Coaching Reveals Insights into Associate Engagement and Retention

Study after study suggest less than one third of the American workforce is engaged in their current role. It begs the question, why.

PTR’s signature Coach on Demand program provides us with unfettered access into the hearts and minds of Big Law associates to help Firms figure out the answer to that question. Designed as a retention tool, associates confidentially reach out to our career coaches to express any fears, concerns or issues they may face without having to worry about the impact simply saying it out loud might have on their career trajectory.

Based on our conversations, we can attest to the fact that there is often a disconnect between an associate’s and Firm’s interpretation of any given situation. How a person interprets a situation triggers a feeling that determines an action that results in a consequence. People see what they believe and have a tendency to ignore all evidence to the contrary. Having an uncomfortable conversation could clarify the underlying beliefs driving behaviors, but the risks feel too high for both sides. Coaching enables associates (and sometimes the Firms) to acknowledge the feeling triggered by the situation BEFORE leaping into an action that could lead to an unintended consequence. As a neutral third party, our coaches objectively help associates think through the issue, direct them to needed resources and consider how to frame an internal conversation in a way that promotes, rather than tarnishes their professional brand.

The conversations tend to fall into one of two main categories. The first type is Proactive career planning .

Associates at various points throughout their career call us and say things like:

  • “I am really happy here, but my ultimate goal is X. How do I make sure I am getting the right experience today to get there down the line? What is the path?”
  • “I got a call from a headhunter today that said if I don’t leave now, I will be too senior to get a decent job. Is that true?”
  • “What are the long-term options for someone in my practice area?”
  • “How can I gauge whether or not I am getting comparable experience to my peers?”
  • “When is the best time to start a family? Should I take advantage of parental leave policies or will that hurt my career?”
  • “I am attending an event this week and want to know what to say to potential clients?

These are precisely the types of questions engaged associates ought to be asking yet they are reticent to pose them internally for fear of being perceived as not ‘committed.‘

Performance reviews tend to serve as the catalyst for these types of calls. Associates concerned with how to frame a particular issue or highlight their contributions during their review reach out to us. Sometimes we get calls from associates after a performance appraisal. In both instances, the associates have a venue to think out loud with someone who understands their reality in order to determine how to deliver/interpret the review message, and gain greater clarity about actions they need to take in order to achieve their short- and long-term goals. Issue-based Problem-Solving

The second type of calls revolve around “spot” coaching for a wide range of issues such as:

  • navigating internal politics
  • on/off ramping for parental leave, secondments and clerkships
  • strategizing business development tactics
  • managing law firm transition points (from entry-level through retirement)
  • balancing work/life responsibilities

We also coach attorneys around the broad category of communication skills, which includes things like:

  • executive presence
  • presentation skills
  • delegating, supervising and feedback
  • time management
  • interpersonal interactions and conflict resolution
  • unconscious bias
  • leadership

These types of calls involve identifying how they see the issue based on what they believe to be true. As a result, we are able to isolate the internal/external obstacles — both real and imagined — interfering with success and strategize various approaches to lead to the desired outcome.

Engaged associates understand where their skills, talents and personal needs intersect with the Firm’s requirements. This enables them to make intentional choices to manage their career development.

We are pleased to play a role in facilitating the needed difficult conversations that help others explore their beliefs and expand their worldview. We believe it fosters engagement for the benefit of individuals and institutions and see positive results every day!


To learn more about PTR’s Coach on Demand program, contact: Kathleen Brady at or Carlynn Sweeney at

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