I am a lawyer turned legal recruiter and was running my boutique legal recruitment business for the past 11 years. There were 3 main reasons I decided to enroll for certifying coaching course, namely:
First, I wanted to improve my personal leadership skills in leading my team. I believe a coached- leadership is more effective than the directive-leadership in this new age.
Secondly, I wish to help law firm owners and/or the head of a legal departments to improve their leadership skills as this will eventually transform the working culture in the legal industries in our country.
Third reason was that I can use professional coaching technique to help my candidates in advancing their legal careers, including using non- directive approach in helping them to make the right decision when come to career junction and to help them to discover their passion in life.
After I was certified as a coach, in addition to offering my usual legal recruitment services, I also offered coaching service to law firm owners to develop and enhance their business development and leadership skills. Most lawyers are very technical savvy, but many may not have the opportunity to learn about business development and leadership related matters in their daily works.
I remembered vividly during my early days of coaching business; I met a very smart and successful lawyer, Alex (not his real name). He was in his mid 30s. He was already an equity partner of a reputable mid-sized boutique law firm. He knew my passion in helping lawyers in developing their career and business through professional coaching, he then approached me to understand more about my coaching service.
During our first trial meeting session, I applause his “boldness” in seeking professional help when facing career challenges (it is very difficult for most successful lawyers to “expose their vulnerability” to others due to their professional background) and I thanked him for trusting in me. He shared with me the challenges he faced in his current job. I could sense that he was in a state of confusion, on one hand, he is fine to remain in private practice but he felt that the work started getting mundane; on another hand, he believes he can do more, however, his current work environment seems not conducive nor supportive. In gist, he was not too sure if he should stay in his current firm or he should leave private practice entirely. If he chooses to leave private practice, what are his career options? There seemed to have many questions lingered in his mind and he wanted a coach to help him to make the right decision.
After listening to him and understanding his struggles, I explained to him coaching is different from consulting, in gist, a professional coach is trained to apply deep listening and asking powerful questions (both on intrinsic and extrinsic aspects) with the aim of raising high self-awareness in the coachee so that the coachee is able to gain courage, commitment and capability in achieving his fulfilling goals and/or making the right decision.
On another hand, consultant will normally examine your current situation and providing a directive solution to your issues.
Moreover, in coaching, a coach is trained to conduct non-directive conversation helping the coachee to find the solution TOGETHER. Therefore, I told him, I don’t only coach an issue but also coach the person. In another word, the end result of consulting is to get a solution to the issue, but the end result of coaching is to get a solution to the issue and to get a revised mindset in approaching similar issues in the future. Just like the old saying goes, “I don’t give you fish but I teach you how to fish”.
After an hour of good discussion over lunch, he decided to sign up my 6 months coaching programme.
During our first coaching session, I started by understanding the main goal plan of Alex, a deeper understanding about the challenges he faced, understanding his expectation on me as a coach and I also explaining to him some coaching ground rules. Alex said he wanted me to help him to decide if he should still stay in his current job? If yes, how can he overcame his current challenges in work?; if not, what kind of job may be more suitable for him? He expected me to be his sounding board in finding the answers together with him.
Our first coaching session lasted about one hour, based on what I could still remember, below are highlights of our coaching conversations:
Me: What are your struggles in making the decision?
Alex: I still like what I am doing but I don’t like the way that the firm is being run…… I want to see the firm …… but I am not the managing partner of the firm, also I am not sure where the firm is heading to…. (I could sense the anxiety and helplessness in this bright lawyer) On another hand, if I choose to leave the current job, I know I can do more than what I am doing now but I am not sure if I could find a job that I like and if the new job can pay me the similar salary… (I could sense his dilemma)
Me: What is your heart telling you?
Alex: (after a moment of silence and deep pondering), I am more inclined to still giving my current job “another shot”. I feel it may be too early to leave my current job as ….. and I still like to work with my partners, generally they are trust-worthy and caring people…
Me: How can you find out where the firm is heading to? Alex: I need to speak to my managing partner.
Me: have you spoken to him before about this…?
Alex: yes briefly but …. (in gist, he told me the conversation was not very fruitful)
Me: In what situation the conversation was carried out?
Alex: we spoke over a lunch and among others, I briefly told him some of my observation of the current situation in the law firm…. (I could sense that it was more like a casual and spontaneous lunch chit chat, the managing partner may not even realize this is an issue need to be addressed and is something that bothering Alex)
Me: (I thought of verifying my hunch, therefore, I asked Alex) what was the reaction of your managing partner?
Alex: He did not say much about the issues I raise…. Me: Did he realize that this issue is important to you? Alex: I am not sure, but I guess he did not.
Me: How important is it make him realize that?
Alex: Yes, I think it is important. I think he should this issue is important to me, to my career in this firm….
Me: So what can you do about it?
Alex: I should have the courage to talk to him again as for the benefit of our partnership, I should have open-communication with my partner….. (I can sense that he has a higher self-awareness now)
Me: How would you do it differently this time?
Alex: (There was a very long silence as he was thinking very hard on this question, and eventually he said) I am not too sure.
Me: Would you allow me to share with you my thoughts? Alex: Sure!
Me: Perhaps you … (This is where I put on my mentoring hat, I advised him to choose the right time and right place and prepare some questions to ask his managing partner. I told him after speaking with the managing partner then he can decide if he should stay in his current job or to leave. The conversation will give him a clearer picture of where the managing partner wants to take the law firm to, and if he will be given an opportunity to shape the law firm future together with the managing partner. I thought it could be too premature to make such drastic decision even without talking with the managing partner in deep about this issue.)
I saw Alex stopped frowning, instead he seemed more relieved now with a more confident grin. Me: Do you know what to do now?
Alex: Yes. I know exactly what I need to do now.
Me: When are you going to speak with your managing partner? (I wanted to make him commit to act on what we have discussion)
Alex: I shall speak with him within these 2 weeks. Me: How do you feel now?
Alex: I sense that my mind is clearer now. I am clearer in the way to approach my dilemma now. In fact, the answer is so simple, I should have the courage to speak candidly with my managing partner about what borther me and to understand his thoughts on how he wanted to bring the firm forward. I shouldn’t make a drastic decision without even have an open conversation with my managing partner. He is the only one who can answer those queries lingered in my mind.
Me: I am glad that I am able to help you to raise your higher self-awareness in this issue and to find the answer to your many months of struggle together during this session. Can you give me some feedback on our session today?
Alex: In fact, I have been reading many books and speaking to people whom I trust hoping to find a solution to my issue, however, my mind was still cluttered. I am so glad that I am able to come across your coaching service. It is very helpful to me to be able to speak to someone like you who is a professionally trained coach and understands legal industry well. In fact, they are not many people whom I could speak to openly. I am very happy about the outcome we achieved over today session. I look forward to our next coaching session.
Personally, I felt so encouraged to see his eyes lighted up, when I was able to create the “aha moment” in him. Such an “aha moment” will not be possible if the conversation was done in a directive manner.
To reflect on the above coaching conversation, if you could notice:
- I wasexercising deep listening through-out the conversations by putting myself into Alex’s “zone” to understand him at a deeper level till I could sense his emotion and struggles, g the anxiety of not able to solve this issue for a long period of time, the dilemma of making the right choice and the eagerness in him of doing more in his current job.
- I alsoput on my curious mind by asking powerful and insightful questions with the aim to help Alex to raise his self-awareness at a higher level, g. “How can you find out where the firm is heading to?
- I intentionallywithheld myself from giving advice or solutions (though I knew in my mind that Alex should speak to his managing partner) because we as professional coach we are trained not to impose our thoughts or agenda over our coachee as our answer may not be the best solution to our We always believe our coachee has the answer. It is always more empowering to let the coachee finds the solution himself and during the process of exploring the issues, he would also come to a realization that he should have the courage to raise up important issues with his managing partner. Such a deep realization has a profound impact on their partner relationship. This is something more important than merely helping him to make the right decision.
- I will still providefeedback to my coachee whenever they are Of course with the permission of the coachee. Most of the coachee would be keen to know what the coach thinks. Feedback session is a good moment to add-value to our coachee to give them some insights that they would not be able to think of due to the limitation of their experience. However, I would make it clear to the coachee that this is purely my personal perspective and they are not obliged to accept if they think it is not suitable.
- Asa coach, we want to see progress on solving the issue and to see result of the issue being Therefore, a professional coaching conversation always follows by action plan. With the action plan I am able to hold the coahee accountable for what have been discussed. That was why I asked Alex when he wants to speak to his managing partner.
After 2 weeks, I met with Alex again during our second coaching meeting, he informed me that he has a very fruitful discussion with his managing partner and he decided to stay with his current firm. He now wanting me to teach him what is the more effective ways of doing business development as he wanted to expand the law firm practice. I am very glad to see Alex is fired up now in his current job. This is the most fulfilling part of a coach when we are able to make a different in the career and life of our coachee.