A matter of matchmaking – how to attain coaching success

Coaching is being used more and more by law firms to equip their fee-earners with required skills, ways of working and behaviours.  Coaching gives an individual the opportunity to gain help and support that is 100% focused on overcoming particular challenges they face.  Given the time pressures lawyers face today, this is becoming very attractive and often requested.

As professionals often responsible for identifying the right coach for the right fee-earner, LETG members sometimes face a challenge. There are so many forms of coaching around – life coaches, business coaches, mentors to name but a few. Each represents a different approach. At one end of the spectrum, you can source specific one to one training on a particular issue. At the other end, a fee-earner may need something more like counseling. If you are trying to find the right coach for one of your fee-earners, where should you begin?


The first step is to consider what your firm and the fee-earner are hoping to gain from the experience. What do they hope will change as a result of the coaching? Sometimes that isn’t so easy to define, but the clearer everybody is the easier finding the right coach will be.  If your firm’s performance appraisal system is not able to clarify this, seek the opinions of the fee-earner and their superiors directly.  Sometimes there are different expectations from different interested parties and this makes the coaching’s chances of success more limiting.

The answers you gain will point towards a particular type of coaching. If reasons are more personal, for example career or interpersonal skills-related the fee-earner might need a life or behaviour coach. If help is being sought to improve a specific area of business performance then a form of business coaching is more likely to hold the answers.

Business coaching is commonly used to improve and develop a particular skill or focus. It can help manage change or personal challenges and enable an individual to be more successful and effective in their work and with those they manage or lead. It can build confidence and self-awareness and increase motivation and discipline. For those law firms investing in it, business coaching can improve the level, focus and quality of an individual’s activities and bring better results.

What should you expect from a coaching programme?

The coaching approach will vary according to coach, coachee (the lawyer) and the overall goals for the programme. Generally, it takes place through conversation – face to face, on the phone or even by email. This, however, is different from social conversation. It is dynamic and focuses on what the lawyer needs to achieve. Sometimes a more directive approach is appropriate with the coach sharing specific expertise or knowledge. In other instances, a more collaborative approach is better with the coach helping the lawyer to find answers through reflection and increased self-awareness.

Whatever the format, it should be action-driven with specific objectives, ideally with the lawyer completing tasks and trying out particular skills and capabilities along the way. This will help them improve those areas necessary for the achievement of their objectives. Pinpointing specific goals or results the fee-earner needs to achieve (and by when) will help both them and the coach focus the time and energy to best use. These outcomes will also help you and the firm review the coaching programme’s overall progress and assess its success.

So what makes a good coach?

The coach’s role should really be to motivate and inspire, ask searching questions, challenge and help the lawyer achieve their potential. A good business coach is often a problem solver, a teacher or even an expert. They are someone to talk to about work problems and challenges and they are certainly someone who is not going to interrupt, make judgements or criticise.

The best coaches are committed to delivering results and have a genuine interest in their coachee’s goals. They are adaptable in their style and provide the right balance of directive or collaborative input for each situation. They are sensitive to the highly confidential nature of their work and have the credibility to challenge effectively. They should be able to break down what might seem like an overwhelming goal into manageable bite-size chunks and help the lawyer achieve results more quickly than other forms of personal development.

Business coaches help clients look at the present and realise their future, rather than looking at the past. A coach helps people focus on their own solutions. As a result, they become better equipped to solve their own problems long after the coaching has stopped.

How to find one?

It’s not always easy finding the right coach as there are so many on the market.  Recommendations count for a lot here and many Training and HR professionals are developing a bank of coaches that have delivered good results for them and for others in the past.  By building such a resource to draw from they are more confident that they will have a coach who will be a good ‘fit’ for a particular fee-earner, when the need arises.  So consult your peer group, ask fee-earners and get to know consultants who are visible in your market.  Try and meet your coaching contacts regularly so that you can keep up to date with their successes and style of approach. The more insight you have, the better your chance of matchmaking the right coach to the right fee-earner.