By Mark Powers (Florida)
If doubling the revenue of your law practice, taking 4-week vacation and going home on time interest you, you will want to read our interview with Mark Powers, a Master Certified Coach.
The field of coaching has grown through the years. The International Coach Federation (ICF) reported that its membership has grown from 11,000 in 2006 to 19,000 at the end of 2011. In their 2012 Global Coaching Study, the ICF estimated that the total revenue of the industry to be $2 billion. The number of family law attorneys using coaches is also on the increase.
Family Lawyer Magazine decided to take a look at family lawyer coaching and its possible benefits. Where to start though? The best place was to ask top matrimonial lawyers who were using coaches, so we started with Cheryl Hepfer, past President of the AAML and incoming President of the IAML. Cheryl has been using a law practice coach for the past four years.
“I’ve known about coaches for years and it wasn’t until I was introduced to other top matrimonial attorneys (who work with coaches) that I saw coaching as a vehicle for taking a good practice and making it into a really great practice,” Cheryl told Family Lawyer Magazine. “Matrimonial attorneys using coaches have dramatic improvements in revenue, client care, and personal freedom. Typically they use the coach to navigate growth, succession plans, mergers, or compensation plans.”
Family Lawyer Magazine wants an insider’s perspective on coaching and decided to interview Mark Powers, a Master Certified Coach and President of Atticus Inc. Mark has been working with family lawyers for over 20 years, co-written two books on law firm productivity and marketing, and trains other coaches in law firm management.
Family Lawyer Magazine: Mark, you’ve been coaching family law attorneys for over 20 years, is there anything that separates them from other law practices?
Mark Powers: Absolutely, a family law practice is one of the most difficult to build successfully. The clients can be sometimes demanding, distraught, vengeful, but always emotional. Family lawyers have to be mediators, therapist, forensic accountants, as well as attorneys in dealing with all of their client’s issues. Their days are filled with interruptions, stress and long hours. If they don’t take control of the practice, it will control them.
Family Lawyer Magazine: If there was a factor that impacts the success of a matrimonial practice more than others, what would that be?
Mark Powers: Quite honestly, there are two critical factors. 80% of family lawyers’ headaches come from a poor client selection decision and a poor hiring decision. Most family lawyers are very trusting in the hiring process, but when they make a mistake, they tend to keep a sub-performing staff member on far too long. These factors really hold them back.
Family Lawyer Magazine: Given the availability of seminars, why has coaching for law practices grown in the last couple of years?
Mark Powers: The practice has becoming even more stressful with the number of attorneys entering the marketplace, so good family law practitioners are looking for an edge to stay competitive. Conventional wisdom has been that you could go to a seminar, get a few practice management tips, and the practice would take care of itself. Clearly there are plenty of good seminars out there but the frustration has always been when you get back to the office and try to implement them. A good coach educates, guides, directs and provides accountability for implementation. Without that, best practice principles become good ideas that don’t get traction.
Family Lawyer Magazine: So how does one find a good practice management coach for their practice?
Mark Powers: It gets more difficult everyday, because every life coach or attorney that can’t make a living can put up a web site and call themselves a coach. I’d start the same way we look for a good family law attorney, with recommendations from your trusted peers and your associations. Most family law associations have practice management support and recommendations. Unfortunately, there are no professional standards for law firm coaching. As a matter of fact, we had to start our on certification at Atticus just to get some standards out there.
Family Lawyer Magazine: When you say professional certifications, what are they and aren’t you a Master Certified Coach?
Mark Powers: Yes, my certification is through the International Coach Federation, which is a good start but it doesn’t convey any expertise in the complex world of law firm practice management. I’m referring to certifications for law firm productivity, marketing, staffing, cash flow, succession planning and compensation. Outside of the Practice Advisors at Atticus, that doesn’t exist right now. I would also look for a coach that has a proven, measurable track record of increasing your take home income, decreasing the number of hours you work, improving the quality of the staff, and getting you plenty of free time away from the practice.
Family Lawyer Magazine: Let’s assume I’ve done my due diligence and checked out different coaches. How do I know they are a right fit for me?
Mark Powers: Assuming you have identified the specific objectives that you want to accomplish, give the coaching relationship at least three months to ensure that you have good chemistry and that the coach understands how to interact with you. Keep an eye on the specific measurable results though; when you hire a coach, you don’t need a therapist or a friend, in the end you want results. For significant results, you might be thinking about a minimum of six months to a year in working with the coach.
Family Lawyer Magazine: What kind of results should be expected from a coaching program?
Mark Powers: Depending on the practice, a 25% to 100% increase in revenues in the first 18 months; the shareholder getting to go home on time, not working weekends and taking two – four weeks off in a row; getting the firm to a 35% profit margin; increasing the average dollar value per file; and building a highly competent staff with low turnover. This will do for starters, but I’d also consider a goal of implementing a matrimonial assessment, a succession plan, or value pricing.
Family Lawyer Magazine: 100% increase in revenues and four weeks off work? Really? Those goals sound like a stretch if not opposing goals.
Mark Powers: The goals are very compatible if you are building a business that does matrimonial law and not building just a job. And your readers are smart enough to know they don’t need a coach to maintain the status quo, you need a coach if you have big goals worthy of your time.
Mark Powers, President of Atticus, is the founder and developer of the first personalized training program dedicated to teaching attorneys the lasting skills and habits necessary for practice development. Mark is a national speaker who has worked with members of the American Bar Association and bar associations in various states. He co-authored “The Making of a Rainmaker: An Ethical Approach to Marketing for Solo and Small Firm Practitioners,” published by The Florida Bar.