Lawyers Needn’t Go It Alone: Why a Professional Coach can be a Wise Investment
Over the past few years, firms have begun to recognize the importance and value of investing in their talent to empower their lawyers to learn distinctly how to effectively attract and win new clients. The skill set involved in this career-long exercise is not found in most law school curriculum or inside law firms. What follows is a case for lawyers to consider when weighing their career goals and their current skill set for developing their own client base.
If you are swimming in profitable clients and lucrative work with no end in sight, this article is not for you. If new clients flock to you wherever you go, no need to read any further. However, if this does not describe you, read on.
With reports pouring out almost daily on how the economy continues to hammer the legal services sector, lawyers are scratching their heads wondering what they should do that they are not or what else they can do to build and expand their book of business.
They often think by delivering a good work product to their clients and entertaining them occasionally that the work will continue to flow their way. The reality is, however, that clients’ legal budgets have been slashed, there is a diminished demand for legal services in some areas, and lawyers are not always effective in expanding work with existing clients and attracting new work.
Given these truths, professional business development skills training and coaching can be a viable solution to educate and support attorneys in bringing cohesion to their business development efforts, assisting them in practicing more productive behaviors which result in expanded relationships with existing clients, and attracting new clients. Often, effective coaching can be the “boots on the ground” of growing a practice.
According to David Freeman, CEO of the David Freeman Consulting Group and Terri Mottershead, Principal at Mottershead Consulting, “More firms are realizing that training requires ongoing follow up to yield desired results. Personal coaching and accountability systems can provide the kind of implementation support needed to turn new skills into new habits and behaviors. Firms are also recognizing the need to focus their limited resources on top performers who can make the biggest impacts.”
What is Coaching, Anyway?
Many have heard the buzz about the value of partnering with a professional coach but there is still a limited understanding of the collaborative nature of working with a coach and how it can bring greater strategic focus to a lawyer’s practice. The professional coach is focused solely on helping her lawyer clients assess their practice, evaluate client expansion, new business and cross-selling opportunities, and objectively direct them to develop a targeted plan on how to realize their business goals. This does not happen overnight but through taking steady, measured steps and developing a marketing mindset by becoming sensitized to business opportunities. It is often in those “measured steps” (aka execution) that most plans falter. A professional coach helps her clients to follow through on stated action steps.
Rainmaking lawyers are often too busy or their personalities too formidable to actually ask for help or support. Yet, they could grow their book substantially if they took the time to evaluate succinctly where existing opportunities lie. A coach can help with that.
Likewise, a professional coach works hard to understand a lawyer’s goals and target clients (and guides the attorney to develop concrete practice goals) and helps her to be more strategic in her approach and business development efforts. A coach can offer support and motivation to help attain targeted goals, help instill discipline to an otherwise hectic schedule and introduce a level of accountability where there is little.
- A successful coaching program can help:
- Clarify client development goals
- Create goal-focused action plans
- Develop leadership and business development skills
- Promote relationship-focused activities
- Build stronger communication, networking, and presentation skills
With lawyers endeavoring to differentiate themselves in the uber-competitive legal services arena and faltering when struggling to execute on required skill sets imperative to build a prosperous practice (which are not taught in law school nor in most law firms’ professional development/mentoring programs), working with a coach be a highly valuable investment in the long-term viability of a legal practice.
What Should You Expect?
For those who have engaged the services of a personal trainer, you understand the nature of the collaborative relationship and know there is a period of understanding the client’s goals so the trainer may develop a program which will meet those goals. You understand there are new skills to learn and practice, and you always benefit from the personal attention and focus you receive from your coach. The coach and client become partners in achieving the client’s success.
We all need some extra help from time to time, particularly in such a hard-charging, fiercely competitive environment. Working with a coach can help alleviate some of the uncertainty and stress of whether or not you are plowing forward in a smart and savvy way in your practice. After becoming more educated and sensitized to constructive business development behaviors and marketing tactics, you will reap the rewards of integrating these new behaviors into your daily practice and they will become second nature. You will become more confident in your efforts and grow to trust your instincts in existing and new client opportunities.
Applying this example, how exactly does coaching work for lawyers?
A professional coach is a strategist, the cheering section in a lawyer’s practice, a sounding board, and, above all, a trusted advisor. Working together, the lawyer client and coach set the relationship pace and set the clients’ goals and desired outcome together. The coach provides a focused and structured working relationship, expert guidance, and unyielding support.
Consider some these coaching benefits:
- Demonstrate your capabilities more clearly and build a stronger reputation. Operating in a reputation-based business, it is imperative that you are viewed as a skilled and knowledgeable lawyer who solves problems.
- Set measurable goals/strategies and implement precise tactics to achieve them. We tend to do only that which is measured. In marketing, if it can’t be measured, it should not be done.
- Strengthen relationships with existing clients to convert those relationships into your greatest “sales force” of supporters and more business.
- Understand on a deeper level the difference between business development and marketing strategies and tactics. Make wiser business development decisions which move the needle on growing your practice.
- Keep commitments on marketing plans which you and your coach develop together.
Benefit from an experienced sounding board for your business and growth ideas. A professional coach works closely with lawyers understands the business of law and how to create success plans to achieve the clients' goals.
A coach is a business partner who brings objectivity and a fresh perspective, and can be a smart investment in your future.
Are You a Good Coaching Candidate?
Lawyers who benefit most those who regard their practice as their own business, solo practitioners or those in small law firms since they often have to do everything from running the firm to being the rainmaker — and practice law. Senior associates who have recognized that no one is going to hand them a partner, junior partners who feel the pressure to originate client matter and want to be promoted to equity partners and senior partners who want to move into the higher-tech aspect of business development. In short words, most lawyers can benefit from a professional coaching relationship.
Whether you are a sole practitioner or head of your firm, engaging the services of a business development coach can serve your purposes of developing and growing your client base. But, are you ready?
You may benefit from working with a business development coach when you:
- view your practice as your own business
- are willing and committed to do whatever it takes to succeed
- recognize your practice could grow if you had a focused plan and executed it
- have a plan but have not achieved your desired results
- are tired of wasting time on random acts of marketing with few or no results
- want to take your practice and/or your firm to a higher level
For those attorneys who recognize that despite the genuine efforts they are expending (and their marketing departments are making on their behalf), their expectations are not being met, a professional coach can be a useful investment.
What Makes a Successful Student?
All of our coaching clients are highly skilled lawyers, successful in their own right, and are overachievers. They recognize the things at which they excel and the areas which could benefit from outside expertise. In short, they are “teachable”. These are the folks who most greatly benefit from a coach. They want to exploit every available tool to help them succeed.
Some of our clients have enjoyed a coaching relationship since they first began their legal career years ago. Over time, we have assessed their changing needs at various stages of their practice, and adapted an appropriate plan which continues to address their ongoing efforts and approach.
One client recently stated, “Practical skills are not taught in law school and rarely within a firm so we are left to our own devices to figure out how to develop new clients. I’m grateful I found a coach early on to enlighten me on the professional way to build client relationships and bring in new business.”