Coaching is a highly customized service that is best understood through specific examples. While many clients choose my SLC Jump Start ™ program (see below), coaching is not a form of "one size fits all" consulting. There are, however, some common reasons why you might want to work with a coach. For example:
- You were just elevated to non-equity partner and you need to begin developing your own clients because 1) partners are referring less work to you and 2) originations are an important factor in being elevated to equity partner at your firm.
- You are already doing a lot to market yourself as a lawyer but you want to find ways to be more effective and create a structure that will ensure longterm success.
- You want to work with a professional who understands your business, who can help you think more strategically about the marketing you want to do and who can hold you accountable to taking the necessary steps to achieve greater success.
- You are planning to open your own law firm and you are concerned about what work you should pursue and how you will generate business.
- You have concluded that partnership at your present firm is not for you but you need help in weighing your options, coming up with a plan for making a lateral move and then successfully carrying out that plan.
- You received a bad performance review and you want help in addressing the issues that were raised by the review.
SLC Jump Start© --Making the Transition from Associate Who Does the Work to Partner Who Generates the Work
Many clients contact me as they begin to make the transition from associate to partner. Some have already achieved partnership status while others have been told that generating business is a prerequisite. In both cases, these attorneys need to understand how to reorient themselves so that a portion of their time is spent building their reputation and building their business relationships. For these clients, I offer a five step coaching program called SLC Jump Start ™ . While SLC Jump Start ™ is tailored to the specific needs of each coaching client, the basic steps are as follows:
- Step One- Assessing Your Marketing Strengths and Weaknesses. In our initial meeting, we identify the gaps in your marketing skills and uncover some of the obstacles that are preventing you from achieving the marketing success you deserve. Are you concerned about coming across as a salesman? Do you dislike going to large networking functions where you have to make small talk? What about your strengths? Do you like writing? Are you a good presenter? Do you have a special interest that connects you with professionals you would like to meet? How do you make the most of this strength?
- Step Two- Defining Yourself. An important part of positioning yourself for referrals is to create a memorable niche that distinguishes you from other attorneys in the marketplace. Choosing a niche does not prevent you from taking on matters that are outside of this niche. But having a well defined area of expertise is critical to your marketing success. During this step, I help you to define your unique niche or brand.
- Step Three- Building Your Reputation. Once you have determined who you are, what activities are you employing to build your reputation in that practice area? Are you publishing, speaking or getting involved in trade organizations? In choosing activities that will help you to build your reputation, it is important to stay within your comfort zone. During this step, I help you identify a mix of activities that can work for you without making you feel uncomfortable. Together we come up with a plan that lets the world know what types of problems you can solve and what types of clients you serve.
- Step Four- Evaluating Your Business/Personal Relationships. Ultimately, clients will hire you because they trust you and believe you can solve their problem. While building your reputation can help to build some of this trust, ultimately, trust must be built one relationship at a time. So who are your contacts and how do you build relationships with individuals who are either potential clients or potential referral sources? What are you currently doing to ensure your network is growing in a way that supports your overall efforts to generate business? During step four, we map out the most effective ways for you to build a network of potential clients and referral sources.
- Step Five- Deepening Your Relationships With Clients, Client Prospects and Referral Sources. There are many effective ways to deepen your ties with existing contacts. For the most part, listening is the key skill that you need to master. Marketing success in the practice of law is not about learning how to become a smooth talker. During this step, we look more closely at how you are interacting and communicating with your network over time. We examine what you are doing to ensure that your network continues to be a good source of referrals.
I have successfully worked through these steps with numerous clients who have gone on to build successful practices. Many of my clients , however, also come to me with a mix of career and marketing issues. Below is a description of several clients who have needed support with both their marketing and with a career transition.
Returning to Private Practice After Working In-House for a Decade
The general counsel of a technology company called me when it became public knowledge that his company was being acquired. While the client believed there would still be a role for him after the acquisition was completed, the client did not see the new role lasting forever. In the short run, he could stay; but his job responsibilities would become far less interesting. In addition, he was told to expect a pay cut. At the same time, the marketplace for other in-house jobs was soft and this client needed help in developing more options. This involved:
- Guiding the client through a process of self assessment.
- Helping the client to see that returning to private practice at a small to mid-sized firm would be very different than practicing in a large firm environment (where he began his career).
- Coming up with a plan for marketing himself to firms where he would have a good chance of building a practice and coming up with a marketing plan for building this new law practice.
- Helping the client to negotiate a departure from his existing employer (an agreement which ensured that he could keep the company as one of his own clients).
As a result, the client was able to join a well regarded regional firm. From day one, he had a steady flow of work (i.e. from his former employer) and a strong foundation on which to build a practice.
Strong Interpersonal Skills but Lacking in Focus
Many lawyers found their careers disrupted at the start of 2003 when two of Boston's oldest firms closed. A corporate partner from one of these firms came to me seeking help in vetting his career options. He had largely been a service partner, but he knew he could generate business if he were at a smaller firm. Initially the focus was on helping the client to secure a new job. This involved:
- Helping the client to create a list of criteria so he could better evaluate his options.
- Letting the client vent about the way he had been treated by his former partners.
- Getting the client to focus on the future.
- Working with the client to leverage his existing contacts so he could meet partners at mid-sized firms.
After the client was reestablished in his new firm, I helped the client to create and implement a marketing plan. With my help, the client was able to better focus his marketing message. With my coaching support, he continues to increase his visibility by writing articles, sending out mailings, choosing good public speaking opportunities and participating in a variety of activities sponsored by non-profit organizations that interest him.
A Lateral Move and Continuing Career Issues
I recruited a litigation associate from a large Boston firm to join the Boston branch office of a national firm. Initially, the associate was very happy with the move. The morale in her new firm was much better, the environment was more supportive and the hours were more predictable. A year later, the associate contacted me seeking career coaching. She was now questioning whether she was really suited to the practice of law.
Through a series of exercises and coaching sessions, the client came to appreciate that there were many things she liked about the practice of law. She also saw that in many ways, she was well suited to being a litigator. She realized, however, that her recent divorce was causing her to look to work for emotional fulfillment. She also discovered that some of the stress she was feeling was a holdover from her former firm and that in her new firm, it was okay to make mistakes as long as you fixed them. (At her old firm, anything less than perfection was considered unacceptable.)
The client began to take more initiative to improve her social life. She also created a strategy for managing her stress. As a result, her career satisfaction grew significantly. She also gained a new appreciation for her firm and for practicing law.
Shifting Interests and Fear of Marketing
A partner at a litigation boutique had been litigating a wide mix of cases for nearly 20 years. Throughout most of her career, she had done little marketing. But lately, she was feeling less confident that she would continue to get referrals. At the same time, she was becoming increasingly frustrated with traditional litigation and wanted to spend more time using less adversarial dispute resolution techniques.
At first, the coaching centered around getting the client to commit to asking for the work she wanted. We then spent a number of sessions dealing with what the client called "fear of marketing". As her marketing confidence grew, she become more effective in asking lawyers and other professionals in her network for referrals. She also greatly increased her commitment to speaking publicly about collaborative law.
Management Skills and Starting a Solo Practice
A client approached me because she wanted to become a more effective manager. She believed that it was time for her firm to make serious changes in the way it was doing business but she did not know how to make these changes happen. As we worked together, it became clear that the client's authority was being undermined by her law partner. After trying in vain to improve employee communication in her office, the client concluded that it was time to move on. I then:
- Worked with the client to weigh her options and helped the client to put her risk aversion in perspective (in part by getting the client see that solo practice was really no more risky than any of her other options).
- Helped the client to identify what steps she needed to take in order to leave her existing partnership and start a new firm.
I continued to work with this client to strengthen her relationships with referral sources. We also returned to the issue of how to be an effective manager (something she knew was important but hated to spend time on).