A few years ago, a firm hired me to coach its senior associates and junior partners. While the junior attorneys successfully handled cases the senior partners offloaded, they were not the rainmakers the firm hoped to shape. After six coaching sessions, however, three of the firm’s five junior attorneys generated new business sua sponte, without relying on partner delegation.

Simultaneously, I worked with a corporate partner who took a hit when her top client – who generated roughly one-third of her revenue – folded. Within twelve months, she recovered her lost revenue by building a new (and diversified) book of business.

Many lawyers see coaching as an extraneous expense rather than a powerful business development tool. When they hang their shingles or become equity partners, they fail to consider the basic math: Losing attorneys, parting with clients, and stiff competition converts to concrete, tangible losses – i.e., real dollars.

AmLaw firms are increasingly turning to coaching as a retention strategy. According to a 2014 study by the International Coach Federation, coaching strategies have shifted from a focus on c-suite executives to a developmental tool for employees at all levels. The study drew a correlation between coaching and positive business outcomes from employee engagement to increased revenue. While the study covered companies in a variety of industries, the same trends apply to law firms: A 2012 study on coaching within the AmLaw 200 found 98% of participating firms used coaching services for recruitment, retention, talent management, and leadership development.

Why This Matters

Turnover rates in law firms – especially for young lawyers – are higher than ever. According to the NALP Foundation’s 2017 Update on Associate Attrition Report, a whopping 44 percent of associates leave their firms after three years. The resulting figures are damning for firms: According to a report by JD Match and Right Pole, within the nation’s top 400 law firms, these losses convert to a gut-wrenching $9.1 billion in lost annual revenue. Empirical facts aside, high turnover rates within firms compromise attorney morale, tarnish a firm’s reputation, and generate a culture of discontent. Not to mention, they scare clients.

In order to understand how to correct these issues, we have to know why they exist: Per the NALP’s Attrition Report, attorneys cite internal issues like toxic relationships and a lack of work-life balance as catalysts for leaving. Simply stated, it is an issue of culture, an ill that traditional recruiting simply cannot cure. To heal a damaged – and damaging – culture, teams need to pull the issues out by the roots; to diagnose and then tactically approach the problems.

This is where coaching comes in. Yes, it requires an investment. However, this investment is small considering what’s at stake (Can’t we all agree that even the steepest coaching fees pale in comparison to eight-figure revenue losses?).

On a practical level, your coach can help you:

  • Clarify your team’s goals and approach them as a united front.
  • Identify blind spots in your business approach.
  • Push towards a greater level of achievement (read: profitability).
  • Focus your business development efforts on only the most fruitful opportunities.
  • Gain a competitive advantage.
  • Acquire leadership skills.
  • Increase employee engagement.

In short, coaching is about the numbers, but it’s also not about the numbers: It is about defining a clear path to success. It’s not about slapping a formulaic approach on a unique issue but finding and maximizing individual strengths within teams. In my experience, firms who engage coaches not only drive profitability but also develop leaders, restore collegiality, increase productivity, and, frankly, find they enjoy their day-to-day work much more.

Next month, we will delve deeper into coaching, specifically, what it entails, the different types of coaching, and how firms nationwide have benefitted at a practical level from holding a magnifying glass to the culture issues plaguing their organizations.

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