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FEBRUARY 2015 - LawyerCoach
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You as a Lawyer-Coach: Three Professional Coaching Techniques for Improving Client Communication and Client Outcomes

by Arezou Kohan

Let’s face it - the word “coaching” does not always have the best connotation in the field of law.  Most lawyers tend to associate it with “coaching” the witness on his or her testimony.  Professional coaching techniques, however, might actually just be the antithesis of that concept.  Put lawyers and coaching techniques together, in fact, and you have a beautiful combination in a Lawyer-Coach – a lawyer who empowers his or her client to greatness.

What exactly is coaching? 

It is believed that the word “coach” was first used in the 1500’s to refer to a particular kind of carriage (like a stagecoach).  Consequently, the root meaning of the verb ‘to coach’ was to convey a valuable person from where he or she was to where he or she wanted to be.   Much of professional coaching still involves this conveying of a client from place A to place B. However, in coaching, the conveyance occurs first and foremost, internally.  

Interestingly, like law, coaching has its roots in Western Philosophy.  In fact, Socrates is believed to be the world’s oldest coach.  Coaching also has its roots in positive psychology. However, it is completely distinct from clinical psychology. Therapy is a medical model based on the paradigm of pathology. Coaching, by contrast, has its genesis in the human potential movement.  Unlike therapy, which is more “past -oriented,” the focal point of any coaching conversation is in the “now” and moving forward.  

International Coaching Federation defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”  Consequently, coaches are in “partnership” with their clients, engaging left-brained attributes of “thought-provoking” and right-brained attributes of “creative process” for a whole-brained approach to communication.  Coaching skills include posing open-ended powerful questions, use of deep listening and intuition, metaphors, and utilizing curiosity in place of judgment, among other things.  

Here are three coaching techniques for you to try on to see if they fit:

1.     Design an Alliance with Your Client.   Determine what your client expects from you both substantively and professionally, upfront.   This can be done through asking questions such as “What is the best thing that I can do for you as your lawyer?”  “What has been your past experience with lawyers? What worked for you? What did not work for you?” “What are your expectations of me as your lawyer?” This way, you have clear guidelines as you move forward and can meet those expectations head-on.

2.     Move from a paradigm of ME to WE.  Start seeing your client as a partner in the process.  Utilize your client’s creativity and resourcefulness.   Engage them in coming up with solutions with such questions as “What do you think?” “How do you see us being able to use this situation to our advantage?” This builds relationship.  Also, your clients might have their own insights that might actually help you get better results.

3.     Know Thy Client.  Understand what your clients’ core values are and what is important to them.  Many businesses now list their core values on their websites and/or workplace.  Otherwise, conduct client discovery by asking questions such as “What do you want?” “What is important to you about that?”  This way, you can provide your clients with guidance that is aligned with who they are.  A resonant choice is an empowered choice.

The essence of coaching is the discipline to take ourselves out of the equation and to focus our attention entirely on the client. This is what makes coaching such a perfect complement to the law.  Great lawyers readily take a fierce stand for their client’s agenda.  Great lawyers support their clients when they are out of their comfort-zones and might have to make some tough, life-changing decisions.  In many respects, what lawyers do, like coaches, is to be with their clients when they are in the “gap,” and help “convey” their clients strategically from place A to place B.  Coaching just provides sharper tools to improve upon what great lawyers are already doing.  

Arezou Kohan is a lawyer turned life and business coach (www.arezoukohan.com).   For more coaching techniques, you can pick up her new book: “Coaching Your Client:  A Lawyer’s guide to improving client communication and client outcomes.”  The book is scheduled for release on March 20, 2015 through the American Bar Association.

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