Snagging a Good Coach

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Christopher Hilen thought he was trapped. He wanted to leave his law firm but feared that no other firm would hire him because his portfolio of business was too small.

Fast-forward three years. Hi­len is now happily ensconced at a new firm. “It is precisely the firm I wanted to move to, the perfect firm for me,” says Hilen, who is of counsel in the San Francisco office of Davis Wright Tremaine. “I have also had some success in expanding my practice.”

These changes were no accident. They occurred because of Hilen’s hard work and the advice he received from a good business coach.

Hilen isn’t alone. Other attorneys also have benefited from coaching by finding ways to expand or change their practices, work more efficiently, and perhaps even create a better balance between their work and personal lives.

“Most of my clients have increased their revenue by five or six figures,” says Ed Poll, a Ven­ice, Calif., attorney and business school graduate who specializes in lawyer coaching.

Finding a business coach is easy. Just go to an Internet search engine, plug in a few search terms (such as “lawyer coach”) and voilà: You’ll find a long list of coaches for attorneys. But how do you determine which coach is right for you? That’s a bit trickier.

For starters, you need to figure out what you want from a coach. Do you want someone to review your business and give recommendations about changing your marketing approach or using technology to improve productivity? If so, you don’t want a coach, you want a consultant.

“Consultants have particular expertise; they give advice and then leave, expecting you to follow that advice,” explains Daniel Roberts, a lawyer coach in Santa Rosa, Calif. “Coaching is a more long-term relationship,” he adds. “A coach may not have all the answers but works with you to find and execute the answers.”

That, in fact, can be one of the main benefits of coaching: A coach can work with you, over weeks or months, to help you in the step-by-step process of making uncomfortable but important changes.

Attorneys generally seek coaching in work-life balance, career development, productivity and practice development. However, not all coaches are equally strong in all areas. So if your focus is to improve your work-life balance, you don’t want a coach who specializes in productivity.

Getting Started

After your research has uncovered a few coaches who have experience in the issues that are important to you, get on the phone and ask them some tough questions:

• Do you have a standard format for coaching, or do you reinvent the wheel with each client?

• How long do you usually work with a client on a specific issue? Do you have programs of varying lengths?

• How often would you meet with me? Do you need to meet in person, or could you work by phone?

• How easy would it be for me to contact you between sessions to obtain advice or assistance?

• How do you measure success in the coaching relationship?

• Do you offer a money-back guarantee of satisfaction?

Above all, you should find a coach with whom you have a good rapport because you’re going to be discussing some rather personal matters with that person. “You must be very honest with yourself–and with your coach–about what your practice is about, how it is doing, and your strengths and weaknesses as a lawyer,” Hilen says.

“That can be a difficult exercise, so you need to find someone with whom you’re comfortable on a personal as well as a professional level. You are establishing a very personal relationship.”

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