The further associates advance in their legal careers, the more they typically see what their legal education lacked. Law school does not teach lawyers how to effectively interact with clients; law school does not teach lawyers how to efficiently manage their practices; law school does not teach lawyers how to become good rainmakers. CLE programs generally do not offer or approve programs in these skills. Lawyers must learn them from the "School of Hard Knocks."
In conversations that I've had with educators, their view of law as a profession means that any such programs about effective client relations or practice management are trade-oriented and therefore inappropriate for law schools. Law school students read about the law rather than about how to engage in legal practice. It is an extension of this attitude that leads many bar associations to reject law practice management programs as part of their MCLE requirements.
To overcome this Catch-22, a professional coach who has real-world experience in "The Business of Law®" can be the most realistic lifeline for lawyers with practice management problems. Coaches work with people in real life, discussing and exploring roadblocks as they are encountered and working to remove them. A coach provides both accountability and support. The right coach brings certain advantages: experience as a lawyer in practice management issues that lawyers face, the independence to hold the lawyer accountable for addressing these issues, the time focus on solutions and a willingness to be candid.
The coaching experience is an active partnership, not a one-time boost. Coaches give lawyers the discipline to answer a crucial question: "Am I committed to my own success?" I believe that many young lawyers who fear success would benefit from working with a coach who can discuss and explore problems and provide a resource to resolve them.
Consider a young family law sole practitioner seeking to do a good job for his clients while at the same time attracting more business; this can make for 16-hour days leaving him exhausted. I suggested that he first focus his efforts with a strategic plan that defined his revenue and net income goals and the types of clients and matters that would support them. Second, I advised hiring an assistant who could handle administrative chores and allow the lawyer to do the work only he could do - serving existing clients and marketing to new ones. Ultimately, he worked fewer hours and earned more.
Other coaches may have given similarly effective, though different, advice. Many lawyers who fear that success requires too much of them can quell their fears with help from a coach who can show them how to leverage their own wisdom and unique abilities to succeed beyond what they ever thought possible.
For a more detailed discussion of how young lawyers can benefit from coaching see Lawbiz.com. For a general discussion of the uses of coaching see this article.
Ed Poll, J.D., M.B.A., CMC, is a recognized expert in law practice management. He partners with attorneys & law firms to increase profitability, coaching them on issues of internal operations, practice development, & financial matters. Ed enables lawyers to be more effective with their clients with less stress for both the lawyer and the client.. He practiced law for 25 years, has coached lawyers for 20 years, and is the author of 13 leading books. His latest book, Growing Your Law Practice ThroughTough Times, was released in April 2010. Ed is a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management, a board-certified Coach to the Legal Profession and a charter member of the Million Dollar Consulting® Hall of Fame. He can be reached at (800) 837-5880, www.lawbiz.com, www.lawbizblog.com and www.lawbizforum.com.