By Mark Powers

Originally published in the Texas Bar Journal in Volume 63, Number 1, in January 2000

“Change is the law of life.
And those who look only
to the past or the present
are certain to miss the
future.”
– John F. Kennedy, 1963

In a profession that would make the movement of glaciers appear fast, these are certainly interesting times. Change in the legal profession is happening more quickly that most of us expected. Unfortunately, many in the legal profession are unprepared for this change.
In a profession trained on precedent, the world is already moving too quickly. Clients fax or e-mail a document and expect a thorough response within an hour. Rapidly advancing technology forces regular upgrades in software and computers. Staff members seem less qualified, while demanding more resources. And, instead of becoming paperless, the average attorney’s office looks as it a moving van should be pulling up any moment to cart away the excess boxes. In a time when many attorneys are feeling buried and unfulfilled in their profession, most are not optimistic about additional changes or the future.

Chance does not have to be an unwelcome force and, fortunately, attorneys don’t have to go it alone. Attorneys from around the country are using professional coaches as a structure of support for operating more efficiently and navigating their practices during the difficult and challenging transitions affecting the legal profession.

There is a lot of work to do to recapture the joy and promise that a law degree once held for attorneys.

It is time to strengthen one’s business muscles, look for opportunities, set a course, and get into action.

Looking forward

The November 1999 American Bar Association Seize the Future conference in Phoenix, AZ, made a strong case for what the profession must do, including:

  • The ABA would do well to follow the lead of the American Institute of Certified Public Accounts (AICPA), which in 1996 began a strategic process that newly and dramatically redefined the accounting profession in the year 2000. Barry Melancon, executive director of the AOCPA, detailed this process at the conference. It was clear at the conclusion of his presentation that the legal profession is at least 10 years behind the certified public accountants.
  • Attorneys must challenge their established beliefs in their organizations. This will be difficult as most senior leadership is heavily vested in maintaining the status quo. As such, law firms will need to hire diverse talent and look to them for perspective.
  • The Internet’s impact on the legal profession will astound each and every one of us in the nest few years. Attorneys will need to embrace the Internet.
  • To avoid becoming irrelevant to the client, attorneys must look for client based solutions that add value at every step of the legal process.
  • Attorneys must become strong business people who build organizations that can react quickly and take advantage of opportunities as they appear.

So, as we look forward, it is clear that there are too many variables to accurately predict the future. Attorneys therefore need to prepare today to respond to a wide variety of opportunities, risks, and possibilities. To do this, they need to break through their current paradigms and think more strategically. They will also need to accelerate the learning and application of practice management skills. This is no longer debatable.

There is no simple solution or pathway into the future, but coaching appears to increase the odds for success. In the last five years, coaching has gone from obscurity to one of the fastest growing businesses in the United States. Today there are an estimated 10,000 part-time and full-time coaches world wide. The number of people entering the emerging field of coaching has doubled in each of the past three years.

What is Coaching?

How does coaching pertain to the legal profession? Coaching is an ongoing partnership that usually involves a one-on-one relationship between the coach and attorney and includes regular, follow-up accountability. A coach in the legal profession helps attorneys take control of their practices, increase their incomes, decrease their stress, and improve the quality of their lives. Sometimes a confidant and sometimes a stone in the shoe, the coach ensures that the attorney moves in the direction that will bring the greatest benefits.

How Can Coaching Help You?

The coach can be more analogous to a golf pro who understands the terrain of the golf course and the fundamentals of the game. Depending on your skills, the coach either teaches you the basics or trains you to accelerate your game. The coach stays with you as you navigate the course and improve your game to ensure you learn the necessary skills to win on a regular basis.

The attorney and the coach have weekly coaching sessions on the telephone. They work together to first get the attorney’s priorities into clear focus. This often entails a written mission statement and both short and long-term goals in the areas of fun, adventure, health, family, community, retirement, spirituality, and finance. This is what Stephen Covey would call “putting first things first.” Unless the attorney’s personal mission and goals are outlined on paper, the practice of law will dictate and control his or her life.

Using practical real-world tips and techniques, the coach works with the attorney to navigate the daily frustrations. Coaching topics include

  • How to effectively minimize the constant barrage of daily interruptions;
  • How to find and hire a championship staff or eliminate an unresponsive staff;
  • How to deal with demanding and unreasonable clients;
  • How to eliminate collection difficulties and increase cash flow;
  • How to delegate and leverage your time more efficiently.

The coach is simultaneously focused on providing the attorney with a battery of new habits for client development and effective time management. Lastly, the coach is strategizing regularly with the attorney so that he or she doesn’t get blindsided or miss exceptional business opportunities.

A recent study of attorneys working with a coach over a one-year period demonstrated clear progress. Satisfaction with their practice increased by 32 percent. Optimism about the future of the profession increased by 44 percent. The number of marketing contacts and the size of the referral network had grown significantly, up 61 and 221 percent respectively. These last two factors are important because they have a direct impact on revenue generation, which was up 32 percent on average over the course of the year.

Change is the law of life. With a coach, attorneys have a chance to rekindle their optimism and joy for the practice of law. Those attorneys who look to the future, set a course, and get into action will come through this current transition with their health, finances and practices intact.

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