Featuring Michelle Klopp and Peter Darling
Coaching — hiring an outside expert to work with individual attorneys on their marketing and business development — is a growing legal marketing trend. There are dozens of coaches, coaching certifications and programs available today. Yet it can be hard to separate the wheat from the chaff and to know how to hire, manage and evaluate coaches. The following FAQs can help you get started. Peter Darling, partner at Repechage Group, and Michelle Klopp, chief marketing officer at Hanson Bridgett, give their insight on this topic.
When should I consider hiring a coach?
Michelle Klopp: Coaching should be a reward for those who are doing well or are on the right career trajectory but need a little help over a hurdle or keeping their marketing ideas organized. A coach can be helpful for attorneys joining a firm laterally or just returning from maternity leave. We also offer coaching to attorneys who have been newly promoted to partner or senior counsel.
Peter Darling: Also, when someone with potential is stuck. They need to take their marketing to the next level, or make marketing part of their overall toolkit. They seem to have all the talent, but aren’t making it happen, due to motivation, skills or something else.
What can I expect from a coach?
Michelle: I expect any coach I work with to have a good rapport with me and my department and to keep me in the loop at all times to ensure goals remain aligned with firm objectives and/or our strategic plan. I expect a written plan of action, monthly check-ins and a final report on next steps my department can help with. I also expect candor from a coach as to whether or not they think the attorney is open to the coaching, taking it seriously or just blowing them off.
Also, don’t expect miracles from a coach. If you expect big changes from your attorneys during or after coaching, you will be sorely disappointed. The changes I have seen when coaching works well have been small, incremental and evolved over time. Sometimes coaching simply produces a change in how an attorney thinks about marketing.
Peter: Expertise in legal marketing is the ante. Every coach should know copywriting, networking, basic sales and presentation skills, social media and most of the marketing technologies. In addition, you should expect a high degree of emotional intelligence and rapport-building skills, discretion, smarts and judgment. You are looking for someone who can work with senior attorneys about issues that are fundamental to their practice in a way that works for the firm, that the attorney is comfortable with and that gets results. They should also be able to think creatively.
How long does a coaching engagement last?
Michelle: For us, a typical engagement is six months. If we are seeing great progress or a case can be made to extend it then occasionally an exception is made. What we don’t want is for coaching to become a crutch, so a time limit is essential.
Peter: It completely depends on the client. At a minimum, three months, but I’ve had gigs that have been ongoing, that have lasted for six months, and every variety in between.
What are some common pitfalls to hiring a coach?
Michelle: Not vetting them first. I usually speak to one or two references before hiring a coach. Some coaches, for example, can come on salesy or be old school. They should also have an online profile. If they don’t, I am concerned that they are not on top of relevant technologies for marketing. Personality fit can be another pitfall. I always have the coach and the attorney meet briefly for coffee and then report back to me as to whether they feel like it was a good fit before finalizing the engagement.
Peter: Politics and, as Michelle pointed out, personalities. Sometimes personalities just don’t click, which is completely normal. Also, firms are political places, and coaches have to be careful to understand and follow the unwritten rules. Briefing them in advance helps a lot.
What should I do to make sure a coaching engagement goes well?
Michelle: Ideally, have your attorneys put some skin in the game. I have long believed that attorneys should be paying at least 50 percent of coaching fees. Upon completion of the program, they can then seek reimbursement. Also, make sure the attorney wants a coach, and it’s not something being used to get someone to leave the firm. It’s unfair to both the attorney and the coach in that instance. Finally, I always meet with the coach prior to the start of a session to provide feedback and insight into the attorney they will be working with. I help guide them by listing strengths and weaknesses as best I can. Coaches need to be armed with as much information at the outset as possible.
Peter: First, work the way your clients find comfortable. Second, make things concrete. Give them clear next steps. Third, remember that attorneys are not marketers and do not understand what, say, a “brand” is. Remember to explain things. Fourth, show them, don’t just talk at them. Lastly, get your hands dirty. Get in there and help them write, edit, speak, network, whatever. Your job is not to deliver wisdom from on high. It’s to help them get results.
How do I find a good coach for my attorneys?
Michelle: I always seek a reference, if I am lucky I have heard them speak at a conference or read some of their articles. After a coaching session ends, we have an evaluation form we ask our attorneys to fill out that also includes questions such as: Would you work with this coach again? Would you refer this coach to another attorney in the firm? And so on.
Peter: Meet them in person, and trust your instincts. Is this someone you would feel comfortable working with your lawyers. On a gut level, how do they feel to you?
Is coaching something I can do in-house?
Michelle: Sometimes yes. I do informal coaching all the time and occasionally will provide coaching for one or two attorneys who I self-select. There are many challenges to doing it internally, including:
- Trust. Not all attorneys may know you or feel comfortable with you to open up about issues they are having at home, at work, with their practice group or a client.
- Personality fit. Let’s face it: One size does not fit all. Depending on the number of attorneys you work with, you may not be the right person to coach all of them.
- Time. Coaching takes time and dedication, so oftentimes it just makes sense to hire someone from the outside.
- The consultant is key. As we all know, we can state the obvious to our attorneys over and over again, and it goes unheard. Then a consultant arrives, the waters part, they say the same thing you have been saying, but suddenly it’s like it came from the heavens above.