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Executive Coaching: A Powerful Career Tool for Lawyers

In the business world, there’s no gold star for “making it on your own.” Even the most illustrious corporate leaders have relied on advice and support from others along their journey. As executive coaching grows in popularity, lawyers and legal teams, too, are discovering the benefits of having objective guidance in their professional endeavors.

What Is Executive Coaching for Lawyers?

In short, an executive coach helps you improve your performance and contribute more to your organization or firm while maximizing your personal and professional satisfaction.

Coaching is a customized experience driven to address whatever you, as the coachee, want to address. You may use a coach to get some objective feedback, to help you think through a specific issue in your career or life or to help you prepare for and get to the next level in your career. Unlike therapy, which is often focused on the past, coaching is future-oriented with the coach asking questions to encourage and enable the coachee to address the issue or take action.

Why might an attorney benefit from the services of an executive coach? Here are just a few of the issues a coach can help address:

  • You’d like to grow your practice and aren’t sure where to begin.
  • You’re investing a lot of hours at your firm, but your efforts aren’t making an impact in terms of recognition or the bottom line.
  • You feel “stuck” in a specific practice area and are looking to branch out.
  • You’re at a career crossroads and unsure in which direction to go.
  • You’re looking to build your leadership and team-building skills and support your staff more effectively.

You feel overwhelmed by stress and wish to strike a better balance between work and your personal life.

For the most part, a good coach is not going to tell you what to do. The coach-coachee relationship is collaborative and focused on reflection, exploration and accountability. An executive coach can work with you to set goals, formulate an action plan for reaching them and then hold you accountable at every step. To facilitate your path forward, the coach will help you identify and eliminate obstacles standing in the way of your success while serving as a constant source of feedback, advice and encouragement.

The frequency and duration of executive coaching vary with your unique circumstances. Typically, a program lasts a minimum of three to six months and can go on for up to two years. Sessions may take place once or twice a month; waiting too long between sessions can cause a loss of momentum.

Selecting the Right Coach

Currently, coaching is an unregulated field, meaning that coaches’ qualifications vary widely. Some coaches are certified by an accrediting body or educational institution; others hold no formal credentials but may have a background in career counseling or psychology. Many have a specialty (e.g., coaching legal professionals), while others serve a broader clientele.

The single most important requirement in selecting a coach—beyond certifications and practical experience—is chemistry. Find a coach with whom you have a connection. You should trust this person and sense that they get who you are and where you are. You want to feel that they genuinely want to work with you and help you.

Depending on the particular areas you want to work on, a coach’s background and experience may be key differentiators. Relevant legal experience can help you feel more confident in your coach’s effectiveness, as it may be useful to have someone who has a firsthand understanding of the specific issues you are facing.

If you’re wary of making a commitment to a coach based on a phone call or recommendation, you might start by meeting with several coaches on a trial basis. Request an introductory session of about 30 minutes, in person or by phone. This “test run” should give you enough of a feel to know whether this person is a good fit for you. Many coaches are willing to have an initial conversation at no charge to talk to you about how they work and to help you assess whether they are the right coach for you.

Cost may also be a factor, if you’re seeking coaching independent of your organization. Expect to pay $300–$500 per hour for an experienced executive coach. If you’re seeking services through a commoditized program, you may find coaches who charge less.

Confidentiality Concerns

Opening up to someone about your fears, aspirations and struggles can be scary—especially when it’s someone you don’t yet know. Understandably, many lawyers are concerned about the privacy of coaching conversations.

The International Coach Federation (ICF) requires credentialed coaches to abide by high levels of confidentiality. If your firm or company has recommended (and is funding) a program of executive coaching for you, it is particularly important that all of the parties – coach, coachee and payer/employer– have a clear understanding and agreement as to what types of information will be released to the employer.  This understanding must be memorialized in a clear written contract to be entered into before the first coaching session.

Where to Start Your Search

Executive coaching has been slowly but surely gaining traction over the last 20 years. Although it’s still often used by senior business people who are facing challenges, it is already seen by many as a mainstay for individuals at all levels who want to improve their productivity and maximize their talents.

So, don’t be afraid to put your feelers out there. Ask colleagues and friends if they have anyone to recommend. Visit the ICF website, which has a list of certified coaches, or perform a Google search for “coaching for lawyers.”

Since a comfortable relationship with your coach is of utmost importance, try not to be discouraged if you don’t click with anyone right away. You might have to speak with several coaches before you find “the one.”

Are You Ready to Be Coached?

Before you decide to seek coaching, be sure you’re ready to do the heavy lifting required. Remember, your coach is not there to give you answers and solutions. He or she is there to listen, ask powerful questions to help you find your own answers and challenge you to improve your situation. Going into the process with enthusiasm, flexibility and an open mind is a must.

It’s never easy to step out of your comfort zone and face your challenges and even your strengths head-on, but in the end, the hard work involved with executive coaching is usually worth it. A collaborative relationship with a skilled, objective third party may be just the thing you need to breathe new life into your legal career and go further than you ever imagined.

 

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