This is the time of year when many of us take stock of our direction and goals and make plans to step up our effectiveness.  This particular year, 2009, many lawyers are facing an extremely difficult once-in-a-century marketplace for which no one has been truly prepared.  So we may also find ourselves questioning our ability to successfully grapple with the challenges ahead.  

How to acquire the skills that will improve your practice and advance your leadership in such a disorienting environment?

The old adage of two heads being better than one is born out by the data available on the results of coaching.  According to a January 13, 2009 article by Susan Letterman White in The Legal Intelligencer, "a research report by Diane Coutu and Carol Kauffman in the January Harvard Business Review found that coaching is a business tool most often used to develop the capabilities of high-potential performers or facilitate leadership transitions," and one which produces quantifiable benefits. "The Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology has reported that coaching leads to higher interview ratings for individuals. Telecommunications Weekly reported in November that a change program, which included coaching, improved customer satisfaction by 10 percent and call resolution rates by 56 percent at Motorola. And according to a 2008 article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, coaching of university faculty improved the writing process of professors who were under pressure to publish."

As Ms. White states, "coaching is to a lawyer what organizational development is to a law firm; they both foster intentional change toward particular goals through a collaborative process. The goals are those that move the client to a higher level of professional effectiveness…Most importantly, a good coach is paid to ask the right questions."

In addition, a good coach is one who listens.

Sheryl Axelrod of Hepburn Axelrod & White, a Philadelphia firm, was quoted in the article as extolling the benefits of coaching in a law firm context. "We worked with a coach who had an uncanny ability to not only listen to our needs, fears and desires for our firm, but our own internal dilemmas and concerns about each other."

Of course, after listening, a coach must also be able to help coachees arrive at and implement beneficial changes.  And those changes are sometimes unexpected.  In the Hepburn Axelrod case, "one of our partners…reach[ed] the difficult decision to leave the partnership."

But the proof is in the pudding.  "The result of the coaching is that our firm, on our own, and our former partner, on his own, are each thriving in a market in which most firms are doing worse, not better, than the year before, " Axelrod said.

Quantitative evaluations of coaching are rare, but those that have been done demonstrate conclusively its effectiveness and bottom-line contribution.  In an evaluation by MetrixGlobal of an executive coaching program provided by the Center for Performance Excellence in 2004 to Booz Allen partners and principals, results indicated that "all leaders readily applied what they gained from their coaching experiences to make significant strides in self-development, while over half (53%) made significant improvements in their relationships with peers and team members and some  leaders (19%) went on to significantly improve client relationships; gaining greater clarity about how their behavior impacted clients and being better able to respond to client issues."

Of eight business areas senior leaders expected executive coaching to impact, "two were found to be positively impacted by at least half of the leaders who were coached: teamwork (58%) and team member satisfaction (54%). Three other areas were selected by 31% of the leaders as having been impacted: quality of consulting, retention and productivity."

Monetary benefits were rigorously documented in this evaluation. "The total monetary benefits were $3,268,325 with four impact areas each producing at least a half million dollars of annualized benefit to the business: improved teamwork ($981,980), quality of consulting ($863,625), retention ($626,456) and team member satisfaction ($541,250). Given a total, fully loaded cost of the coaching of $414,310, the ROI was 689%."

Coaching can provide to all lawyers the simple but valuable assistance of a supportive yet out-of-the-law-firm-box perspective that can be critical when steering through dangerous waters–and that can positively impact the bottom line. That perspective can help you become a more effective  partner, develop individual business, expand your expertise, master management responsibilities and otherwise plan and implement the next step in your career (whether you are motivated to do so proactively or reactively).

At RRR, we offer confidential high-performance coaching programs of six to eighteen months that are tailored to your objectives and your schedule.  Contact us for a consultation on how we can help you achieve your goals in 2009.

Happy new year!