedicated to lawyers’ coaching understands the background and lifestyle of lawyers. They are able to identify the causes of deteriorating mental health and are trained to identify issues which a coachee may find hard to express. Coaches help them in thinking in the right direction, especially while taking a life-changing decisions, leaving a positive impact on their mental well-being.
ATTAINING WORK-LIFE SYNERGY
Another vital dilemma in a lawyer’s life is the aim to achieve a favorable work-life balance at a point in their lives. Diverse expectations to be met, within a given time range, may often have an overbearing impact on lawyers, resulting in a mental conflict between deadlines and work. This is a challenge that all lawyers face, regardless of where they work. Personal time takes a backseat because of the deadlines. To top it, work can be monotonous and uninteresting at times, which can lead to a loss of interest, a lack of commitment, carelessness, and missed deadlines.
For lawyers, work and career choices are often based on opting for or sacrificing quality time with family. There are also bi-polar phases of being workaholics to advocating for life-work synergy. A coach helps coachee in identifying their priorities and how to balance them during these transient phases. Coaching is also helpful in helping coachees realize what really matters to their deeper self and how to take decisions that are in alignment with their inner calling.
TAKING CRUCIAL DECISIONS
Whether it’s the burden to increase profitability or discussing a career goal to achieve something one has always dreamt of, a coach helps lawyers with crucial career decisions and guidance. They step in to mitigate the overwhelming effect and help a lawyer take decisions from peaceful and settled state of mind. This includes sessions where they help a lawyer in listing down ways to achieve the said goal or discussing pros and cons of a crucial decision with reference to future prospects. Through visualization and kinesthetic experience creation, coaches can help a lawyer in thinking from a third-person perspective and help them realize how different variables matter while making a choice.
Coaching helps lawyers across all age groups and professional streams towards development and implementation of business strategies, augmented productivity, improved leadership, teamwork, and relationship management skills. It also assists lawyers in identifying goals, breaking them down into bite-sized objectives to make them achievable and to avoid a general sense of overwhelm. As an effectively guided process, it triggers deep & structured changes to the thinking process, helping the lawyers overhaul the way they approach & organize work.
PANDEMIC, TECHNOLOGY & NEED FOR COACHING
Technology has transformed the world into a global village by binding people together in the times of social distancing. However, technology has also brought extreme changes in the way of working across all industry sectors. The Indian legal sector hasn’t been spared changes from the ‘new normal’ surrounding the increasing work from home and remote-working culture. Client expectations have risen dramatically as a result of the widespread use of technology to remain available and accessible round the clock. The access to internet, information and documents from anywhere in the world has put lawyers under a lot of pressure. Clients are increasingly expecting their lawyers to be proactive in deliverables. The long working hours have transformed into odd working hours and weekend working. The overbearing expectations from clients have further contributed to work-related stress in lawyers’ lives.
However, with the help of communication tools and techniques, coaches have been successful in handholding the lawyers in all realms of their lives – right from commercial-centric business decisions and leadership skill enhancement to more personal-oriented life issues and career choices. During the pandemic, a greater number of lawyers have resorted to appointing coaches to promote out-of-the-box thinking and to be able to look at the issues from a different perspective. Through constructive feedback and partnering with lawyers in their growth journey, coaches help them build confidence and create self-accountability towards goals.
FOCUSSING ON THE SILVER LINING
Coaching is an empowering exercise. One of the first principles any coach is familiarized with is that ‘people have real resources within’. A coach only activates the imagination, curiosity, and energy flows through which the solutions come to the surface. While every profession deals with its own set of challenges. It is important to be guided by someone who is aware of the functioning of the profession. Such a coach plays multiple roles of counsellor, therapist and a sounding board. But the most important role played by a coach, when it comes to lawyers, is that of an accountability partner. With the right mix of emotional and professional connection, they trigger the thought process and prove to be catalysts of finding solutions from within the coachees. They not only help in identifying the turbulence, but also help in resurfacing from it through a collaborative ‘experience building’.
During the course of this ‘experience building’, the lawyers are made to think about larger vision, values and evaluating a situation from diverse perspectives. They are guided into identifying factors in their internal and external ecosystem that are conducive to their goals. This exercise paves way for the identification of resources that were always available with the coachee. Coaches neither find new solutions, nor acquire new resources. They only create the shift of energy within the coachee – from emotion to energy in motion.
Bithika Anand is a Principal with EDGE International, advising on India-specific growth and business initiatives. She is also the Founder and CEO of Legal League Consulting, India’s first management consultants to global legal industry; and Human Elevation, a global talent search organization. She is also an Honorary Consultant to the Society of Indian Law Firms (SILF), where she works with the organization and its members advising and assisting in complying with best industry practices. A chartered accountant by profession, she also holds a Post-Graduate Diploma in the Management of Legal Practice from Nottingham Trent University. In authoring this article, she was assisted by her colleague Nipun Bhatia (President – Strategic Legal Management at Legal League Consulting) and the research was contributed by Unnat Akhouri (Research Trainee).