Supervision: The ‘Repair Shop’ for Family Lawyers

My client, a senior associate, revealed that she was struggling at work. She described: lacking motivation, doubting her professional judgement, losing confidence, sleeping badly and not even enjoying her time off. Working in family law can bring many pressures which take their toll. As a result, some lawyers consider leaving the profession.

For this reason, I believe that the tailored support of coaching/ supervision can make all the difference. Many professional bodies require that their members be supervised, but surprisingly, not the legal profession known for its high exposure to stress and pressures.

Ed Heaton (Ed Heaton Coaching) said:

“Having been a family law solicitor for 17 years before re-training as a coach with a particular focus on career development in the legal sector, I have witnessed, and indeed experienced, first-hand the considerable stresses and strains under which family lawyers operate (…) Coaching, supervision should not be seen as a quick-fix or a luxury but rather as a sound and essential investment in a firm’s most important asset – its people.”

Some law firms request that I coach their staff. To that effect, I foster a safe space to think, unburden, pause and explore. Crucially, I ensure that clients feel fully and truly heard. Feeling supported and understood, having a safe platform for sharing both successes and failures, can alleviate the feelings of isolation, fear and doubt felt by many lawyers. Investing in coaching can be an effective way for firms to retain talent and certainly shows their commitment to staff wellbeing. Supervision is potentially beneficial to all levels in a firm, from young lawyers to newly appointed partners and senior associates.

Coaching addresses personal and interpersonal issues such as: dealing with a range of difficult situations and people; managing pressure; working and communicating well with clients and colleagues; work/life balance; confidence; wellness. In the case of my client, we examined the reasons for her loss of professional belief; put them in perspective; identified her triggers and explored coping strategies. Clearly coaching provides developmental support with structure and accountability. Supervision can also include ethical and legal dimensions.

‘I have found your coaching and professional support invaluable. You enable me to talk through issues without judgment’. ‘I look forward to our coaching sessions, they replenish me and remind me that I am actually competent’.

Coaching is supportive, confidential, non-judgmental and discreet. The International Coaching Federation (ICF) defines coaching as ‘partnering with clients in a thought provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximise their personal and professional potential’. Kim Morgan, CEO of Barefoot Coaching and provider of supervision for coaches, sees it as ‘the best and most tailored CPD you will ever get’. She describes supervision as ‘a platform for self-reflection, self-awareness, support and self-development’. Her view is that all professionals who are at the receiving end of constant outpouring of emotions, can benefit from such support, because the quality of their work and their state of mind have a direct impact on people.

This perspective is echoed by Chris Mills, Clinical & Organisational Supervisor:

“Supervision provides essential support for any professional practitioner dealing directly with human emotions. To be working constantly and at depth with the emotional states of other people has an impact on practitioners that they need to understand and be able to express to a third party in order to remain healthy and effective.”

Gillian Bishop (Solicitor, Arbitrator & Collaborative Lawyer) who introduced the FLiP’s diploma in family law supervision said:

“As we ease out of lockdown, we have the chance to look back at what we have learned over the last 12 months or so. I hope that one of the lessons is that, as family law practitioners, we have to look after ourselves first before we can look after others. My experience of one – to – one supervision has been invaluable. It is an opportunity to pause and reflect on my work and to talk about ways I can improve the way I practice for the benefit of my clients as well as myself. As I engage with clients, colleagues or other professionals I hear the wisdom of my supervisor ringing in my ears which steers my interactions to positive effect.”

Similarly, Nancy Kline, creator of ‘The Thinking Environment’ added:

“Supervision is an opportunity to bring someone back to their own mind, to show them how good they can be.”

This perspective, as well as the relationship of trust and sense of shared purpose between client and coach, is what motivates me. Indeed, I have witnessed profound shifts in consciousness, leading to change of mindset and as a consequence, experience of work.

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