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20 reasons why internal coaching for lawyers fails

Coaching done well helps lawyers and their firms improve their performance, and a massive 73% of companies say they use in-house coaching (1).

Yet firms that see coaching as an internal function need to avoid the common mistakes that occur when using managers to coach, especially when almost 30% of in-house coaches are untrained (2).

Jeremy Thomas is a coaching specialist at Outside Insight and works with a number of law firms to support their internal programmes.

Here Jeremy identifies 20 coaching mistakes managers commonly make:

Managers who act like managers are not best-placed to coach

1. Managers must put aside the mindset of managing and focus on nurturing and support, helping team members take responsibility for their development

2. Managers are too busy to coach effectively and will often put off coaching when other work gets in the way. Waiting for the ‘right time’ is not a successful coaching strategy

3. Managers see it as a sign of weakness to acknowledge their own willingness to be open, develop and improve, and so employees do the same

4. Managers test rather than coach, preferring to see how people react to challenges rather than help good people become better

Managers sacrifice coaching for short term fixes

5. Managers focus on putting out fires rather than coaching for long term development

6. Managers focus on coaching for underperforming employees, linking coaching to failure rather than an opportunity for improvement

7. Managers confuse coaching with on the job training or performance evaluations. All have their place, however coaching is ongoing, strategic and must be owned by the employee to be successful

Managers don’t have a coaching strategy

8. Managers highlight mistakes, which creates a passive-aggressive response from team members who acknowledge their faults but are left feeling angry at having their shortcomings identified

9. Managers make personal criticisms rather than stepping back from a situation and providing cool headed comments. Team members become defensive and move responsibility somewhere else

10. Managers don’t have a process in place that drives both parties towards a long term objective. Coaching identifies behaviours, sets targets, creates next steps and reviews results

Managers dominate 

11. As leaders, managers try to dominate conversations rather than listen to ideas and responses. Good coaching is based on listening with intent, to understand how employees can be empowered to take control of their development

12. Managers have pre-formed ideas that they try to impose on the people they are coaching, rather than letting team members take responsibility

13. Managers steer conversations towards the path they know rather than finding the best route for team members

14. Managers don’t ask the people they are coaching “how can I be helpful”, so the employee never engages with the process

Managers aren’t impartial

15. Managers can’t provide confidentiality, making it difficult for team members to open up

16. Managers find it difficult to step away from an environment and impartially review how a team member’s behaviour is related to the people around them

Managers don’t see the process through

17. Coaching is best completed over a long period of time, helping the coachee review their changes and reflect on their ongoing development. Managers work to shorter timeframes

18. Rather than creating actionable outcomes, managers give well-meaning advice that is of little practical use

19. Managers don’t finish with a firm commitment from their employee that they can use to measure future development against

20. Managers don’t measure the results of their coaching

Jeremy Thomas is a qualified executive coach and founder of Outside Insight, a company created to provide professional coaching for lawyers and coaching support for law firms. Find out more at

(1) Hays Senior Finance and LeaderShape, Sept 2010
(2) Hays Senior Finance and LeaderShape, Sept 2010 – 29% of in-house coaches are untrained


Networking, said comedian Arthur Smith, is for “people who like having their picture taken and going to parties. I can’t really be bothered. Talent always prevails in the long run.”

He probably got a laugh, but I don’t think he’s right. Firstly, like many people, he’s equating networking with the ability to ‘work the room’, which is a good skill to acquire but only part of the story. Secondly, in today’s legal market at least, relying on your supposed technical superiority won’t necessarily win you work. Why? Because a client will have lots of good lawyers to choose from and you’ll need to work harder to differentiate yourself. Being effective at networking is one way of doing this.

So what is networking?

I would define it as keeping in touch with like-minded people who can help you in your career, might give you work or recommend you to others. It’s also a way of honing your understanding of your market and what clients want.

As for benefits, networking can help you get new work; it’s a source of intellectual stimulation as it exposes you to different people and thinking outside the boundary of your office; and it can be a source of your next role.

Even academia takes networking seriously: Cass Business School has just appointed Julia Hobsbawm as its first Visiting Professor of Networking.

The good thing is you don’t have to create a network. You’ll already have one made up of the people you know. But you need to be selective. Only network with people with whom you have some form of connection or empathy. Life is too short to schmooze someone you don’t like. And don’t do it via activities which bore you. If you don’t like the opera, don’t go.

Networking is not the same as marketing but the aim is often the same – to get someone to buy your services. Research has shown it can take up to 12 interactions before someone will buy.

Think strategically about what you’re doing. Who is worth keeping in touch with and why? Anthropologists think we can keep in touch meaningfully with around 150 people. Your efforts will be best directed at a smaller number than that.

Distinguish between personal, business and support networks.

A lot of discussion about networking refers to social media and how tools such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn can help. I’m sceptical about Twitter in this context. LinkedIn can be a good organisational tool, but not more. And Facebook can be a good way of keeping in touch with some people. However, the essence of networking is building personal relationships and you can’t do this effectively just by relying on online communication.

This brings me to my key point. If networking is a way of building those relationships, you have to acquire or burnish the skills needed to do so. These will include how to create empathy, listening – an important skill, but often deployed by lawyers simply as a way of identifying the next legal point to be pronounced on – and selling.

Selling is a skill, and to be adept at it you need to conquer any fear of failure (lawyers aren’t good at this as their training emphasises getting everything 100 per cent correct, i.e. no failures). Anyone can acquire these skills, but if you don’t your networking will be a waste of time. As Arthur Smith says, you’ll simply be going to parties and having your picture taken. There are no rules. You choose who you network with and how. Having a coffee at Costa with someone counts as much as taking someone to see the Ring Cycle, and can often be more effective. My preferred method involves pubs and alcohol. Just get out there, relax and enjoy it.

Reconnect with Jeremy here.

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