Repechage July Newsletter: Coaching Lawyers — Be The Dude

Repechage July Newsletter: Coaching Lawyers — Be The Dude

I’m sitting here at my desk, trying to think of what to write about coaching, the subject of this month’s newsletter. Given that I’m not allowed to write, you know, a book, which is what the topic really requires, what is the most useful thing I can say about coaching? If I distill the entire super-complex process down to the glowing blue core at its essence, the thing that really makes a coaching relationship successful, what is it? What am I doing when I coach someone well?

Insert long, suspenseful pause here.

I’m motivating them. Everything else is decoration, really.

The filthy little secret of business development is that a lot of it isn’t especially hard. If someone can draft a commercial lease, or conduct a deposition, they unquestionably can remember the basic principles of networking. However, getting them to do it in the first place? That’s the tricky part. When I’m successful, I’m getting my coaching clients todo stuff, to behave in a certain way.

This simple fact, by the way, is why in my opinion a lot of the coaching-in-a box programs are a waste of time and money. They’re superficially attractive because they’re efficient (for the law firm) and promise measurable results (“Look! ROI with human beings!”), but both of those things are kind of beside the point. The point is to get the extremely complex, extremely human person you’re coaching to modify their behavior, and nobody does that because they watched a video. The more senior the attorney, by the way, the more this is the case.

I believe – and I’ve been doing this for over a decade – that people modify their behavior gradually, and incrementally, and because they adopt a different belief system. As a coach, your job is to introduce them to that system, and support them in internalizing it. And you do that by manifesting it. You must be the Dude, and you must abide. If, by the way, you’re unfamiliar with The Dude, go watch The Big Lebowski, then come back and then read the rest of this newsletter.


Let’s make it more concrete. I absolutely love sales, selling, business development, all of it. It’s always fascinating, and I think it’s what powers every enterprise. There’s an old saying that “Nothing happens until someone sells something” and I believe in that with all my heart and soul. When you look at a hotel ballroom full of people and see the upcoming two hours of networking as something you really, really don’t want to do, I see incredible opportunity and a lot of fun. Plus, snacks! And booze! What could be better?

My job as a coach is to be an example of this point of view for my clients over time, and gradually get them to absorb it and make it their own. They need to think like me. Nobody here, by the way, is right or wrong – it’s all subjective – but my perspective makes me a much more effective business developer than Mopey McBummerson. To paraphrase the Beatles, my clients have to learn to see things my way. Once they do, the rest is easy. When coaching works, that’s why. Clients come to understand that they can develop business, that they’ll be good at it, and eventually, will enjoy it.

Good coaches convincingly and sincerely present their clients with a new, different, productive perspective, and get them to believe it. Phil Jackson, who coached the Chicago Bulls basketball team during the period when the absolutely dominated the universe, put this well when he said “I think the most important thing about coaching is that you have to have a sense of confidence about what you’re doing. You have to be a salesman, and you have to get your players, particularly your leaders, to believe in what you’re trying to accomplish on the basketball floor.” I do exactly the same thing when I’m helping a bankruptcy partner increase his originations. I’m getting them to believe by repeatedly demonstrating that I believe, too.

There are a lot of ingredients that go into that particular stew, of course. Numero uno is rapport. I have to connect emotionally and interpersonally with the people I coach. They have to feel that I understand them and their situation, and we have to pretty quickly build a relationship.

The next ingredient is respect. Lawyers are trained to be sort of intellectually arrogant, and if they don’t think you’re as smart as they are, they’re not going to listen, particularly if you’re an outside consultant. You can be absolutely brilliant, but if the lawyer you’re coaching doesn’t see you as a peer, you’re going to have a difficult time.

Business Team

Next is a quick win. If, early in the coaching relationship, you can help them push something over the finish line fast, or make an immediate, meaningful introduction, or even come up with a hot idea, that helps as well.

Finally, after a decade of experience, I’ve learned the incredible value of Constantly Reminding Them. Lawyers live in their own little time-bound world. The second a coaching call ends, every other factor in their environment starts pulling them back into their old non business-developing habits. The timesheet. The other attorneys. Internal firm stuff. The Same Old Thing. That routine is really their enemy, and as their coach, it’s yours, too.

The best way to help coaching clients avoid falling back into that rut is to regularly ping them between coaching sessions. I send detailed followup notes on each discussion a couple of days afterwards, which acts as a reminder and provides continuity between one coaching session and the next. I’ll also call them just to check in, or email them something interesting or relevant between sessions. It’s kind of primitive, but it works.They remember who you are, and what you’re helping them accomplish.

And in the end, you have to keep in mind that people aren’t motivated by ideas, or videos, or words. They’re most powerfully influenced by … other people. As a coach, you have to be that other person. You have to mean it. You have to show them. You have to awaken them to the genuine possibility that business development can be mastered, that they can succeed, and that it might even teach them some things about themselves.

You have to abide.