man climbing steps

A lawyer coach can help participants develop skills and answer deeper questions in their careers. From building a practice to transitioning to a new practice area, the coach guides the participant by engaging in a journey of self-discovery. Like Socrates’ midwife, the coach helps the participant birth the answer from within. For some lawyer coaches (like me) this can initially be a difficult thing to do. While we are good at asking questions to investigate an issue, we love to give advice and do most of the talking. A typical client interview can end up with the lawyer speaking at least half the time. But in a coaching session, the participant is the one speaking 90% of the time. The coach’s job is to listen, draw out, and highlight the participant’s own values, which can be hidden from one’s own view. When an idea arises from within, it is easier to embrace and pursue it. Self-discovery, it turns out, can be a great motivator.

Typical issues include how and whether to open a solo practice, building a practice, working with difficult individuals, and succession planning. Take the following example about a young lawyer. The participant approaches a coach and faces a familiar scenario, contemplating a return to work after parental leave. The participant professes a strong desire to return to the demanding work schedule, but worries about leaving the needy little one at home or in the care of another. Should the participant return to the old firm with its strict billable hour quotas, or move on to somewhere more accommodating? The coach asks, “how important is it to spend time with the child?” The participant answers, “I can’t think of anything more important. The baby needs me”. And so, with the help of a few good probing questions, the participant’s own words express the answer.

The Law Society of Ontario’s Coach & Advisor Network (CAN) is developing a large group of volunteers (over 100 and counting). The experience can be satisfying. What’s the difference between a coach and an advisor? While coaches help lawyers navigate their practices and careers, helping to develop skills and tackle larger questions, advisors give substantive or procedural advice with specific files (and, as mentors, are covered by LAWPRO so long as the conditions are met). CAN holds training sessions to bulk up your coaching and advising skills, and you also get professionalism hours for the time you put in. It’s another great way to give back to the profession. Consider joining CAN as a coach or advisor!