Findings from Coaching Survey with Law Firms on Behalf of The Institute of Coaching

Statue of John Harvard, founder of Harvard Uni...

The Institute of Coaching is based in Harvard

These survey findings reflect the views and current practice of Human Resources (HR) and Learning & Development (L&D) professionals in nine law firms in the City of London – including two of the world’s largest (over £2bn of revenues between them in 2011); and the London offices of two US-based law firms with over 3,000 lawyers between them. It is based on interviews carried out by my colleague Des O’Connell of Sherwood PSF Consulting.

Comparison with 5 years ago

Most respondents report a marked increase in use of coaching compared with 5 years ago. One respondent expressed disappointment with the firm’s investment in coaching over that period; another with the lack of take up of coaching which had been on offer over that period.

 Routes to coaching

Coaching is usually made available via HR/L&D. Typical occasions for coaching are:

  • • Moments of transition
  • • As an adjunct to another intervention (e.g. a training programme)
  • • A request by an individual for specific support or training
  • • An individual seen to be experiencing difficulties (often around people-issues)

It is also common for partners in law firms to access coaching directly (i.e. without involving HR/L&D) – something which can cause problems for the HR/L&D professionals in their efforts to deliver a consistent service to the law firm.

Sourcing coaches

In most cases the respondents’ own networks of professional colleagues play a critical role in identifying potential coaches. Most respondents expressed a preference to use individuals of whom they had previous experience – e.g. through training – or who were known to, and came recommended by, their network of professional colleagues. Four firms have established ‘preferred lists’ which now serve as the starting point for sourcing coaches. One firm has used an outside agency to create an external faculty of potential coaches. 

Selecting coaches

The processes described by respondents for selecting coaches are rigorous and (in most cases) applied flexibly to suit different situations. Almost invariably this involves an interview with the prospective coach to explore their background and experience. In terms of criteria for selection, respondents cited 28 possible factors – and there was much variety between respondents as to their preferences. That said, an attempt has been made to compile a collective ‘Top 10’ criteria for this group of respondents.

How coaching is used and by whom

Coaching is used to cover a broad range of areas, developmental and remedial. It is made available most frequently to partners, though not as widely as some of the respondents would like. Some would like to make coaching available, for example, to new partners / lateral hires but are not currently able to do so. In contrast, others are  able to offer coaching more widely (including to associates and business teams), sometimes using internal staff – themselves trained coaches – for this purpose. 

Monitoring progress

Two firms described explicit set-up and monitoring procedures, i.e. initial session to set objectives; mid-term review; formal review at the end. A third firm uses a standard form at the end of each coaching assignment to gather feedback. The rest rely on informal procedures – i.e. ad hoc ‘checking-in’ with coachees, inviting voluntary feedback. Some firms ask the coach to report back on take-up of sessions – as a proxy for effectiveness. None of the firms enquires into the specific content of the coaching sessions. 

Assessing the value; embedding it

There was no evidence of explicit longer-term evaluation of coaching’s effectiveness e.g. 3-month / 6-month follow-ups. Two respondents noted with concern the absence of links within their firms between coaching and, for example, departmental objective-setting, promotion and annual reviews. 

Help wanted (internal)

The two most-consistent factors that would help respondents promote coaching within their firms were:

  • • Explicit support from the senior leadership
  • • Success stories (evidence of coaching’s effectiveness) 

Help wanted (external)

Asked how The Institute of Coaching might be helpful for them, respondents identified two broad areas:

  • • Making sense of the confusing marketplace
  • • A resource – information about coaches; research, practice, etc.

Where next?

Looking forwards, participants were focused on –

  • • Positioning coaching more as a developmental tool for high-performers
  • • Embedding it within their organisations
  • • Broadening its use – for a wider range of individuals and purposes

Several expressed a wish to establish (or, in some cases, expand) internal teams of coaches.

For more information and a full copy of the survey findings, please get in touch.

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