Successful Coaching for Lawyers is a Process

Successful coaching for lawyers is a processMore than ever before, lawyers are expected to develop new business for themselves and their law firms. Some lawyers are naturals at business development. Many others, however, have no idea how to start. Business development was not part of the traditional law-school curriculum. As a result, law firm marketers increasingly are being asked to coach their lawyers in business development skills.

“Business development coaches need to know two things,” said Merrilyn Astin Tarlton. “They need to know how to coach and they need to know which lawyers will most benefit from coaching.

“Before you can coach a lawyer, or anyone else for that matter, you need to build a relationship with that person,” said Tarlton. “We’ve all had the experience of being ‘told what to do’ by someone we do not know or someone we dislike. It’s excruciating.

“Coaching is based on trust,” said Tarlton, “and trust is created in a relationship. Good coaches will encourage the lawyers they are coaching to do most of the talking. Ask questions. Listen carefully to the answers and use this information to continue the conversation and dig deeper.

“Many lawyers come to the business development coaching process looking for a quick fix,” said Tarlton. “’Just tell me what to do and let me get about my business.’ But that is not how coaching works. There is no ‘one size fits all’ formula. It is a careful process, not a quick prescription. Plus, each lawyer is unique. You cannot know what will or will not work with that lawyer without creating a relationship.”

Tarlton discussed business development coaching in law firms at the monthly program of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Legal Marketing Association, held June 17 at Guard & Grace in LoDo, Denver.

As a founding member of Astin Tarlton, Tarlton consults with lawyers on their roles as leaders and business people. She was a founder and early president of the Legal Marketing Association. In 2007, she was inducted in the LMA Hall of Fame. In addition, she has held senior positions with the ABA Law Practice Management Section. She launched Attorney at Work in collaboration with Feldcomm.

The second step in the business development coaching process is to carefully assess the lawyer’s position within his or her career – in terms of both age and accomplishment. “All of these steps involve asking useful questions and carefully listening to the answers,” said Tarlton.

Why did you go to law school? Why did you choose to focus on environmental rather than personal injury law? Why did you choose this particular firm? Where do you see your career in five or ten years? Which are your favorite and least-favorite clients –and why? Where did your best clients come from? Which business development tactics have you tried that worked — or did not work? How do you feel about using these tactics?

“A good coach’s questions and answers will be based on a lawyer’s seniority and experience,” said Tarlton. “A young lawyer fresh out of law school needs a different approach to business development than a senior lawyer with a long list of clients and contacts. So does a lateral transitioning from an in-house position. Once again, there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach.”

Part 2 of this article will be posted soon.

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Janet Ellen Raasch

About Janet Ellen Raasch

Janet Ellen Raasch is a writer, ghostwriter, editor and blogger at Constant Content Blog who works closely with professional services providers – especially lawyers, law firms, legal consultants and legal organizations – to help them achieve name recognition and new business through publication of keyword-rich content for the web and social media sites as well as articles and books for print. She can be reached at (303) 399-5041 or

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