Investing in coaches

Coaching is becoming increasingly popular in law firms, with lawyers opting for one-to-one sessions that focus on their specific needs rather than the ‘sheep dip’ approach of training courses.

It makes good sense – only one hour a month is spent out of the office and the whole hour is about your development. But how do lawyers and law firms ensure they are getting a return on their investment?First, you must get the right coach. Like lawyers, coaches need a commercial brain. A cosy chat every month is nice but will not help you address your career blocks.

A coach in the legal sector needs to understand the nature of a partnership structure and the associated power balances, the god of chargeable hours and all the other demands of being a lawyer. In addition, a good coach will operate in a similar commercial way to the lawyer. This means setting up a contract with terms of engagement, agreed outcomes, agreed time and an agreed review point.

Finally, shop around before you decide. Your gut feeling must tell you to trust them to challenge and push you into the change you want – the nicest person may not be the best person.

Next, set up a form of measurement. All too often coaches refuse to discuss outcomes on the basis of confidentiality. This creates irritation for the HR team and leaves the lawyer open to question or speculation about the value of their training spend.

Coaching is not a cheap development option. An effective approach is to have ‘measured outcome coaching’, in which there is a development plan that is shared with a senior partner, HR director or another relevant party.

This plan has key development targets that can be measured and discussed openly, while the coaching discussions themselves remain confidential, enabling the lawyer to discuss any issues with confidence.

The third step is using the coach to the best advantage of the lawyer. To get the best, lawyers need to go into coaching with a clear idea of what they want to improve or goals they want to achieve. These goals should be gleaned from internal feedback and also self analysis of goals and ambitions. This will focus the coaching session on driving solutions rather than the diagnosis of a hazy issue.

Having created focus, coached lawyers need to ensure they walk out of every session feeling as though it was time well spent. If this means asking the coach to adapt their style, that is fine.

Gwenllian William, director, DeWinton-Williams Consulting