Without Tom Kelly’s coaching of Kirby Puckett in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series, do you think the Minnesota Twins could have pulled off their amazing victory over the Atlanta Braves?
If your answer is no, then you understand the power a great coach can have to motivate players to achieve greatness in their own right.
Lawyers who want to bring that power to bear on their professional lives should consider working with a legal coach.
It’s a lot like working with a personal trainer for your career, said Shorewood, Wis., attorney and coach Michael F. Moore.
While law firms have been hiring consultants for years now, legal coaching is a relatively new development. Consultants usually offer one-time instruction, or are hired to study a particular issue and then make recommendations for the firm to implement on its own. In comparison, a coach’s services are ongoing, customized and motivational.
The type of services offered varies by coach. Like Moore, Twin Cities coach Roy S. Ginsburg helps with business and professional development, as well as with practice management, productivity and transitions. Terrie Wheeler of St. Paul, however, focuses her coaching exclusively on marketing.
They all bring different credentials and perspectives to their coaching. Moore is a former in-house practitioner and business executive and longtime soccer coach; Ginsburg is an experienced attorney who still practices employment law, in addition to coaching; and Wheeler led the marketing department at a large Twin Cities firm before starting her own professional services firm many years ago.
Sometimes their clients are in private practice, and other times they are in-house. Sometimes they are hired by individuals, while other times they are hired by firms looking to achieve firm-wide goals.
As an example of the latter, Moore said that in recent months he has been called on to help firms cope with the steep decline in practice areas like commercial real estate and mergers and acquisitions, along with the sharply increased demand for bankruptcy and loan workout lawyers.
The duration of a coaching engagement varies depending on the coach and the goals. Ginsburg said that sometimes he works with someone for as little as two months, while other clients stay on board for several years. Wheeler typically is hired for a year’s stretch, while Moore’s engagements usually last six months.
They agree that face-to-face coaching is best because it promotes greater accountability.
“What people tell me is, the reason I help them get results is I show up in their offices every month and say, ‘Did you do what we agreed you’d do?'” said Moore. “That motivates people to get it done.”
A good coach is available by phone and e-mail for questions between sessions. Coaches generally use flexible rate structures, depending upon the length of the engagement, the frequency with which they’ll be meeting with someone, the goals sought, etc. Ginsburg and Wheeler bill hourly, while Moore works almost exclusively on a fixed-fee basis. A year of intensive coaching with Wheeler costs approximately $12,000-$14,000, she estimated. But for solos or lawyers in small firms who cannot afford that, she offers an online version for considerably less, about $800-$1,200.
How it works
Legal coaches won’t make you do sit-ups – but they might push you a little bit out of your comfort zone.
Wheeler said the process begins with an extensive assessment and discussion of where the client wants to go in his or her practice. The client and coach together set the larger goals, a timeframe for achieving them and determine how they’ll measure success in a detailed marketing plan. Then the coach helps provide motivation to implement that plan.
A crucial element, said Wheeler, is to assure clients from day one that their communications are confidential, even if it’s the firm paying her and not the individual lawyer.
“If a lawyer tells me, ‘I’m miserable, I’m leaving this firm and taking clients with me,’ I cannot share that with the firm because my loyalty and trust relationship is with the individual I’m coaching,” she said. “Now, I can say that doesn’t happen very often. But the firm needs to know that I’m not just a conduit to the firm. [Coaches] need to have a high level of trust, or the coaching relationship will never work.”
Ginsburg said that sometimes lawyers accept whichever clients come their way out of economic necessity. He tries to avoid that as a coach, however.
“Just like the lawyer-client relationship, it works best when there’s good comfort and chemistry between the coach and the client,” he said. “I really genuinely like, and want to help, the people I coach. It’s really rewarding for me to help them succeed, however they define that.”
For his part, Moore said, “I feel good about when I can give someone a solution and a month later they tell me, ‘Wow, that really worked.'”
One satisfied client is Lauren K. Lofton, an associate at Solheim, Billing & Grimmer in Madison. Her firm hired Moore to coach her and several other lawyers. Each month, Moore provided a session on general-interest topics like marketing with social media. He also met with Lofton individually for an hour every month, and followed up with e-mails and calls.
“I was skeptical at the beginning. I was not sure what value it would offer,” said Lofton, who concentrates in real estate and general business law. “[But] it really helped me figure out how to grow my practice and in which direction I want to move. For any lawyer, that’s helpful. When you first graduate from law school, you might end up in a practice area and you don’t really have time or experience to figure out how to focus that into something that’s sustainable.”