Professional Coaching Is Your Secret Weapon

By Elise Holtzman

Have you ever wished you had an experienced and trained guide to help you navigate the path to success in your law practice? Someone who is fully dedicated to your goals and has the education and tools to help you make it happen? If so, you might want to consider engaging the services of a professional coach.

What Is Coaching?

The International Coach Federation (ICF,, a global organization dedicated to advancing the coaching profession, setting standards, and providing independent certification, defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential. . . .”

In other words, coaching is a goal-oriented process that is designed to get you from where you are now to where you want to be. An effective coach will engage you in a process of discovery that will enable you to clarify in detail:

  • what you want to achieve,
  • the motivations behind your choices,
  • opportunities for growth and development, and
  • potential obstacles that could impede or halt your progress.

Based on this information, your coach will guide you in crafting a clear action plan and taking steps that align with this plan. As you work toward your goals, your coach will keep you accountable with reminders and check-ins so you stay on track and continue to make progress. Although coaching has traditionally been conducted one-on-one, many coaches offer group coaching programs in addition to individual coaching.

As life and professional coaching have become more popular over the last 15 years, coaches have specialized in almost every imaginable area of personal and professional development. For example, there are ADHD coaches, weight-loss coaches, spirituality coaches, financial coaches, relationship coaches, career coaches, leadership coaches, time-management coaches, business development coaches, and executive coaches. Many large corporations and law firms have internal coaches on staff to serve on human resources or professional development teams. Others use external coaches instead of or in addition to internal coaches.

The Benefits of Working with a Coach

Do you have exactly what you want in every area of your life and law practice? If not, what’s getting in your way?

While there may be external obstacles to your success, the vast majority of what holds people back from achieving success are the internal obstacles—lack of certainty or clarity about what you want to achieve, self-doubt and lack of confidence, negative stories and messages, fears, regrets, and what-ifs that clutter our brains and hamper rational, goal-oriented thought. Those self-defeating notions and patterns can prevent you from pursuing your objectives or continuing to press forward when you inevitably encounter failure or delay.

A trained coach is adept at identifying both external and internal obstacles and is armed with processes and tools to help you minimize or overcome them. Unlike your business partner, spouse, parent, or friend (no matter how well-intentioned), your coach is an objective third party whose only agenda is your agenda; rather than being tied to any particular outcome, your coach is focused on the processes and results that are best for you.

Just as important, coaching is effective. According to the ICF, 99 percent of companies and individuals that hire a coach are “somewhat” or “very” satisfied with the overall experience, and 96 percent would hire a coach again.

Like other small business owners, you may not have anyone to bounce ideas off of or someone with whom to share your fears, challenges, and concerns. It can be lonely at the top, and having a coach can provide a much-needed sounding board and guide for those who are not satisfied with the status quo. For the same reasons that major league athletes, world-renowned musicians, Fortune 100 CEOs, and world leaders have coaches and advisors, many attorneys recognize the value of engaging coaches to facilitate and accelerate their success.

Areas of Opportunity for Coaching

For most solos and small firm lawyers, business development and profitability are at the top of the priority list. The challenge, though, is that law school did not teach you the skills required to start, develop, and operate a thriving, successful business. If you launched your career at a large law firm, you likely didn’t learn business-building skills there, either.

Consequently, many solos and small firm lawyers who engage the services of a coach are looking for help with marketing and business development strategy, skills, and implementation. A business development coach can help you identify your ideal clients and how to market to them most effectively.

A coach might also help you:

  • develop a global strategic plan for your law firm;
  • establish clear and specific short- and long-term goals for the practice (including size, number of employees, and financial metrics);
  • get clarity on what practice area(s) to focus on and how to quickly and effectively develop your knowledge, skills, and experience;
  • create systems, procedures, and policies for your practice so it runs smoothly and efficiently;
  • improve leadership skills, such as employee management and mentoring;
  • increase confidence and executive presence;
  • hone communication skills, including public speaking, negotiation, and trial skills;
  • implement time management and delegation techniques; and
  • engage in succession planning to ensure the future of the firm.

In addition to fostering and expediting strategic planning and skill building, coaches smooth the path by providing motivation, inspiration, and appreciation for what you are doing. It can be a huge help to take a moment from time to time to recognize how far you have come, and your coach can help you do that.

You might also consider engaging a coach to develop your junior partners, associates, or other employees, or work with you to maximize the impact of onboarding new attorneys or implementing new firm-wide programs such as diversity initiatives.

How the Coaching Engagement Works

Coaches typically work with a client for three months to a year, or until the client’s goals are achieved. During this time, the coach and client will meet for a pre-determined number of sessions, which may range from once per month to three or four times per month for a duration as short as 30 minutes or as long as an hour. Although some coaches meet their clients in person, most meet their clients by telephone or video chat (such as FaceTime or Skype). Virtual meetings allow you to choose a coach located anywhere in the world and give you the ability to connect with your coach and get right back to work without added travel time.

Depending on the arrangement with your coach, you may also be able to contact your coach by e-mail for quick check-ins, questions, short document reviews, or encouragement. The expectation is that, between sessions, you will work on completing tasks you and your coach have identified as crucial to meeting the goals you have established for yourself.

The fee for the coaching engagement, which can vary widely depending on the experience level of the coach, is typically paid in advance or in installments during the course of the engagement.

Hiring a Coach

When hiring a coach, do your research. Unlike some other consultants, such as therapists and financial advisors, professional coaches are not subject to governmental licensing requirements or standards. What this means is that virtually anyone can call herself a coach, whether or not she has received coach-specific training.

A great place to start your research is with the ICF, the leading self-regulatory body of the coaching industry. More than 30,000 coaches worldwide are currently members of the ICF, which sets standards for education, including continuing coach education, credentialing of coaches, and ethical standards to which members must subscribe. Visit the ICF’s website (, where you can learn more about the coaching profession, read success stories, review frequently asked questions, and even search for a coach. Other options for finding a coach include soliciting recommendations from friends and colleagues and searching online for a trained coach who meets your requirements and preferences.

Most coaches will offer a complimentary coaching consultation so that each of you has the opportunity to learn more about the other and make a determination as to whether you are a good fit and will have an effective partnership.

When evaluating a particular coach, ask probing questions such as:

  • How much coaching experience do you have and with what types of clients?
  • What sorts of businesses do you specialize in working with?
  • What types of goals and challenges do you most frequently help your clients tackle?
  • Are you formally trained as a coach?
  • Are you a member of a coaching trade organization, and are you a credentialed coach?
  • Do you subscribe to a standard of ethics? Will our communications be confidential?
  • What is your coaching philosophy?

Maximizing Results from Coaching

The most effective way to ensure that you get the best results from coaching is to recognize that this is one of those endeavors where you truly do reap what you sow. Coaching is best viewed as a partnership between you and your coach, so even choosing the most skillful, dedicated, masterful coach will not guarantee a positive outcome unless you bring your best self to the effort.

Make a sincere commitment to the process—honor your appointments and take concrete, goal-oriented action between coaching sessions. Be open-minded and willing to learn something new, take calculated risks, and embrace change. Be honest with your coach because if he doesn’t have all the information, he may not be able to be as effective a guide as he could otherwise be. Finally, frame the time and money that you put into your coaching engagement not as a cost of doing business but as an investment in yourself, your team, and the future of your law practice.

If your dream law practice and the reality don’t match, engaging a professional coach to help you leverage opportunities and minimize obstacles may be the best investment you ever make.

Elise Holtzman, the founder of The Lawyer’s Edge, is a business development coach and veteran attorney who specializes in working with solos and small firm lawyers to help them grow thriving law practices. She earned her coach certification from the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching and is a credentialed member of the International Coach Federation (ICF). She is a past president of the New Jersey chapter of the ICF and a member of the Board of Trustees of the Columbia Law School Association.