« The Radical of Washington Square | Main | Cheating and Suing to Get What You Want »

On-Site Career Coaches—the Latest Big Law Must-Have?

Vivia Chen

February 4, 2013

Running_Coach_© eurobanks_Fotolia.comCappuccino bars, state-of-the-art gyms, emergency child care: how passé. What self-respecting law firm doesn't offer those perks these days?

If your firm aspires to break out of the pack, consider investing in a career coach (maybe two or three)—preferably someone down the hall who's available to give lawyers direction whenever there's a need.

Coaching is becoming ubiquitous. According to a 2012 survey by Manzo Coaching & Consulting, 98 percent of respondents (63 Am Law 200 firm) use coaches—either outside or internal ones. The survey finds that 90 percent of firms use coaching for business development, followed by leadership development (61 percent), training (49 percent), and conflict management (24 percent).

Though coaching is not new (35 percent of the responding firms say they've used coaches for seven to 10 years), the latest twist is that firms are grooming their own. "Many are former associates—usually a lawyer with four to seven years of experience—who first moved to a professional development director role, then the role of coach," says Nancy Manzo, the study's author. Among the firms with full-time coaches are Arnold & Porter; Mayer Brown, O'Melveny & Myers; Orrick; Perkins Coie; Venable; Wilson Sonsini; Womble Caryle. Virtually all lawyer-turned-coaches, says Manzo, also get professional training from organizations like the Hudson Institute of Santa Barbara.

Firms are investing in full-time, on-site coaches for a range of reasons—to stem attrition, help lawyers who have been on leave return to practice, or develop high-potential partner candidates, among others. Manzo says it's a logical extension of talent management: "Firms are investing a ton of money in recruiting, and now they're trying to find ways to care for and keep the people they'd like to stay."

There's also the reality that law firm structures are changing, and lawyers need help to navigate their options. "Associates usually ask, 'What is my path here?' They are concerned that the partnership is not growing," says Dina Glassman, Perkins Coie's in-house coach.

Coaching takes a variety of forms, says Manzo: It can be group coaching, in which participants share a similar goal (like learning about business development), or it can be individualized (either for a short-term problem—like tension with a boss—or long-term, to help an associate decide whether to go for partnership).

Former lawyers make effective coaches because they know the ropes and bring empathy to the table. (All the career coaches interviewed stressed that they keep strict confidences.) "It's important to have experience in Big Law and internal knowledge because law firms are odd," explains Glassman, about firm culture.

Lawyer-coaches also know how lawyers think. "Coaching can be a hard sell to lawyers, but I think it helps that I'm a lawyer," says Whittney Fruin, Orrick's West coast career coach (the firm also has an East Coast career coach, plus a writing coach). "We are trained to hold a lot of facts in our brain, be logical, and linear." A former associate at Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy's Los Angeles office, Fruin says lawyers expect a straightforward approach: "If you come in wearing yoga pants and talk about vibrations, that won't work. They want to talk about what's meaningful in a job, and why I'm billing 2,000 hours."

Inevitably, though, emotions do spill into the coaching session. "Touchy-feely stuff comes up, and I have a box of Kleenex in my office," says Mayer Brown coach Jennifer Rakstad, a former litigator at the firm. She says her group sessions can get quite emotional. Rakstad adds, though, that coaching is not therapy: "Coaching is very goal-oriented, which is not the same as therapy."

For now, there's little data about how firms' retention rates or billings are affected by an on-site coach, says Manzo, because it's still a new phenomenon. But she says firms should consider more than the bottom line: "There are lots of people who are passionate that we shouldn't measure it. Part of running a healthy business is to make sure people are developed and happy."

Law firms investing in personal development and happiness? That would be sweet.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Interesting piece- I didn't realize in-house coaches were that prevalent in law firms!

While I assume it's helpful that firms are providing these resources, it's good to keep in mind that there's a potential for an in-house coach to have an agenda outside of what is best for you.

Career coaches have helped many people identify and achieve their career goals. Once upon a time, these types of coaches were only utilized by an elite few. Today, more and more people are realizing the benefit of these coaches to help them achieve the success they want.

I see good friends and expert coaches among these commentators. Let me add my perception of the huge challenges that lawyer environments and lawyer personalities pose to individuals trying to achieve an accomplished and meaningful career in law and to firms trying to build and support the best legal environments and careers. I have seen a greater appreciation for coaching on the West Coast but this study is welcome confirmation that firms everywhere realize the tremendous benefit of supporting their lawyers through coaching. www.LawPracticeManagement.com

This is a favorable trend. Lawyers and law firms have not kept up with the dramatic changes in the field -- changes that affect the lawyers greatly. My lawyer clients take very well to coaching.

I also find that the very lawyers who struggle the most with the current version of the law firm are often those with the greatest relevant strengths to be coaches themselves.

You are correct Prof Roy Simon. The study reflected responses from 63 AmLaw 200 firms and of those firms 98% use coaches. More detail is found on my site or contact me to discuss.

Having counseled lawyers over 20 years going through a job or career transition, believe that the attorney who daily get significant 'internal gratification' from their work require less coaching. Those whom are now energized and enthusiastic about their role in BIG LAW should explore other options including a career alteration(same sanctuary(law) different work culture) or a career transition, moving on to ACT ll or lll in their career.

Interesting article. I have been coaching lawyers for the last 3 or 4 years, and can attest to the fact that lawyers are a tough audience - but one dearly in need of some coaching assistance. A little bit can go a long way with a lawyer, most of whom are self-reliant to a fault. But yes, as you point out, showing up in yoga pants isn't a good idea.

I enjoyed the story but struggled to understand the "98 percent" statistic. The third paragraph says that a 2012 survey by Manzo Coaching & Consulting reports "98 percent of respondents (63 Am Law 200 firms) use coaches—either outside or internal ones." (I corrected "firm" to "firms" in the quote.) Manzo got responses from only 63 firms in the AmLaw 200, and of those 98% used coaches? That makes sense, but the parenthetical makes it look like the number is 63 out of 200.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Subscribe to get The Careerist via e-mail

Enter your e-mail address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

To search across all ALM blogs, go to www.Lexis.com.