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San Francisco-A partner at a prominent California law firm found herself in an unenviable predicament: How could she better manage a difficult client relationship? The answer didn’t come from the firm’s leaders, her colleagues or her mom. It came from her business development coach. The problem, the coach said, was likely a dissimilarity in personality types. And he helped her work through it using the Myers-Briggs typology assessment. “He said, ‘This is where you are. Assess where they are on the quadrant.’ . . . And, if I was on the lower-right quadrant, then [the client was] on the upper left,” the lawyer recalls. Next came the epiphany that helped her muster the patience to keep the client relationship thriving. “If I want to interact with this person, I need to try a different approach,” she realized. Somewhere on the continuum between marketing gurus and psychologists lie law firm coaches. Their relationship with the lawyers they advise is sometimes casual, sometimes prescribed, sometimes ordered from on high from firm managers and sometimes personally solicited for career advancement. But as coaches become a more commonplace fixture in American law firms, their roles are becoming more structured. Some firms have begun formal coaching programs for associates and junior partners to navigate the thorny transition from service lawyer to business getter. Others have brought in coaches to help their most senior leadership deal with issues as vital as client retention and as solemn as succession planning. “What I notice is that two or three years ago, it was a difficult thing to bring in a coach,” said Martha Sullivan, a San Rafael, Calif., coach and consultant. “Most lawyers felt that they didn’t need a coach, that their fellow lawyers did, but they didn’t.” In fact, in the new year several firms are either launching new coaching programs or expanding existing ones. Fenwick & West, which has for years offered coaching to a handful of lawyers, will now make its program available to all partners. The Mountain View, Calif., firm plans to integrate its business development training with the coaching program. Coblentz, Patch, Duffy & Bass of San Francisco is launching a program that offers coaching to lawyers in their seventh through ninth years of practice. “We wanted it to not be some generic template and program,” said Tay Via, a Coblentz Patch partner who is helping develop the program. Latham & Watkins; Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker; and Reed Smith are considering similar efforts, as is Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati of Palo Alto, Calif., which currently runs a pilot program. “This has gotten quite popular,” agrees Jim Cranston, director of business development at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman. “My own take is that . . . everybody is looking for an edge, an advantage.” Approaches to coaching are as varied as the coaches themselves. Michael Colacchio of Clear Impact, the coach who worked with the California partner described earlier, asks attorneys to work with him for at least six months. During that time, he helps lawyers examine their practice areas, identify prospects and close on business. For instance, he might help the lawyer role-play future scenarios, such as asking a client for a premium after successfully completing a major transaction. Or, he might suggest specific ways for an attorney to try to get business at a conference, such as strategizing about who to sit next to and what to talk about.

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