Lawyers are generally thought of as intelligent, ambitious, talented and argumentative people – when we imagine a successful lawyer, we think of an assertive, independent person with these qualities often complemented with a healthy ego. They are people with huge responsibilities and, often, under a lot of pressure.
Considering the very nature of the practice of law, one should not be surprised by the growing popularity of coaching in law firms. It has become a critical part of their recruitment, retention and talent-management strategies. Firms today have internal coaches on their teams, senior lawyers are trained in coaching, and external coaches are often hired to help with a number of situations such as career coaching, business development, or a smooth transition outside of the firm.
According to a study by the International Coach Federation from 2014, coaching programs were correlated with positive business outcomes, including increased employee engagement and firms’ financial performance. Coaching has become a development tool provided to employees at all levels of an organization, rather than just a “perk” for the management.
It is not easy to say precisely when we began incorporating coaching and when it became an integral part of the Karanovic & Partners’ ethos, since it is so ingrained in everything we do. Some of our first experiments with coaching were done a decade ago, and today we have several programs that we are proud of.
In-house coaching for lawyers
Besides being a Partner and the Head of the Karanovic & Partners’ Intellectual Property department – therefore, a senior lawyer and part of the firm’s management, I am also a Jungian analyst and an ICF accredited Erickson Certified Coach.
Owing to my training and my academic background, I played a role in introducing coaching into the firm’s culture and I serve as our very own in-house business coach. We started our In-House Coaching program in 2013, with my first seven clients. Our goal was to help lawyers first to understand and manage themselves, and then to understand and manage others.
Of course, in the beginning there were quite a few challenges. But, we quickly came to realize the benefits of internal coaching sessions after observing the positive behavioural changes and professional improvements in those who attended the program. In terms of methods and approach, as a coach I utilize several methodologies – combining my education and experience as a lawyer, with my training as an analytic psychologist and a business coach.
I believe that it is important to adapt to the client’s individual needs and circumstances in order to ensure that their needs are fully met. In his lifetime, Jung was quite famous for not holding dogmatically to a specific, single method, instead combining different approaches adjusted to the individual. With some his approach was Freudian, with some Adlerian, while with others he used Jungian methods. As our in-house coach, I try to model myself according to this example.
When we started the program, I was slightly apprehensive that my role of Partner would influence the coachees’ perception of me in the context of coaching and be an obstacle in establishing a client-coach relation. However, the exact opposite happened. They were thrilled to talk to me and share their ideas, projects or concerns.
The lawyers jumped at the opportunity of having a coach with intimate and personal knowledge of the pressures that they faced daily, client expectations and general challenges of the legal profession. “You understand me so well because you are a lawyer yourself”, my clients would often say. We could say that my unique circumstances and roles within the organization proved a strategic advantage and enabled, so to say, a holistic approach to the program.
Today, I am proud to say that of those first seven clients, three are now partners in the firm, and one is on the partnership track. We have held over 1,200 internal coaching sessions, with more than 10 hours per individual client annually. Considering the fact that we are not a large corporation, but a law firm, these are not unimpressive figures.
Coaching at all levels
But, we needed to think bigger if we wanted coaching to truly become a part of our ethos – to do this, we needed to implement coaching culture both from the bottom up and from the top down. Our strategy was to introduce coaching methods and apply coaching techniques in our development programs.
We started with the youngest members of our team – the trainees. We established the KNdidates program intended for recent graduates – we apply coaching methods at the early stages of their careers, especially regarding self-motivation, communication problems or, in general, regarding strategic legal thinking. The main methods we use are regular trainings, mentoring and supervised work. This is the foundation on which we build.
However, in order to have such an approach with the trainees, we needed to train the senior lawyers – their supervisors, on how to coach them.
With this goal, we built the Academy – an internal five-day program, covering a number of soft skill trainings. We set the basics with delegation and feedback, where we teach our lawyers how to use coaching methods even for delegation and feedback, because in that way we foster creativity and different approaches. We then continue with detailed trainings on coaching and psychology for lawyers, which are hugely popular and well attended.
Coaching is the essence of our talent development programs – Star tracks. Lawyers on track for promotion set their career goals, together we define their areas for development, and then we provide support through mentoring or coaching. For our lawyers, independence and integrity is everything, so coaching came to be the best approach which allows them to find the best solutions on their own.
And finally, we have our partner development program – the Leading Edge. Each year they have different trainings or programs – either individual coaching or additional trainings to help them to better lead their teams, or group coaching with an external coach. We believe in the importance of new ideas and fresh perspectives, and because of that we usually bring in external trainers from the UK.
Step-by-step coaching conversations have become important part of everyday life in our office. Here we challenge our people, give them new perspectives, and we listen – which really matters to lawyers. Our Senior Partners have worked with top-level executive coaches and we have included coaching methods in development programs for every career stage – starting with our young talent, the KNdidates.
And the effects have been staggering. In terms of numbers, we have a 78 percent rate of internally promoted talent, while a 100 percent of the partners in the firm have been a part of our coaching program.
But you can see the effects by yourselves. If you come to our office and ask our lawyers about coaching, you will probably be surprised to find out that they know more about it than the average HR professional in a company. Our lawyers are familiar with PCM, MBTI, they are used to Points of You cards, and they practise coaching while managing others.
I have to mention Ivana Karanović, who heads Learning & Development at Karanovic & Partners. She is one of the persons responsible for creating and constantly improving the culture of coaching and talent management in our firm – and one of the people with whom I closely cooperate. I believe that this culture is flourishing through the synergy of our different, yet very complementary approaches.
In fact, last December, Karanovic & Partners won the prestigious Stanton Chase Talent Management Award in the Most Innovative Locally Developed Talent Programme category. I think that receiving this award was not only a privilege, but also a confirmation of the quality of our work, vision and values.