“A word is dead, When it is said, Some say, I say it just, Begins to live, That day.” Author Arezou Kohan utilizes this quote by Emily Dickinson, among many other inspirational quotes, in her book, “Coaching Your Client: A Lawyer’s Guide for Improving Communication and Client Outcomes” to illustrate coaching skills. Kohan explores how a lawyer’s self-awareness impacts the client relationship, outcomes and career satisfaction. This book is as much about coaching or guiding the client relationship as it is about coaching lawyers.
In Kohan’s February 2015 WLALA newsletter article, she provided three coaching techniques: (1) design an alliance with your client, (2) move from a paradigm of “me” to “we,” and (3) know thy client. If you find client relationships to be a goal or weakness in your practice, this book expands upon the above coaching techniques and provides a basic footprint for a successful client relationship.
The content of the book begins with a general overview and history of the coaching concept. Kohan explains that coaching is about moving forward, about focusing on the client’s goals, values and future. The word “coach” first referred to “a carriage, or stagecoach, which carried a valuable person from where he or she was to where he or she wanted to be.” (pg. 1.) As lawyers we serve as coaches that help our clients find resolutions to their legal problems. Kohan shows how incorporating coaching offers a return on investment, and indeed law firms are beginning to hire coaches onto their staff.
In chapter three, Kohan provides practical advice on coaching with questions to ask a client to form an attorney-client alliance. A designed alliance is “an alliance between two equals for the purpose of meeting the coachee’s needs.” (pg. 34.) Ask your client “What are your expectations of me?” or “What concerns might you have about working with a lawyer?” to focus on the client’s rather than your own needs. (Id.) While a lawyer’s role is to provide advice, before doing so, listen to the client, include the client in the process, beware of getting attached to specific outcomes, and make the decision about the client’s experience. One success story of listening to the client is from the Lakers “experience,” where Lakers’ basketball owner Jerry Buss implemented his vision for games to be about the fan experience so that games were fun whether or not the team won. A legal case outcome, like a basketball game, cannot be guaranteed to be a win. Therefore, Kohan explains, that a lawyer’s role is not solely to provide time and expertise, but to provide a positive client experience. The chapter, like most chapters, ends with exercises for the lawyer to think more deeply about the chapter’s topic.
Chapters four, five and six explore concepts of listening, intuition, and containing negativity. Kohan teaches lawyers to engage in “Level III” listening, where a person listens with all senses (pg. 46). No more multitasking. A lawyer-client relationship can only be whole if the lawyer fully listens for what the client says through words and actions. The author believes lawyers must embrace the intelligence of intuition by seeing a partnership between the right brain (intuition/emotion) and left brain (logic/analysis). The opposite of intuition is the “saboteur.” When a client’s saboteur appears at a meeting, attorneys can coach them by ignoring it, articulating what is going on (i.e., I am hearing a lot of anxiety), by stepping into the saboteur’s position or by reframing other ways to view the issue (pg. 95). These chapters offered many concrete examples and tips for incorporating coaching into client relationships.
The book ends with three short chapters with reminders about curiosity, happiness, and an overview of coaching skills. To form effective client relationships, we as lawyers must practice self-care and be happy with ourselves. The chapters remind us to get a full night’s sleep, eat healthy, hydrate with adequate water, exercise, find joy, set boundaries, and take time to breathe (pgs. 104-108).
This book may be viewed by some as speaking to the softer side of law. However, the examples in the book are convincing that the future practice of law places an emphasis on the importance of the client relationship. Law schools are teaching mindfulness. Businesses are advertising toward people’s values (i.e “You are more powerful than you think” -iPhone 5; “Live for now” - Pepsi; “Never Stop Improving” - Lowes). It’s worth a few hours to read this 116-page book and refocus on self-care and the client relationship.
The book started slowly with basic concepts and history and then moved forward to offer practical concepts and tips in the middle chapters. I believe I read an early version of the book with a few spelling errors and citations to Wikipedia. Kohan makes up for this with references to many classic and new coaching books and articles. She clearly cares about this topic dearly, believes in its ability to create client and career success, and is a talented coach.
Furthermore, author Arezou Kohan has a compelling story herself. She fled her country of origin during a revolution. Kohan received her law degree at Southwestern, is trained in mediation and life-coaching, and has practiced as a civil litigator for over a decade. In addition, she sustains hobbies outside of law, from world travel to backpacking.
Women and men can gain career satisfaction from implementing the advice in this book. The book illustrates the main points with examples from sporting figures to musicians to yoga which relates to all walks of life. After reading the book you may just find yourself with a new perspective in client meetings and happier clients.
Sarah Schuh Quist, Wisconsin 2007, is a WLALA Board Member on the Financial Development Committee and a federal government attorney in Los Angeles, California, where she practices civil, tort, and corrections law.