Athletes preparing for team and individual sports competitions have coaches. Employers trying to assist executives in shifting to new roles successfully may hire an executive coach to assist with making the transition. Why would an attorney focused on having a successful and balanced career want to hire a coach? What are the circumstances when you could most benefit from engaging someone? If you are like most lawyers, both competent and driven, at times in your career it may make sense to seek assistance from an outside professional to help you navigate change or a rough patch, and to better assist you as you focus on maintaining well-being. While you may be thinking about your work life first and foremost, it often makes sense to look more broadly at a variety of parts of your life where you are seeking better outcomes or greater personal welfare.
First and foremost you will want to determine the kind of assistance that you are looking for. This requires you to complete some kind of self-assessment regarding your current situation.
- Are you unhappy with your work situation? If so, how is that manifesting itself? How long have you been feeling this discomfort? Because of lawyers ‘strong work ethic and commitment to mastery, often they are uncomfortable or unhappy for a long time before they decide to address their concern head-on.
- How is your physical and mental health? Do you feel as if you are connected to your physical well-being? Are you coping with physical or psychological distress in ways that you believe are unhealthy, or are you exhibiting behaviors that you would see as being dysfunctional if others were displaying them?
- Are your social, intellectual, and spiritual relationships and activities rejuvenating? Are you spending sufficient time to recharge so you have sufficient energy for your work and non-work activities?
If you are experiencing significant distress in one or more of these areas, it might be a good idea to seek some assistance. Here are some circumstances that might be a catalyst for looking for a coach.
Making a Career Transition
If you have been practicing law in a particular field or at a particular firm, and you are no longer enjoying your practice or your role, you may want to hire a career coach. If you have absolute clarity about what you want to do next, or the issues that are troubling you in your current circumstances, this may not be necessary. However, many lawyers are unclear about whether or not the issues are related to their practice area, their firm culture, the general work environment or possible burnout. Trying to assess these different elements on your own can be difficult. Engaging a professional to assist you can help you better assess your current situation, define a target and guide you in pursuing new options.
Taking on a New Work Role
If you have recently accepted a position as the head of a department, managing partner or in-house counsel, or simply changed practice areas, you will be faced with a wide variety of new roles and responsibilities. Law firms are often notorious for asking members to take on new roles and responsibilities without providing any relief from current expectations or clarity about what is expected in this added role. Engaging an executive coach to assist you in maximizing your success potential in this new arena is a good investment before or after you have accepted a role with enhanced firm responsibility. A coach can assist you in negotiating personal best practices for acting upon new responsibilities, and may also assist you in negotiating expectations with your firm.
In addition, when you are elevated to a new role in your organization, you typically have fewer peers. While you may have been able to bounce ideas and strategies across a peer group, when you become the first among equals, it may be harder to engage your former peers in strategy discussions. An impartial outsider can provide you a safe and risk-free environment to determine direction and implementation plans.
Focusing on Your Life Outside of Work
Our lives involve a significant amount of time in work-related activities while trying to manage time for relationships and non-work activities. But the overlap is significant, and difficulties in one area often bleed over into others, impacting our lives as a whole. When you are doing an evaluation of your current situation, remember to look at all aspects of your life.
Frequently, stress or imbalance in our lives manifests itself in our bodies. We all have a growing awareness that sitting at our desks for many hours a day isn’t necessarily the best thing for our bodies or our minds. When you decide to hire a coach to help you focus on your physical well-being you want to consider both your short term and long term goals, the realistic amount of time that you are going to devote to this process, criteria to consider when you are looking for someone and how you will know that it is a good fit. Sometimes when you are feeling “stuck” in a general sense, it may make sense to address your somatic needs first. Focusing on your physical well-being may foster your ability to consider your work needs as well. If you are looking to jump-start changes in your well-being, this could create energy for other areas you want to address.
If the issues that you want to address are more focused on the emotional or psychological, you may want to seek out a therapist. Issues from the past or present may be getting in the way of your work performance, your social and personal relationships, or your general state of mind. Therapists may have different credentials than coaches, and their educational backgrounds might be in social work, psychology, or if you are seeking someone who could prescribe medication as necessary; psychiatry. As with all other relationships of this nature, individuals work with clients differently and you are definitely looking for a fit. Licensure differs by state, and you want to make sure that you work with a credentialed individual.
Things to consider when selecting a coach.
- What is the coach’s experience with the aspects of well-being that you want to address? What is most important to you? If you know the areas in which you need the most assistance, make sure that the prospective coach has experience in this area.
- How will you mark progress? Can you and your coach come to an agreement in advance about what changes or alterations in your current situation will indicate some clarity about behavioral changes? How will you know?
- Does the coach provide an engagement letter or other information about how he or she works with clients? Is there a timeline for coaching, and/or does the coach have minimum amounts of time or meetings required?
- Can you arrange a conversation with the coach before scheduling a meeting to ask questions and determine if there is a fit between your needs and his or her work style?
- Will the coach provide references?
- Are fees determined on an individual meeting basis, or for some mutually agreed upon duration as a package fee?
- What is the process or arrangement to end the relationship if you feel as if you are not making progress? Are fees associated with termination?
- As with all such arrangements, what confidentiality is guaranteed when you decide to work with someone?
You may or not hire a coach. But if you find that you want to address areas in your life more productively, or if you need a kick start to get moving, consider engaging an outside professional. We are all under a lot of stress, and we all can benefit from focusing on fostering a better, more balanced life.
About the Author
Wendy L. Werner is a career and executive coach and a law practice management consultant. She is a member of the LP Attorney Well-Being Committee and the co-chair of the LP Publications Board. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org