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Personal Coaches

By Kari Santos | Nov. 2, 2010

Expert Advice

Nov. 2, 2010

Personal Coaches

Gerry Williams is a brilliant attorney. He wins cases and brings a lot of money into the firm. But there are problems. Gerry does not return phone calls or answer emails promptly. Negative comments are coming to the firm from clients. When colleagues consult him, they don't feel they have his full attention. And Gerry's family is not happy because they never see him. The managing partner doesn't know what to do.

Learning to Be Effective
Despite diverse curricula, law schools don't teach how to practice effectively. For lawyers who begin their careers at a firm, being effective usually means practicing law the way the firm does; for sole practitioners, it's a matter of jumping in and learning on the fly.

But after a while, many attorneys run into the same kinds of difficulties Gerry Williams did. They know how to win cases and negotiate business deals. But often they do not know how to interact with people - whether clients or opposing counsel - in a way that creates trust and rapport. They do not know how to effectively balance work and home life, or how to avoid burnout and stress. In short, they don't know how to make time for everything.

Try a Coach
A professional coach may be able to solve these problems. Coaches are trained to help professionals manage their lives, and a good one may well show a lawyer how to work more efficiently.

In fact, Gerry retained a coach who is helping him observe the way he practices law. Gerry has begun to assess which parts of his professional life work and which do not. He tracks his time. He makes a list of personal needs. He begins to redesign his practice to find innovative ways to get the results he wants.

Soon he learns that if he takes time to exercise three days a week, he has more energy and is more clear-headed. He is able to get up earlier, and discovers he works better in the morning.

The coach helps Gerry with time management, relationship building, communication, and work/life balance. They work in tandem to assess how Gerry's personal life affects his business life. The coach introduces Gerry to communication skills such as reflective listening and the art of making clear requests and promises. Gerry soon discovers that people understand him better. After a few months of coaching, Gerry finds that he works fewer hours but is more productive. Another tangible benefit is that Gerry gets to spend more time with his family.

Love What You Do
Susan Avila graduated from law school three years ago and has been practicing on her own. She notices that she does not have the quality or quantity of cases she would like. She also notices that her reserved personality does not fit with trial work. More and more, she wonders if she's really cut out to practice law.

When Susan hires a coach, she begins to examine the types of clients and cases she wants to attract. The two tap into Susan's talent, resources, and imagination to discover the best techniques for attracting the right clients. Susan starts to explore different practice areas and realizes that she would rather do transactional work, where she does not spend so much time battling with an adversary in court. She sets boundaries on her work hours and creates five- and ten-year plans for professional development.

By the end of the coaching relationship, Susan has structured her career.

A Coach of Your Own
How do you find a personal coach who is right for you? Try these suggestions.

? Consult with professional groups. Check out the International Coaching Federation, which provides a code of ethics for its members. The ICF's website ( has a tab to help professionals locate coaches in different geographic areas.

? Review formal training. Many people call themselves coaches based on training they received while in other professions. Find out if the coach you're considering attended a coaching school and is certified.

? Conduct a personal interview. Many coaches offer a complimentary coaching session, knowing that coaching must be experienced to be understood. Notice the level of rapport and connection you have with the coach.

Working with a coach might sound strange to someone who has never tried it. But a lot of folks are doing it and deriving great benefits from the process.

Sacramento-area attorney Cami McLaren works as a Certified Performance Coach (


Kari Santos

Daily Journal Staff Writer

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