At long last, the ABA has published a book about coaching for lawyers. As an attorney coach for almost a decade, I understand that many lawyers don’t even know that the option of coaching for their profession exists, let alone understand how coaches can help their careers. The publishing of this book by the ABA should enhance the credibility and popularity of lawyer coaching.
With those thoughts in mind, I eagerly sat down to read The Lawyer’s Guide to Professional Coaching, by Andrew Elowitt.
The Basics of Coaching
Elowitt does an excellent job providing an overview of the basics, including why a lawyer would need a coach, how coaching works, why coaching is more than a fad, and how to select a coach.
That said, much of the material covered in the book can be found on the websites of various lawyer coaches. Some of these sites convey information better than others, however, and some are certainly biased. Further, many lawyers are too busy to find the sites, assess their credibility and download the information they find there to create a useful and cohesive resource.
The Lawyer’s Guide saves time by gathering a wealth of information in one place. More important, the information is conveyed objectively. There is no need to read the book from cover to cover. The topics are well-organized, so readers can focus on the sections most applicable to their current needs.
Distinguishing Coaches from Other Professionals
One chapter compares coaches to consultants, therapists and trainers – in almost too much detail. There certainly is confusion among clients, and among coaches themselves, regarding which types of issues are best handled by which kind of professional. The issues and methods do overlap. What matters most is that the professional believes he or she can help the client, can explain the appropriate strategy and tactics to the client, and can motivate behavior. The exact label of the professional is of no consequence.
For the most part, The Lawyer’s Guide does a good job addressing the broad range of relevant issues that surround coaching lawyers. However, there are a few exceptions.
Internal v. External Coaches
For example, in the section discussing internal versus external coaches, Elowitt omits a significant reason why external coaches can sometimes be more effective than internal ones. An internal coach will often be someone from a law firm’s marketing department. Given the power and political structure of most law firms, it can be extremely difficult for a marketing person to hold a senior lawyer accountable. In my experience, accountability is much easier for an external coach to achieve.
Selecting a Coach
In the section on how to select a coach, Elowitt provides a considerable amount of valuable information. However, he does not elaborate on the comparative value of coaches who have actually practiced law versus those who have not. Prospective clients often ask me this question.
There are definite advantages when a coach is also an attorney. First, the coach may have personal experience with the issue and can speak the language. When a lawyer/client complains that drafting interrogatories is tedious and boring, or about the unique stresses of certain practice areas, as a lawyer, I know precisely what they are talking about.
Second, coaches who are lawyers frequently share some professional DNA with the lawyer being coached. Let’s face it; lawyers have distinct personalities. Research shows that most lawyers think and problem-solve in much the same way. This can be helpful, since the coach who is a lawyer will have a good grasp on the logic supporting the lawyer’s feelings about a particular issue.
That being said, sometimes a coach who is not a lawyer may be the better choice. When lawyers want out-of-the-box thinking, a coach without that lawyer DNA can often provide a valuable new perspective.
Who Should Buy This Book?
Despite these exceptions, it is my opinion as a fellow-coach that Elowitt catalogs and analyzes the subject of lawyer coaching from virtually every angle — and does it reasonably well. At $79.95, the book is a bit pricey. However, for ABA members who belong to the LPM section, the price is just $47.95.
It is common knowledge that lawyers don’t want to be the first to do anything, but they don’t want to be the last either. Lawyers can benefit from coaching. This tool is becoming popular and will continue to increase in popularity as more attorneys understand what it is and how to appreciate its value. The Lawyers Guide to Professional Coaching is a huge step in the right direction.