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Coaching for lawyers: case studies

The following extracts are taken from The Economist Book of Coaching and Mentoring by Jane Renton, published by Bloomberg Press, 2009, available at

Managing new responsibility

Rob Lewis (not his real name) had worked in a large private practice law firm overseas before accepting a post as head of an in-house team of lawyers for an international financial services institution based in London, which he first had to set up on his own. It was a challenge that he found daunting, since it was not something that he had done before. “We needed to set up a world class legal team providing legal services to the business,” he says.

A foreigner in London, without much in the way of local knowledge and contacts, and initially feeling culturally all at sea, he met Laurie Adams of Outside Insight for coffee to make sure that they could work together. A meeting was quickly set up that also involved Lewis’s chief operating officer. Lewis says:

It was vital that she [chief operating officer] was involved at key points throughout the process, especially at the beginning and end. What Laurie did was to put her at ease immediately by letting her know discreetly that he was never going to interfere with the running of the organisation.

The real benefits of the arrangement were Adams’s ability to give pragmatic advice within the constraints of the existing corporate culture. Also, he had extensive experience of similar projects, having set up such teams himself throughout his career. Lewis says:

What was great for me was the ability to pick up the phone and discuss some real non-confidential problems with him. Having someone like him as a sounding board was invaluable. Laurie brought gravitas, sensible recommendations and constructive criticisms about some of my thinking and ideas. I certainly ended up feeling much more confident about what I had to do and my abilities to deliver.

Individual guidance

Jo Wilton (again, not her real name) was facing one of those tough decisions affecting many high-flying female professionals. A mother of two young children, she had applied for promotion at one of London’s leading international law firms and wanted some independent career guidance about how to negotiate terms should the post be offered to her.

She contacted Laurie Adams of Outside Insight. Wilton says:

I wanted to engage someone privately on my own, without my employer’s knowledge or involvement. But it was also crucial to me that I engaged someone who was also a lawyer and understood my own world.

She got more value than she had bargained for. She had stumbled upon someone who not only was empathetic and knowledgeable upon her profession, but also had scaled considerable heights in his own career.

Much [of Adams’s work] was involved building teams of in-house lawyers, introducing him early on to the unexpectedly tough job of managing talent and developing team members, which he clearly developed an affinity for.

Wilton says:

What I wasn’t expecting was to find such a high level of professional experience. I initially contacted Laurie to seek guidance on how to handle the terms of my anticipated promotion and he was incredibly knowledgeable and helpful.

But very quickly the bombshell dropped. Wilton did not get the job. She experienced the full gamut of emotions that such setbacks engender: shock, hurt, fury and panic that her failure to gain promotion might actually mean that her career was on the line.

Again the services of her mentor proved invaluable. Wilton says:

I was distraught, and while Laurie was very supportive, he was also practical and helped me form a recovery plan.

One of the real benefits he provided was distance and perspective. He also provided empathy as well as hard-headed insight:

He helped me draft difficult emails and was generally very hands on and detailed. But above all he stopped me from flouncing out, which was what I initially wanted to do and which with hindsight would have been a catastrophic mistake.

Another area where Adams’s skills really helped was in handling the so-called work/life balance, something that working mothers in big law firms can find hard to get right. But above all there was a strong element of what the Americans call “tough love”.

Wilton had been angry about what she saw as a senior male colleague’s decision to exclude her from a particular project over which she felt she had a proprietary interest:

I wanted Laurie to side with me and share my indignation over my treatment, but again he made me realise that I was being irrational – ego was getting the better of me. He was right and strangely enough the colleague in question is now a friend and an ally.

She is also confident that her renewed bid for promotion will, this time round, be successful.

Find out more about Outside Insight’s professional coaching services for lawyers or contact the team confidentially to find out more.