The Latest in Big Law Must Haves: On-Site Career Coach

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Today most self-respecting law firms offer their associates state of the art gyms, emergency child care, cappuccino bars. Firms that are looking to stand apart from the rest might consider offering their associates something different…career coaches.

Ideally the career coach should be someone just down the hall that is available to give lawyers the career direction they crave when it is needed. Consider this, a 2012 study done by Manzo Coaching and Consulting surveyed 63 Am Law 200 Firms, 98% of them responded saying that they use coaches – internal and external coaches. The breakdown:

  • 90% use coaching for business development
  • 61% use coaching for leadership development
  • 49% use coaching for training
  • 24% use coaching for conflict management

Granted, coaching is not a new concept (35% of the firms that responded state that they have been using coaches for the last 7 to 10 years). The twist these days is that firms are grooming their own coaches. Many firms are turning to former associates, typically a lawyer that has 5 years or more under their belt that first moved to a professional development role and progressed to the role of coach. According to the survey practically all lawyer turned coaches have gotten professional training from organizations such as Hudson Institute of Santa Barbra.

The reasons that firms are investing in full time coaches for their associates include:

  • Help associates that have been on leave return to practice
  • Stem attrition
  • Develop high potential candidates (for partner)
  • Etc

This is a basic extension of talent management, take the best that you have an groom them for something better. Today firms are investing a lot of money in recruiting so they are looking for ways to keep their associates happy so that they stay with the firm.

The other reason for coaching is that the internal structures of firms are changing; this can often make firm navigation difficult for lawyers. Ambitious lawyers take the initiative to ask what their path is in the firm.

Coaching can take a variety of forms such as group coaching. Group coaching usually consists of a group of people all working towards a similar goal. Coaching can also be individualized for issues such as tension with the boss (this would be more short term) or helping an associate decide if they should try to become a partner (more long term goal).

Coaches that are former lawyers are effective as coaches because they have “been there done that,” they know the ropes and they can bring empathy for the up and coming associate. There is another advantage to having a coach that was a lawyer, they know how lawyers think.

Coaching can be difficult to sell to lawyers, but it helps them. Lawyers are trained to retain a lot of facts, think linearly and remain logical. Lawyers expect a very straightforward approach. This doesn’t mean that emotions won’t spill over into coaching sessions, but sessions aren’t meant to be therapy sessions.

At the moment, data is still out on the ROI of onsite career coaches due to the fact that it is relatively a new concept. Firms that are looking to promote retention though should pay close attention to providing their associates a way to explore personal development as well as professional development.

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