Coaches Teach What Law Schools Don't
by Ed Poll
Law school does not teach lawyers how to effectively interact with clients; law school does not teach lawyers how to efficiently manage their practices; law school does not teach lawyers how to become good rainmakers or make money. CLE programs generally do not offer or approve programs in these skills. Lawyers learn them, if at all, from the "School of Hard Knocks."
In conversations that I've had with educators, their view of law as a profession means that any such programs about effective client relations or practice management are trade-oriented and therefore inappropriate for law schools. Is it any wonder that many bar associations don't require law practice management programs as part of the MCLE requirements? The attitude at the very start of our training is too often perpetuated throughout a lawyer's lifetime. As Cameron Stracher, publisher of the New York Law School Law Review, wrote in The Wall Street Journal earlier this year, law school students are "reading about the law rather than engaging in it," with the result that "when they graduate, young lawyers rarely know how to interview clients, advocate for their positions, negotiate a settlement or perform any number of other tasks that lawyers do every day."
A professional coach who has real-world experience in "The Business of Law®" can be the most realistic lifeline for lawyers with practice management problems. I am typically able to help my clients increase their incomes by five or six figures through practical coaching. I am aware of one coach who, for a firm's $24,000 investment in business development coaching for 20 partners, helped them increase revenue by $1 million in one year - a 2000% ROI.
Coaches work with people in real life, discussing and exploring roadblocks as they are encountered and working to remove them. A coach provides both accountability and support. The right coach brings certain advantages: experience as a lawyer in practice management issues that lawyers face, the independence to hold the lawyer accountable for addressing these issues, the time focus on solutions and a willingness to be candid.
The coaching experience is an active process - a partnership, not an event. The foundation is trust, as the coach learns what the client "really wants" and works in partnership to achieve it. Coaches provide the discipline for lawyers to answer a crucial question: "Am I committed to my own success?" A number of clients with whom I've worked over the years have seen their level of success (measured by revenue) increase. The extra work and effort this requires reflects the saying posed to me by my mother many years ago: "Be careful what you ask for, you just might get it!" Be sure that "success" is what you want - that you are willing to do what is required to reach the level of success you envision and are prepared to accept this success. It will come - you just have to want it and be willing to commit yourself to the coaching process to get it.
I believe that many lawyers who fear success would benefit from working with a coach who can discuss and explore problems and provide a resource to resolve them. Consider these examples from my own coaching experience:
Other coaches could have given similarly effective advice - just as I suspect a law school professor would have had little to offer. There's always plenty to learn in and from the "School of Hard Knocks." Many lawyers who fear that success requires too much of them can quell their fears with help from a coach, who can show them how to leverage their own wisdom and unique abilities to succeed beyond what they ever thought possible.
Commitment to Success
For a number of clients with whom I've worked over the years, commitment to success is the critical issue. Working with me as a coach, their level of success increased, but we made sure that it did so in concrete, achievable measurements. Expressing "success" in relative terms such as "more revenue" or "better marketing" sets a subjective standard that is difficult to discuss, let alone achieve.
The point of my examples is not that coaches have all the answers. Rather, it is that they provide an on-going sounding board for your problems, questions, and ideas. Coaching provides instant support and feedback through regular meetings that often can be conducted by phone. I believe you must look at coaching through the eyes of "investment" … investment in yourself. You should engage a coach from the point you decide you want to be successful. A coach can help achieve that 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 do greater things than they might ever have imagined when they walked off the graduation stage with their J.D. degrees in hand.Reprinted from the May 2007 issue of Law Practice Today.