In the world of sports, the figure of coach has taken on near-mythological status. Some coaches — such as the late Joe Paterno, before his fall from grace — are treated like gods, due to their legendary leadership and inspiration abilities.

What about in the world of Biglaw? Well, it’s catching on there too. An increasing number of law firms are making career coaches, including on-site coaches, available to their attorneys.

What’s behind this trend? And is it one worth celebrating? We share some survey results, as well as comments from a former associate who worked with a career coach….

Here’s a report from Vivia Chen over at The Careerist:

Coaching is becoming ubiquitous. According to a 2012 survey by Manzo Coaching & Consulting, 98 percent of respondents (63 Am Law 200 firm) 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 (35 percent of the responding firms say they’ve used coaches for seven to 10 years), 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,” says Nancy Manzo, the study’s author.

Interesting. Career alternative for attorneys: career coach? We’ve previously profiled at least two lawyers turned life coaches — personal branding guru Karen Shapiro, and the super-sexy Erika Awakening. Since so many holders of law degrees can’t (or don’t want to) work as attorneys, many end up in law-related fields like career coaching for lawyers.

Why are so many firms moving in this direction?

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 says 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.”

That makes perfect sense. As we recently discussed, many firms spend a lot of time and money recruiting lateral partners and not enough time and money on integrating and developing those partners after they arrive. Connecting them with career coaches could become part of that process.

The increasing popularity of career coaches at large firms may also reflect the decreasing likelihood of making partner:

There’s also the reality that law firm 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,” says Dina Glassman, Perkins Coie’s in-house coach.

That was the situation that one associate we spoke with about coaching found himself in. He didn’t have a high degree of confidence in his making partner, and after a number of years in the Biglaw trenches, he was interested in exploring other opportunities. His firm paid for him to speak with a career coach, which he said was a “helpful” experience.

The coach “was encouraging, and reminded me that I’m actually capable of good work — after many years of being convinced otherwise by law firm life,” this associate told us. “The sort of impossible standard of ‘being good enough to make partner’ means that anything less than that is failure. Whereas in the real world, if you do work that would be mediocre by Biglaw associate standards, you’re actually stellar.”

So what happened next?

“She encouraged me to go after an opportunity that had presented itself to me — which I did, and got the job, with no further assistance.”

That’s great to hear. This associate was definitely pleased with his brush with coaching: “When you’re experiencing ennui after long-term Biglaw employment, an enthusiastic, nice person can dramatically help your outlook.”

Readers, have any of you had experiences with career coaches? If so, feel free to share them in the comments.

On-Site Career Coaches—the Latest Big Law Must-Have? [The Careerist]

Earlier: The Life and Times of Erika Awakening, Professional Pickup Artist and Harvard Law Grad
What’s Your Brand?


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