14 November 2005
The courtroom environment is adversarial and is therefore highly charged. For those not used to the cut and thrust, it can be intimidating and potentially sabotaging.
Indeed, there is no shortage of high profile cases that highlight just how important it is for people attending court, in whatever guise, to not just be aware of the legal process, but also to understand the best way to project themselves and/or respond under oath and scrutiny.
It is in this latter respect that the life-coaching industry appears destined to start working ever more closely with the legal profession.
Recent guidance on witness preparation produced by the Professional Standards Committee of the Bar Council spells out to barristers the all-important distinction between training and coaching, and the role they are allowed to play in preparing witnesses for court. While it permits barristers to ensure their clients understand the basics of giving evidence in court, it disallows them from rehearsing, practising or coaching a witness in relation to what they say and how they say it when giving that evidence.
Courtroom coaching is entirely compatible with this guidance if conducted within the correct parameters. You should not seek to coach people on legal process or tell them what to say in the witness box, but provide them instead with techniques that prepare them emotionally, psychologically and physically for a court appearance.
Coaching can also be used to help people clarify the desired outcome in their own mind and introduce them to techniques to help deal with courtroom behaviour that seeks to inflame emotions without them being conscious of the effect.
Insights into how to deal with stress and an understanding of the psychology of others can also be provided to help manage conflict, stand your ground, maintain rapport under challenge and, importantly, to detect and align potential sabotage patterns.
By accessing such services for clients, barristers can potentially pick up life-coaching pointers applicable to their own lives and careers, while also ensuring they carry out their duty to the highest level. According to the Bar Council guidance, barristers "have a duty to ensure that the evidence in support of their client's case is presented to best effect. It is also the responsibility of a barrister to ensure that those facing unfamiliar court procedures are put at ease as much as possible". Life coaching in its broadest sense helps people perform at their best by providing a personalised support structure that challenges, stimulates and guides an individual to get their life under control and keep growing, whether personally or at work. A life coach achieves this by adopting a set of techniques that guides people towards identifying their own potential, clarifying their objectives and seeing their future clearly.
All of us, from whatever walk of life, need to be able to look at things objectively from time to time and talk about the challenges, issues and options facing us in business or our everyday lives without being persuaded by those who have vested interests in the outcome. The reason why life coaching has grown so rapidly in popularity is that it focuses on delivering positive outcomes.
Gerard O'Donovan is principal of coaching consultancy Noble Manhattan