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INSIGHT: Success Coaches on Rise for Lateral Partner Hires, Associates

May 22, 2019, 8:00 AM

Spotting new hiring trends in law firms is one of my favorite “work hobbies.” Over the past year, we’ve seen a real uptick in new roles that focus on coaching attorneys—both for associates and lateral partner hires.

My company has worked with the largest law firms in the U.S. to help them hire business services professionals in areas like recruiting, marketing and attorney development. Coaches have been in law firms for many years, but, in the past, their job was to help associates transition out of the firm into new roles. Today, “Success Coaches” are being hired to help associates and partners elevate performance.

These internal and external coaches provide resources to attorneys that go beyond legal training and may include one-on-one business development, communication skills or wellness coaching.

Stigma Gone, Now a Perk

For many years there was often a stigma attached to being assigned a coach; now working with one is considered a perk.

We placed Gianna Karapelou, formerly the Director of Professional Development at Richards, Layton & Finger, as a career coach at Dechert LLP last November. She says her coaching session topics vary, and can include professional skills development ranging from interpersonal communication to time management, or to address career challenges like increasing executive presence and confidence, or achieving work-life balance.

Interestingly, Karapelou adds that “lawyers are conscious of what they want to change and come to coaching with specific areas they want to work on.” Karapelou helps both partners and associates envision what they want to achieve and address any roadblocks. She doesn’t give them the answers, but instead helps them to “gain insights and clarity around their goals, increase internal motivation, and identify a plan of action.”

Since lawyers often struggle with low resiliency, fear of failure and perfectionism, coaching can help an already successful lawyer take on new challenges and thrive.

Claire Gilmartin launched Paul, Weiss’ Career Development group almost two years ago. Paul, Weiss leadership has embraced creating a strong coaching culture as a positive investment in attorney development and growth.

Gilmartin’s team includes full-time internal career development coaches, all whom are former practicing attorneys, and also provides attorneys at all levels with access to a roster of more than 25 external coaches with expertise in different areas. Attorneys are encouraged to take a proactive role in the coaching process by identifying which career development areas they want to focus on and choosing their own coach. Attorneys can speak confidentially about navigating their careers and achieving their goals both with internal and external coaches, and receive professional development support that goes beyond formal substantive training.

Kara Dodson, an external coach through Volta Talent Strategies, has seen far more coaching requests than ever before from attorneys at every level over the past three years.

Dodson has seen both the internal and external side of coaching (she was previously Director of Attorney Recruiting & Development at Young Conway), and she believes that external coaching is different because the coach has greater independence and a higher level of confidentiality that is inherent to not being employed at the firm.

When asked about what she hears from the attorneys she coaches she says, “We have many requests for coaching with a focus on business development, time management, and executive presence, but another consistent theme is a desire to alleviate the stress inherent to the practice of law.” Dodson agrees that in today’s world “coaching is seen as a powerful development tool for high potential lawyers.” She also adds that “lawyers are great at problem solving—the coach is there to make it stick.”

Coaching on Lateral Partner Hiring

Another growing need that today’s coaches fill stems from the significant growth in lateral partner hiring. With the massive amount of lateral partner hiring taking place now, coaching around lateral integration has become a huge area of focus.

Karapelou says many highly motivated lateral hires are very open to coaching because they are often “super high performers who want to hit ground running.” This is another example of how firms are providing resources to talented legal minds who can benefit from being coached on how to navigate and excel in a new culture.

Many of the coaches we have placed have coaching certificates. Today there are many organizations that offer these certificates, including Columbia University, World Coach Institute, CTI and the NeuroLeadership Institute. It’s a good idea to check if your coach’s certification is International Coaching Federation accredited, which requires at least 60 hours of coach-specific training.

Law firms are clearly investing in coaches for their legal talent. What was once a stigma is now a well-received career resource. This is a hiring trend that we hope will stick and continue to help partners and associates reach their full potential.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. or its owners.

Author Information

Eva Wisnik is president and founder of Wisnik Career Enterprises, a training and placement firm for the legal community. Since founding the company in 1996, she has placed more than 800 marketing, recruiting, and professional development professionals into top law firms and has conducted more than 625 training programs on topics ranging from interview training to time management.