Coaching For Lawyers: Transforming Emotion To Energy In MotionBithika Anand
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.
Gerry Riskin’s Immutable Laws of Law Firm SuccessGerry Riskin
When Edge International was formed, I was optimistic that by this century, we could all make the following statement – and it would be true:
Dateline 21st Century: Most professional firms today and their practice groups are led by individuals who have not only mastered practice skills but are equally adept in organizational behaviour. They understand group dynamics and the art of facilitation. They conduct highly effective meetings, coach individuals to achieve their personal best performances, and create an environment in which professionals thrive. Managing partners are masters at “managing the managers” by ensuring that they are working toward relevant, well-defined and achievable goals. That is why most firms are highly profitable, achieve very high levels of internal satisfaction, and give exemplary client service. Turnover has dropped to nearly zero and clients are extremely loyal, thinking it absurd to even consider switching firms.
“Dream on” you say. Well, yes, I do dream on and as a perennial optimist I believe that what I have described is still very much achievable. The major ingredient missing in 99% of today’s professional firms is simply “The Will to Manage.”
The following 12 immutable laws represent my assessment of the most critically important components of successful firm management.
Law #1. The Managing Partner Must Be Willing to Manage: The managing partner must assist the partnership in achieving a clear vision complete with a describable, quantifiable destination. Firms cannot succeed with managing partners who were selected for their uncanny ability to ruffle no feathers and who discern the predominant direction of the firm and then run out in front to give the appearance of leadership. Management requires courage.
Law #2. Leaders Need Power: Most leaders are chosen because of their seniority, rainmaking prowess, and book of business. How does such a leader get influence over others who may outrank them on any one of those attributes? The power comes from understanding what the members of the group aspire to, and then helping them achieve it. This requires “asking” and “listening” — not “telling.”
Law #3. Leaders Must Coach: The art of coaching is to strike the right balance between being supportive and continually demanding. Talented, rich and famous athletes accept coaching, and when they see the benefits, your partners will also.
Law #4. Managing Must Yield a Financial Return: Unless a leader understands the mathematics of the return on investment that is realized as a result of the managing effort, the role may be seen as honourary and not critically important.
Law #5. Leaders Must Motivate: The only way to change a practice group is one person at a time, and the only way to motivate an individual is to find out what they want and help them get it.
Law #6. A Group Requires Shared Ambition to Function: You cannot move forward until you’ve got some sense of where you want to go together. Each individual needs to answer the question: “What can I accomplish in this group that I cannot accomplish alone?”
Law #7. Teamwork Requires Enforceable Rules: Your strategy is not what you aspire to; your strategy is what you are prepared to enforce. To have a strategy you have to decide: “What sensible rules are we prepared to establish for our club?”
Law #8. Profitability Comes From “Smarter,” Not “Harder”: If the way you are making more money is by working harder, you should take that as a sign of personal failure, not success. Profits come from being ever more valuable, not from working eight days a week.
Law #9. Build Skills and Foster the Sharing of Knowledge: Intellectual capital walks out the door each night. Too much of it is a heartbeat away from being lost to the firm forever. By ensuring that appropriate skill dissemination and knowledge sharing is occurring, a firm can create tremendous additional value and an insurmountable competitive advantage.
Law #10. Give Recognition and Celebrate Successes: Brilliant leaders have a knack of setting goals that are sufficiently stretching to be worthwhile — but achievable — and then fueling the behaviour by fostering encouragement and celebrating successes.
Law #11. Encourage Innovation and Remove Obstacles: The essence of having a competitive advantage is not waiting for others to pioneer the way, but to constantly ask: “What are other people not yet doing that we have a suspicion clients might like?”
Law #12. Differentiate With Perpetual Action: When virtually every firm has essentially the same strategic plan, the real competition is not about having a better idea; victory goes to those who are better at execution. Effective leaders help individuals break their objectives down into bite-sized incremental bits and then relentlessly follow up to ensure that progress is continuous.
Estée Lauder, the business titan, said in a television interview many years ago, “I am not famous for my ideas but rather for what I have done” (italics mine). Therefore the management game is ensconced in what I call Law #13: Get to your war room and start creating your action plan. What is your first small step… and then… and then…? Only by doing will you join the ranks of the greatest achievers and, like Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Estée Lauder and whomever else you regard as heroes. People will wonder how you did it — or think you were just lucky. But we’ll know differently, won’t we?
What will you do to breathe life into these laws in your firm?
Note: Those of you familiar with the work of David Maister will see his profound influence on my thinking in this article…. I am forever grateful to him as a mentor and as a friend.
The Path to Partnership in Small to Mid-sized FirmsDavid Cruickshank
If you are a partner in a U.S. law firm with fewer than 200 lawyers, think for a moment of how your current group of senior associates with eight to nine years of experience got to the brink of partnership. Then reflect on who their contemporary associates were at five years of experience. Many will have departed, voluntarily or otherwise. Do you wish that some of those associates were now partnership candidates? Are some of your remaining candidates under consideration by default? Do you have a plan for those who will not make partner in the next two years? We see many firms that do not have good answers to these questions. They have not been managing the “path to partnership” effectively.
Large firms, with recruiting and professional development staffs and personnel committees, have developed some excellent practices that can be borrowed without large investments in support staff. Those firms are not perfect. They still hold on to productive associates who they know will not make partner. Nevertheless, these are some of their best practices that can work for you:
- Develop a sound annual evaluation process, supervised by a committee of partners (with some associate representation); seek self-evaluations and use standard criteria; train partners in giving evaluations.
- Put your criteria for partnership entry in writing, even if you have to express them as “minimum standards.” Explain the criteria and answer questions about them in an associate forum beginning in third year.
- In fifth year, hold two reviews of each associate – one “standard evaluation” and one that advises associates if they are “on track” to make partner, and lets them know how to get back on track if they want that consideration.
- Start business-development training early – awareness in the first two years, some skill in the next two years, then significant investment after the fifth year. You don’t need a big business development staff; you bring in outside trainers and use partner mentoring. (Too often, we expect the senior associate to suddenly have a “book of business” when our emphasis has only been only on long hours and quality work.)
- Set the precedent of a “positive departure” for every departing associate, by holding confidential exit interviews, helping them with their next career steps, and welcoming them to your “alumni club” (more on that another time).
- In the last two years of the path to partnership, assign a partner “sponsor” who has the job of helping the associate prepare his or her case to the Partnership Committee. (You have one, right?) The sponsorship is no guarantee of success, but it will send the message that the firm makes every effort to get associates over the bar.
- Have a plan for those who will not make partner. Will they get one more chance next year? Is there room in the counsel ranks for a skilled niche lawyer? Are there clients or other career options that you can help steer them to? Despite some short-term pain, you may find that sensitive and supportive exit planning will bring positive referrals from that lawyer in the future.
Managing the path to partnership is not an overwhelming job. Partners in mid-sized and smaller firms can adopt some excellent large-firm practices. They will need some outside help and training, plus some annual time investment. Compared to the cost of losing the associates who could have been your star partners, the investment is modest.