Why you need to consider hiring a law firm coach if you desire more predictability and profit in your practice.
By Allison Williams, Family Lawyer and Coach
Divorce and Family law is not for the faint of heart. Family lawyers are expected to know the substantive law directly involved in their cases (marital dissolution, child custody, parenting time, alimony, child support, property distribution, debt allocation, business valuations, relocation, college contribution, domestic violence, modification and enforcement – to name a few), as well as enough about the ancillary related issues to make proper referrals and/or navigate settlements and trials based on same (issues such as bankruptcy, federal and state taxation, real estate law, third party intervention, social security disability, mental health, addictions, ERISA, parental kidnapping, Hague Convention, defined benefit and defined contribution plans, and the like). We are expected to navigate the process of motion practice, trials, hearings, conferences, mediations, arbitrations and collaborative divorce process.
And, the most risk-laden of all practice aspects, we are expected to give wise counsel to people who are often mentally and emotionally decompensating, redefining themselves and their families, facing restricted access to their children and evisceration of their life’s savings. Many of these clients will demand in the first instance that illogical, unreasonable actions be taken on their behalf, while insisting months or even years later, that you should have known better than to assiduously and zealously pursue their convictions – since doing so has decimated their saving and accrued a hefty bill that you have the audacity to request be paid.
It takes a special person to become so enamored with helping others that we accept and remain compassionate with the broken souls who are often abusive and downright disrespectful to us during the worst time of their lives. It is that “special sauce” of the best family lawyers that makes us particularly bad at business. We work without being paid, often failing to plan for the inevitability that a judge may hold us hostage in a case long after a client refuses to pay his or her bill, or loses the wherewithal to do so, even if so inclined. We feverishly move from case to case, client to client, cause to injustice, without regard for who we should be serving, how we should be helping or whether the client of today will be the malpractice case of tomorrow. We focus on the law – often failing to plan for our own futures.
Lawyers tend to sacrifice themselves on the alter of professionalism, often believing that ethical conduct and financial reward for legal services are at odds. Once upon a time, I was very much of that mindset. Only when I began to work with business and mindset coaches did I come to understand why transforming my surviving law practice into a thriving law business was better – better for the public, better for my clients, and ultimately, better for me.
1. Family Lawyers are a Special Breed
So why should a family lawyer consider hiring a business coach? As previously noted, family lawyers are special people. We tend to be internally driven to help others. We are a collegial bunch, often using CLE’s as an occasion to commiserate our clients’ travesties and celebrate their victories. It is that “other” focus that makes us prioritize the practice of law (something we see as benefitting our clients) over the business of law (something we see as benefitting ourselves). But is that belief well-founded?
Consider this. When law firms are poorly managed, deadlines are missed more often, jeopardizing clients’ causes; employee turnover wreaks havoc on the continuity of case management; the economic investment made in associate attorneys is lost, causing owners to scale back on line items such as trainings and shadowing; vendor relationships are tarnished by delayed payments; clients are mismatched with a lawyer whose style and goals are incompatible with the client’s because the marketing message the lawyer communicated attracted any ole’ check, rather than the right client with the right matter for this particular lawyer. And, for family lawyers, these problems are further exacerbated by the rigorous demands of the clients’ urgent deadline-laden litigation and intense emotional needs, often being met while the mental and emotional health of the lawyer suffers.
The way to avoid these ills is to create a sustainable law business: a system – an organized structure of how to do things, understood and adopted by all people in the system, which generates consistent, reliable revenue for the entity, without the owner’s involvement in each facet of the business. Can lawyers find their way into a “system” on their own? Certainly, but not without needless waste of time, money, energy and joy-attrition that is simply unnecessary. Hiring a coach is the fastest way to achieve a sustainable law business.
2. Why Hire a Coach
A coach is a facilitator, someone to help you unlock your potential to maximize your own performance. A coach helps you learn how to learn, enabling you to conquer the challenges of business more adeptly each time one occurs. Every law business must address the same facets of business that other industries face: Marketing, Sales, People, Processes, Facilities and Money Management. Each facet carries with it certain rules, requirements, best practices and horrific outcomes that have become the nomenclature of the industry. As a business owner, you can certainly opt to encounter each of these horror stories on your own, but one must ask why. Why would you elect to make major errors that jeopardize yourself, your employees and your business, if you don’t need to?
In response to this question, one might say that we learn from our mistakes. This is very true. However, without the assistance of a coach, business owners are often inclined to draw the wrong meaning from negative experiences. For instance, if a business owner tries an online marketing initiative that fails, she may conclude that online marketing is unlikely to generate clients, whereas a coach may lead that client to see where small tweaks could have altered the outcome of that initiative. A coach is far enough from the situation to provide neutral, objective guidance, helping the owner to adopt a different analytical framework for approaching problems. Just as a lawyer who represents himself is said to have a fool for a client, a business owner who approaches his business without the benefit of an objective advisor is putting more at stake than meets the eye.
3. How to Choose the Right Coach for You
So how does one decide on what kind of coach is best for you? There are many different types of coaches out there, and the novice business owner may be inclined to hire a coach to help with the one aspect of business the owner feels is a pain-point (such as marketing or hiring). These options may be beneficial, but they miss a critical piece of the puzzle.
- Choose a winner in the game of building a law firm.
Your best advisor is someone who has been where you are and is far enough along the path of where you want to be that they can assist you to get there. The coach does not have to have created the exact type of law firm you want. For instance, you may desire to have a small three-lawyer firm, with 3-4 staff members per lawyer, wherein you have an ownership interest and management role, but little day-to-day work production responsibility. You do not have to go find a lawyer-coach who has created that exact type of firm.
- Choose a current law firm owner.
There is a great value in having an advisor whose actively managing a law firm as they advise you. Why? Because they are in the trenches and can not only empathize with your situation, but can draw upon real world personal experience of solving problems when helping you solve problems.
- Disregard the opinions of those who have not been coached.
Lawyers, by nature, are negative people. After all – our goal in most instances of giving legal advice to a client is to contemplate and protect them from problems. Contemplating and solving problems all day makes you focus on what’s wrong. Lawyers who have not been coached before often criticize the coaching industry, often making assumptions predicated on their own limiting beliefs, or war stories emanating from a coaching business with which they have had no personal dealings. Just remember that speculative, hearsay opinions are not more legitimate in lawyer chit-chat than in a Court of Law.
Running a law firm can be a richly rewarding and financially lucrative experience. If you desire to have more sanity, consistency, predictability and profit in your law firm, consider hiring a law firm coach who can help get you from where you are now to where you want to be.
Allison Williams owns Williams Law Group, LLC, which she grew 856% in four years. She created Law Firm Mentor, a lawyer coaching company that helps lawyers transform law practices into law businesses.
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