Lawyer-coaches at the head of the pack (or, why trained coaches who are also trained lawyers are good at what they do)

From the time I started coaching more than a decade ago, I periodically ran into coaches who had practiced law. Now I meet lawyer-coaches all the time. We are everywhere! There are telephone discussion groups that consist of coaches who are also lawyers, and even within the circles of the relatively small Swarthmore-like coaching program where I did my training in 2002, the Hudson Institute of Santa Barbara, there are enough of us lawyer-coaches that we have our own mini-reunions during the big annual conference.

Coaching is an unregulated domain so you meet all kinds of people. There is a full range:  super new-age on the one extreme and super-corporate uptight on the other. There are coaches who love all coaches, and coaches who can’t stand most of the people in the field. Skill levels vary dramatically. But things are more consistent in the micro-world of lawyer-coaches, some of whom work primarily with lawyers and law firms, and some of whom work broadly with all kinds of people and organizations. I’d say that the percentage of lawyer-coaches who fall into the category of “credible, professional and helpful” is very high – at least in the 90-95% range. This is partly because the two disciplines mesh in interesting ways.

Let’s start with the lawyer side. Coaches who have been trained as lawyers have good critical thinking skills. They understand logic, they assess facts, and they have done business and lived in the real world.  They might be inspired by new, fun theories but they usually don't run off the cliff with them. They have reliable judgment. 

Coaches who have been lawyers also have good professional skills. They show up on time, write documents without typos, and know how to dress for the occasion. They don’t spaz out or flake out.  They already know that when you’re with a client, it’s about the client, not you. A surprisingly large number of people in the professional world lack these skills.

Law and coaching both focus on language. Precision in language is part of practicing law, and pushing for precision in language is a pretty large part of coaching. Coaching is basically a guided conversation that helps you think more broadly and deeply about particular issues so that you can take action. Coaches listen to hear if what you said is really what you mean. 

There are also reasons on the coaching side. Lawyers who end up getting coaching training and becoming coaches typically have far higher than average levels of emotional intelligence, and the training and discipline of the coaching method further enhance this. They understand and practice empathy, can put themselves in someone else’s shoes, know how build relationships and trust, and can be both transparent about themselves and curious about others. And while they understand logic, they don’t let it steamroll over every other way of understanding reality.

In addition, lawyer-coaches have pretty much dealt with many of their fears. You have to be reasonably brave to move from an established, validated field with a known revenue model into one that is less known and less validated, with a much more iffy revenue model.   

So if you combine critical thinking skills, professionalism and emotional intelligence, you get a pretty high-powered set of skills, and a good ally in figuring out whatever you are trying to figure out. Lawyer-coaches help to raise the professional and intellectual standards of the coaching world, and help to enhance the humanity and honesty of the legal world. I have to say that we're pretty great.


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