Cappuccino bars, state-of-the-art gyms, emergency child care: how passé. What self-respecting law firm doesn’t offer those perks these days? If your firm aspires to break out of the pack, consider investing in a career coach (maybe two or three) — preferably someone down the hall who’s available to give lawyers direction whenever there’s a need.
Coaching is becoming ubiquitous. According to a 2012 survey by Manzo Coaching & Consulting, 98 percent of respondents (63 Am Law 200 firm s) use coaches — either outside or internal ones. The survey finds that 90 percent of firms use coaching for business development, followed by leadership development (61 percent), training (49 percent) and conflict management (24 percent).
Though coaching is not new, the latest twist is that firms are grooming their own. "Many are former associates — usually a lawyer with four to seven years of experience — who first moved to a professional -development director role, then the role of coach," said Nancy Manzo, the study’s author. Among the firms with full-time coaches are Arnold & Porter; Mayer Brown ; O’Melveny & Myers; Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe; Perkins Coie; Venable; Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati; and Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice. Virtually all lawyer-turned-coaches, Manzo said, also get professional training from organizations like the Hudson Institute of Santa Barbara, Calif.
Firms are investing in full-time, on-site coaches for a range of reasons — to stem attrition, help lawyers who have been on leave return to practice or develop high-potential partner candidates, among others. Manzo said it’s a logical extension of talent management: "Firms are investing a ton of money in recruiting, and now they’re trying to find ways to care for and keep the people they’d like to stay."
There’s also the reality that structures are changing, and lawyers need help to navigate their options. "Associates usually ask, ‘What is my path here?’ They are concerned that the partnership is not growing," said Dina Glassman, Perkins Coie’s in-house coach.
Coaching takes a variety of forms, Manzo said: It can be group coaching, in which participants share a similar goal (like learning about business development), or it can be individualized. Former lawyers make effective coaches because they know the ropes and bring empathy to the table. "It’s important to have experience in Big Law and internal knowledge because law firms are odd," said Glassman, about firm culture. Lawyer-coaches also know how lawyers think. "Coaching can be a hard sell to lawyers, but I think it helps that I’m a lawyer," said Whittney Fruin, Orrick’s West Coast career coach. "We are trained to hold a lot of facts in our brain, be logical, and linear." For now, there’s little data about how firms’ retention rates or billings are affected by an on-site coach, Manzo said, because it’s still a new phenomenon. But she said, "Part of running a healthy business is to make sure people are developed and happy." Law firms investing in personal development and happiness? That would be sweet.
Vivia Chen is chief blogger for The Careerist. Updates appear daily at thecareerist.typepad.com. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.