Stress has become overwhelming, particularly in our “new normal”. Most attorneys struggle to slow down and recharge when things are going well and our routines are in place.  Today, many are working remotely which requires balancing children, homeschool assignments, toilet paper shortages, spouses and billable hours. Combined, these factors can lead to increased stress that sabotage your productivity and lead to burnout.

This should never happen. But, given the strains on everyones mental and emotional health, I am beginning to see this happening in my coaching practice.  Some of the signs of burnout include frequent temper flairs, impatience, lack of productivity despite being “on the job” for hours, inability to focus and chronic fatigue. If you recognize any of these symptons, here are a few ways you can begin to address burnout.

  1. Designate a work space – Most of you have probably already done this, but for many others, you find yourself moving from the kitchen table to the den and then to the bedroom to finish your work at night. If at all possible, find a place where you can work with the least amount of interruptions and only work there.  This will prevent you from losing track of paperwork and help you stay more organized.  It also has the extra added benefit of allowing you to feel that you are “going to work” versus going to the kitchen in your PJ’s.
  2. Finish your day – Because we are working remotely, many have work in front of them throughout the day and night. It becomes tempting to pick up work at 9:00 p.m. just because we see it and think we have a few free minutes to get one more thing done.  Don’t.  Once you have completed your tasks for the day, “go home” and move away from your designated work space.
  3. Set a routine – If possible, set a routine that aligns with your fomer “normal” routine. This includes going to bed at the same time, getting up at the same time, getting dressed and moving to your work space.
  4. Work your flow – We all have certain times of the day when we have more mental focus and clarity. Figure out what time of day you have the ability to focus and work to get your most important tasks done during this time.
  5. Plan your day in advance and day by day – The “new normal” requires all of us to plan our days differently. If you have a spouse or children at home, to the extent possible, work with them to plan your next day to include your work time, childcare time, family time and personal time. Each day may flow a bit differently, but setting an expectation of how the day should go will reduce your stress and ease tension in the home.  Inevidetily there will be things that happen “off schedule” so be prepared to be flexible and communicate quickly changes in the plan.
  6. Maintain your health – As our stress level increases so does our food and alcohol consumption. Remember, just because you walk by the fridge more often does not mean you can open it each time!  Work to maintain meal structure and  healthy exercise habits.
  7. Do one thing each day that will bring a smile to someone else.
  8. Stop watching the news.
  9. Give yourself permission to be stressed out and not quite as productive – but continue to strive to be productive.
  10. Count your blessings.

Years of seeing these trends unfold made me question whether there was a solution – one that helped lawyers thrive but also restored collegiality and balance within law firm culture.

I initially became a Certified Executive Coach to help managing partners and other leaders within firms develop better teams, set and achieve goals, and create a cooperative culture. I quickly realized, though, that this alone wasn’t enough: these leaders also needed help with their organizational skills, time management, and delegation abilities.

Ultimately, I realized that lawyers – and firms – need more than just good business development to thrive. They need a holistic approach that weaves a focus on personal wellness with a drive toward profitability. As such, I combine three types of coaching – executive coaching, life coaching, and wellness coaching –  in counseling my coaching clients.

Recently, we discussed the ways that coaching can drive law firm profitability while restoring a healthy law firm culture. But the term “coaching” can often breed confusion. In recent years, the legal industry has come to embrace many types of coaching as business development tools, including:

  • Business coaching, which is designed to help firm leaders accomplish business development goals;
  • Executive coaching, which helps directors improve their day-to-day job performance;
  • Life coaching, which helps individuals clarify their personal goals (which inevitably impact professional performance);
  • Career coaching, which helps attorneys, staff, and firm leaders accomplish their career objectives;
  • Group coaching, which involves both leadership and business development training;
  • Succession coaching, which helps senior attorneys navigate a successful transition between a full work schedule to retirement;
  • Communication skills coaching, which helps individuals gain self-awareness and self-confidence in their communication and presentation skills;
  • Team coaching, in which one or more team coaches work with the leader and members of a team to establish their mission, vision, strategy, and rules of engagement with one another; and
  • Health and wellness coaching, which is designed to help lawyers understand the role of balance, rest, and restoration in a thriving career.

This begs the question: some of this is geared toward the firm and some toward the individual. How does this break down?

Generally speaking, coaching is grouped into two complementary categories: internal and external.

Internal Coaching

Firms often employ internal coaches: colleagues within the firm who understand its culture, know its leaders, and have a solid grasp on its business development goals. This internal intel often provides valuable insight, however, it can also prove to be a hurdle as internal coaches may have preconceived ideas about the firm’s leadership hierarchy and how it promotes and compensates lawyers. To inoculate these challenges, a firm should ensure its internal coaches are objective, sensitive, and able to offer lawyers balanced, unbiased guidance.

External Coaching

Conversely, an external coach is an outside resource. External coaches work with a wide variety of lawyers across multiple practice areas and in many different firms – an experience that gives them a broader perspective. External coaches are often free from bias and can provide objective strategies and tactics to coaching clients.

Choosing a Coach for Your Firm

Whether you choose to use internal or external coaches (or a combination of both), coaches should be trained in their specific areas of focus. To vet your coach, ask the following questions to determine his or her qualifications.

  • How long have you been coaching?
  • Can I contact your references?
  • Is your coaching customized to fit individual clients?
  • What practical experience or professional training enhances your coaching skills?
  • How do you hold your coaching clients accountable?
  • How often can coaching clients expect to hear from you between sessions?
  • How do you measure each coaching client’s success?

In my experience, firms that utilize a variety of tools find the greatest success in developing leadership potential and restoring a healthy workplace culture. In future articles, we will discuss a few more tools firms can add to their toolkits and will explain how a coaching program can help them thrive.

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