This summer, I had the privilege of meeting lawyer coach Roy Ginsburg at the Minnesota Solo & Small Firm Conference, then seeing him a few days later at the Nebraska Solo & Small Firm Conference. Roy is well known on the CLE speaking circuit; he is a lawyer himself and in as a former in-house counsel, he also has great insights on what corporate clients look for in hiring lawyers. But Roy also coaches lawyers and that is the subject of his guest post below.
Athletes have coaches to keep them at the top of their game. Executives have coaches to help them successfully lead in the workplace. Increasingly, lawyers – especially solo practitioners – are working with lawyer coaches who help them develop new business, manage their practice and maximize success in their career choices.
Earlier this year, at a conference for solo and small law firms, I met Roy Ginsburg, an experienced attorney who is also an attorney coach. I had a lot of questions about his work with solo attorneys. Here are some of his answers.
What can you tell me about your legal experience?
I’ve been a practicing attorney for more than 25 years. As outside counsel, I practiced at a large as well as a small law firm. As in-house counsel, I worked in corporate legal departments. Now as a solo, I continue to practice part-time in the areas of legal marketing ethics for a few select organizations, including FindLaw® and Super Lawyers®, Thomson Reuters companies. With this broad range of experience, I really understand what my coaching clients are going through.
How did you decide to become a coach as well as a lawyer?
I really enjoy public speaking and teaching, so I decided to supplement my law practice with work as a paid Continuing Legal Education speaker – especially in the areas of business development, ethics and diversity. I still speak frequently at CLE events. In addition, my recorded and live webcast CLE presentations are available at ALI-ABA, Law.com and West LegalEdcenter.
It soon occurred to me that, if I can train 100 lawyers in a group setting, I can certainly coach individual lawyers one-to-one. Plus, the longer-term, more intimate coaching relationship keeps me more in touch with the positive results of my efforts. I coach in three areas: business development, practice management and career development.
How does coaching work?
I work closely with my clients to help them focus on realistic goals, identify market and career opportunities, and develop a customized, workable plan of action. I check back with them regularly to assess their progress and provide encouragement. Depending upon the goals and personality of my client, I wear many different hats – including strategist, sounding board, cheerleader and taskmaster.
Why would a solo practitioner need a coach?
Solo and small-firm practitioners face many unique obstacles. My work with solos focuses on areas that are not taught in law school – but are essential to success. In a larger law firm, these areas are often addressed by professional staff. In a solo firm, they become the lawyer’s responsibility. In addition, in a larger practice, colleagues and professional staff are available to provide perspective on your ideas and practices. Not so when you are solo. I offer clients an objective, experienced perspective on their unique circumstances. I tell them what they need to hear – not just what they want to hear.
How can solos benefit from business development coaching?
I got my start in the coaching arena as a business development coach, and it remains an important part of my practice. The economy is unstable and competition for clients is intense. I help solo practitioners identify their unique target market; connect with clients, potential clients and referral sources within that market (in ways that fall within their comfort levels); and spend their marketing and advertising dollars wisely.
How can solos benefit from practice management coaching?
Managing a solo practice while actually having time to practice law is a challenging task. After all, you did not attend law school to run a business. I work with solos as a trusted business advisor on practice management issues such as timekeeping, billing, expense management, time management and personnel. As a solo practitioner myself, these are all issues I continue to face today. I am also the former chair of the Minnesota State Bar Association’s practice management and marketing section and remain an active member.
How can solos benefit from career development coaching?
I work with solos (and would-be solos) as their legal career counselor. In the current economy, solo practice can seem like an attractive alternative for many lawyers who are currently unhappy in (or being out-placed by) their law firms or cannot find work after law school. However, as mentioned before, it is an entirely different practice model. If you already are a solo but want more satisfying work, I can help you explore other practice areas that may be a better match. If you work at a firm and are considering your options (solo practice among them), I work to help you work through that process as well. Furthermore, some of my solo clients no longer want to practice and use my services to consider alternative careers. Finally, I also help solos with their retirement planning.
Do you do “life” coaching for solo practitioners?
Life coaches focus their practices on helping clients achieve personal goals – like happiness. My practice focuses on the achievement of career goals. Of course, our careers are a major part of our lives and the achievement of career goals can contribute to personal happiness – but that is not my primary focus.
Is your coaching practice limited to solo practitioners?
No. I coach clients from law firms and corporate legal departments of all sizes. However, as a solo myself, I have a particular “sweet spot” for that type of practice. Although about half of my clients are located in Minnesota, the rest are located throughout the country. They find me as a result of referrals, my speaking engagements, and my articles and blog posts. I consider this an endorsement of my experience and reputation. Moreover, if you do a Google search for “lawyer coach” or “attorney coach,”www.royginsburg.com ranks right near the top and clients find me that way.
Does it take a lawyer to coach a lawyer?
As we lawyers like to tell our clients, it depends. Lawyers are analytical by nature and lawyer/coaches tend to be more analytical in their approach than coaches without a legal background. Furthermore, the advantage of having a lawyer/coach (especially one who’s also been in solo practice) is that you will likely have a similar personality, speak the same “language,” and understand the unique stresses. In other words, the lawyer/coach “gets” what you are up against.
What else should a solo consider when looking for a coach?
The lawyer/coach relationship is similar to the lawyer/client relationship. At a certain level, coaching skill or legal skill is a given. It is the personal relationship – the comfort and chemistry factor — that makes it work. Without this rapport, the process will fail. When selecting a coach, do your due diligence to narrow the field. From this group, select the coach who best matches your own personal style and interests.