Like all businesses, law firms remain concerned about the economic climate. Firms continue to feel the effects of reduced legal budgets, convergence, heightened competition and clients who are demanding that their firms do more with less. As a result, many firms are stepping up their business development game, often pressing greater numbers of lawyers to be actively engaged in and accountable for developing business.

One tactic firms are employing to help their lawyers reach revenue goals is the use of a business development coach. If your firm is pursuing coaching in the New Year and your name is on the list of those who will work with a coach, you’ve likely experienced one or more of some typical reactions to the news. You may be thinking, “I don’t have time for this,” or, “How is an outsider going to help me develop business?” or maybe even, “Okay, maybe this is a good thing, but I have no idea how it works.”

I have heard all of these concerns when starting a coaching program with a law firm or attorney.

Fortunately, many of the reservations about or objections to business development coaching fall to the side as the coaching relationship develops. Have there been times when I could not make headway as a coach? Absolutely, and while not typical, these situations most often result from a lawyer’s decision in advance of the first coaching session not to engage. However, the good news is that the typical scenario is one where the attorney appreciates the firm’s support and assistance in providing a coach but may feel uncertain of how to make the most of the firm’s investment in them.

Steps for Coaching Success

Let’s look at a few things you can do to avoid a disappointing coaching experience.

  • Understand the role of the coach.
    The role of the coach is to ask the right questions, to provoke thought and self-reflection, and to hold you accountable for actively pursuing goals. The coach does not take action for you, they do not network on your behalf, and they do not bring work to your desk while you sit and wait.
  • Be willing to commit to the program.
    Whatever your initial reaction to being involved in a coaching program, the process the coach uses with you likely will be similar to the one used with colleagues. Why? Because coaching is about a systematic approach to changing behavior—your behavior.  In fact, in other industries, the term behavioral coaching is preferred. If you are not willing to commit to the process and are not open to a little change, you are going to be disappointed with the results of a coaching program.
  • Conduct an honest self-assessment.
    While the approach the coach takes is systematic, each lawyer brings a unique set of strengths and weaknesses to the process. Think about the challenges and opportunities you face in trying to develop business and be ready to articulate them so that, together, you and the coach can develop a strategy for addressing both.
  • Outline your personal goals.
    A little time spent thinking about your own business development goals is another key to success. The coach likely will want to hear your thoughts on where you are in your own business development activities and where you would like to be in the future.
  • Prioritize coaching sessions and treat them with respect.
    Coaching, like business development, is about the relationship. Everyone works best in a positive environment of mutual respect. Do your best to keep your appointments with the coach, and set aside time ahead of the session to prepare. Review the goals agreed upon in the previous session, and be prepared to discuss successes as well as challenges. Even if you were not able to accomplish the goals to which you had agreed, keeping the appointments is critical. The time set aside for the sessions are about staying the course to new habits, and as long as you and the coach remain mutually invested in the relationship, positive results will come.
  • Trust the coach, and communicate openly.
    A coaching relationship is much like an attorney-client relationship in that the coach represents the self-interests of just one person: the lawyer being coached. Coaching sessions are a confidential, supportive and non-judgmental environment. You will get the most from these thought-provoking sessions by speaking openly and honestly, knowing that anything discussed will be held in complete confidence. A coach cannot brainstorm with you to address issues or opportunities unless he or she has the right context in which to do so.
  • Give it time to work.
    The business development coach will provide objective feedback about what you need to do to get your business development on track. Throughout the relationship, he or she will provide ongoing assessment of your business development activities and help you decide on next steps. Receive the feedback and suggestions in the spirit in which they are intended, and be willing to try what the coach suggests. Relationships and activities that lead to new business take time.

Positivity Leads to Improvement

With all the pressures lawyers face, it can be difficult to maintain personal effectiveness in business development without paying ongoing, deliberate attention to it. Working with a coach can provide a structure and knowledge to help you maximize your own personal effectiveness. The coaching process creates accountability and provides attorneys with an ongoing source of brainstorming and support to help foster new habits and routines. That said, no coach – no matter his or her level of expertise or years of experience – can perform magic on attorneys who are unwilling to put in the time and effort to exercise and strengthen their business development muscles. Ultimately, the measure of success you achieve through a coaching program is up to you. If you approach the coaching relationship in a positive and open manner, if you acknowledge the value of a good coach and make coaching a priority, you just might be surprised at what you learn and achieve. 

This article originally appeared in Marketing the Law Firm in the February 2015 issue.