Coaching for Lawyers: Features and Benefits

Coaching for Lawyers Features and Benefits

Originally published in Barrister Magazine in January 2020

Coaching: Dispensing with the “Fix it” myth

Lawyers are busy high achievers. I get it. I was a criminal barrister for 19 years. At the outset of coaching discussions with potential clients, I’m hearing “I’m too busy” or “I don’t have an issue to sort out”.

Important then to dispense with the myth that coaching is about getting fixed. As a specialist coach I:

  • Enhance support for career break returners and those in career transition;
  • Provide a benefit for those recently promoted in the first 100 days of their new role;
  • Increase awareness around workplace confidence, wellness, resilience and mental toughness.

In my view these topics come under the umbrella of how to go “From Good to Great”, as Jim Collins put it: showing up as your best self.

Coaching Sessions: What to expect

When did you last consider your career progression goals for the week, the month, the year, the next 2, or 3 years and beyond? Have you clarified a vision of your future in law recently or at all? Designed an action plan to get there, then committed it to writing? “A goal without a plan is just a dream”. If you are a goal-setter, you’ll love coaching.

Thinking about goals and the action steps by which they can be achieved may be challenge enough for some. Brian Tracy, American Motivational Speaker and Coach, suggests that of goals committed to writing, even with no further conscious action on behalf of the writer, 80% of them will actually be achieved, simply because that individual has clarified what it is they want.

Whether or not you accept Tracy’s figures, I can certainly say from experience with hundreds of coaching clients, that there is something powerful and transformational about shifting thoughts from head to page; an added level of commitment, a new determination, an ability to remain accountable and make it happen.

Switching off to Switch on

How about giving yourself permission to switch off gadgets and devices, and get focused on you – just you, or your legal career – in an impartial yet challenging support-setting? An hour a week, a fortnight or even once a month, to think, visualise and gain clarity about what you want whether as an individual or within your law firm or organisation.

Coaching offers legal professionals the rare space to celebrate strengths, anticipate and overcome obstacles, increase productivity, confidence and motivation to achieve desired results, improve time ownership and reduce stress.

Coaching or Mentoring: A Choice to make

Increasingly there is demand for coaching and mentoring within the legal profession. I have delivered coaching workshops recently to several organisations for female lawyers. Notably, of those, Women in Criminal Law, Midland Circuit Women’s Forum and Women in the Law UK all have, as part of their own initiatives, mentoring programmes. Women lawyers are welcoming independent, impartial support. Some are unclear however as to the distinctions between coaching and mentoring to make an informed choice.

Although there are many similarities such as the need for good rapport, effective questioning and active listening, coaching and mentoring are distinct disciplines, both with individual processes and differing purposes.

Here, some observations about the differences to inform choice about “Which is right for you?”


Mentors usually work on an informal and voluntary basis with those less experienced than themselves seeking direction, most often on an ad hoc basis. They tend to be more senior with experience and knowledge in the same professional area. The person being mentored (let’s call them the “Mentee”) is therefore able to learn and benefit from their Mentor’s own previous experience, and use them as a role model or guide, to demonstrate what worked for them, what did not, and how to avoid the pitfalls which Mentors themselves have previously experienced and learnt from.

Like coaching, mentoring is a supportive process, but in a more directive fashion, i.e. it is perceived that the Mentor has all the answers in a particular scenario and provides the solutions for their Mentee to assist them in achieving their goals. By this process, the Mentor’s past shapes the Mentee’s future, regardless of their different personality traits, individual values and beliefs and, in some cases, diverging overall objectives.

One common complaint raised by Mentees is the fact that the mentoring relationship is built upon this hierarchy of experience. Mentors are necessarily more senior, experienced and, more than likely, busy practitioners, mentoring on a voluntary basis. Actually being able to pin them down to speak to on a regular basis, and at a time of the Mentee’s choosing, can be something of a challenge. On the occasions when Mentors are not readily available to speak to over long periods of time this inevitably impedes useful progress.


Coaching, on the other hand, is usually a formal, paid arrangement which, when done most effectively, is (unlike mentoring) non-directive, encouraging Coachees to identify their goals, and supports them in their desire to move forward and achieve those ambitions. It is usually over a set time-period and with regular, pre-arranged meeting slots. The Coach has coaching experience and should have formal training albeit not always with the same industry experience as Coachee.

Coaching provided a confidential conversation between Coach and Coachee, during which the Coach assists the Coachee move from where they currently are to where they want to be, more quickly and effectively than if they had acted alone. By using insightful questioning, a Coach (unlike a mentor) puts aside their own experiences and allows the Coachee to explore their own possibilities, “next move” or solution, make their own choices and achieve their own outcomes.

Personal accountability and responsibility is key to ensure Coaching does not become a crutch. The relationship between Coachee and Coach is an equal one.

On an individual basis, client testimonials report the positive impact of coaching: clearer focus, improved productivity and increased levels of achievement.

Corporate Coaching

Coaching can work powerfully within the Corporate setting too. In the late 90s, an American study for the Public Personnel Management Association examined the impact on managers of a 2 month, one hour a week, one to one coaching programme in comparison to classroom style training workshops. The training intervention increased manager productivity by 22%, but adding the 8 week coaching programme after the training increased productivity to an impressive 88%.

The distinction with Corporate Coaching is that it acknowledges multiple stakeholders within the process and has at its root the overall objectives of the company as opposed to the individual, perhaps in terms of organisational performance or development.

HR professionals working within corporate legal organisations report the benefits of coaching to be targeted support for career break returners to develop and improve confidence, and measurable outcomes for Coachee, aligned with business aims.

Coaching or Mentoring: Which is Right for you?

Any decision around coaching or mentoring will doubtless be influenced by the stage reached in your professional life, the type of organisation within which you work and desired outcomes. A significant part of this may be influenced by whether you wish to be advised or guided.

Without doubt, for me, coaching is the most powerful tool as a means by which to stay “on purpose” in your career: your journey, your terms.

Nikki Alderson Biography

Nikki Alderson, specialist coach, speaker and author, and former Criminal Barrister with 19 years’ experience:

  • supports organisations, law firms and barristers’ Chambers to retain female talent; and
  • empowers female lawyers to achieve career ambitions.

Nikki specialises in 3 areas:

  • Women leadership transition and change;
  • Enhanced career break returner support; and
  • Workplace resilience, mental toughness, confidence and wellness.

She is the author of Amazon No.1 Bestseller Raising the Bar: empowering female lawyers through coaching, ( nominee for the Inspirational Women Awards, Champion of the Year Category and finalist in the 2020 Women in Law Awards, Legal Services Innovator of the Year and 2019 International Coaching Awards, International Coach of the Year Category.