I am a shameless advocate for coaching. I graduated some years ago from a coaching certificate at UBC and came out transformed. So much so that I now believe everyone should become a coach and that everyone would benefit from coaching. It would be the first step towards a conflict- free workplace. Which would perhaps mean that there will be no need for employment lawyers and leave me unemployed. But I digress.
Coaching helped me to approach difficult conversations, client management, and workplace investigations. Knowing the basics of coaching can transform the lawyer-client relationship.
A great coach listens. Intently.
A great lawyer will do the same and will work to understand the reality of what their client is experiencing.
A great coach asks powerful questions.
A great lawyer, through both open and closed questions, will get to a deeper understanding of their clients’ intentions. This can be as simple as asking “why?” more than once. An example of this is the client who says they want their job back and is asking the lawyer to press for this. Ask them “why?” and then listen. By doing so you may find that they are underestimating their transferable skills, have lost their sense of value, or are afraid of change. A great lawyer uses the power of questioning to explore what is beneath the surface of their client’s needs and motivation. In doing so they ensure they can build strategy that will stand the test of time.
A great coach practices reflective listening.
It has been proven time and again that reflecting back what someone tells you is a powerful way to make sure you understand, and to ensure people felt heard and understood. This will ensure that the trust required between lawyer and client is built on solid foundation of common ground and trust.
A great coach sees the client as capable of resolving their situation.
While people seek legal advice for the lawyer’s expertise, sometimes all they need is information to even the playing field, and an objective sounding board. A great lawyer will agree with the client how much of the lawyer’s involvement is required, on what capacity, and how much the client can, or wants, to achieve on their own.
A great coach acknowledges the emotions in the room.
Sometimes this is just saying “I can hear it in your voice that this has been very difficult for you”. Long gone should be the days where lawyers complain that what their client needs most is “a psychologist and not a lawyer”, or that the practice of law “would be great if it wasn’t for the clients”. Excuse me while I gasp for breath … really? A great lawyer knows the work of accepting difficult emotions. They coach themselves in how to navigate the range of emotions we all experience as human beings.
A great coach calls you on your B.S.
A great lawyer does too. And not just on the obvious legal mis- compliance issues, but on the blind spots in how the client is managing their business or their situation. I tell clients from the outset that they will get straightforward advice from me without sugar-coating. So far, it has always been appreciated.
A coaching approach is not for every lawyer-client relationship, but in employment law, which is entirely people-centered, it is a great added value to get the most out of your legal fees.
This blog is not intended to serve as legal advice, and only provides general information. Every situation must be considered on its own facts.
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