A Q&A with O’Melveny’s Dedicated Career Coach
February 18, 2016
Jim Moore describes himself as a “bridge builder.” As the career coach at O’Melveny—one of only a handful of large law firms to have a dedicated career coach nationwide—he acts as a sounding board, counselor, reality check, and advisor for anyone who seeks out his services. Over the course of his five-year stint in this role, Jim has seen nearly 600 lawyers. Sometimes the lawyers just need an answer to a specific question or issue, sometimes they check in once or twice a year, and sometimes they meet him every month to make sure their careers are on track. In the Q&A below, Jim details how his role came into being, how it has evolved, and what lessons he has learned along the way.
What does a career coach do at a law firm?
This varies depending on the firm. Some career coaches, like me, work with attorneys at all levels of seniority. Others may limit the parameters of their programs to targeted groups like first-year attorneys. In general, however, all career coaches provide confidential career support for attorneys trying to navigate the waters of a large law firm. These coaches can help with everything from the mundane—drafting self-reports or how to take a leave of absence—to more complex issues —questioning career choices or how to make a career change.
Is this common at law firms or unique to O’Melveny?
At this point only a handful of law firms have internal career coaches in place. Some firms use outside coaches, but there can be a distinct benefit to having someone internally providing a wider and more accessible service to attorneys. At O’Melveny, I had an advantage of being a prior practicing attorney at the firm. So when I transitioned into my role in 2010, many people already knew and trusted me.
What’s your role specifically?
I see my primary role at O’Melveny as bridge building—I don’t solve problems as much as I provide tools and methods to help our attorneys communicate with their partners and peers. I encourage more open communications among our associates, partners, and firm alumni. When I do my job well, I give people the resources they need to find their own way. Sometimes that’s as a coach, encouraging people to be proactive in their careers. Sometimes it’s as a counselor, providing direct advisement. In all cases, I provide an unbiased ear to listen to issues.
What were the specific objectives of the coaching program initially? Have they evolved over time?
O’Melveny recognized that not all associates joining our team have a long-term goal of becoming a partner and certainly not everyone would be the right fit for that role. Living in the fiction that partnership is the only career path wasn’t valuable to anyone in the long run. Creating the career coach role validated the firm’s belief that all our attorneys have value no matter what path they take, whether that’s partnership, public service, government, or in-house with one of our clients.
How the role has changed over time is interesting. While confidentiality is always paramount in importance, initially there was a ground-level concern about even being seen walking into my office. I would frequently get requests to meet off-site at a clandestine location. That stigma has generally fallen by the wayside and most of our associates and partners now recognize that seeking the advice of a career counselor does not necessarily equate to unhappiness or an impending career change.
What would you say are the tangible benefits to 1) the organization and 2) the individual associates?
There are many. First and foremost, it helps our lawyers feel fully supported in all aspects of their lives, which is a priority for O’Melveny. Knowing the firm was willing to put someone in place to talk about their careers makes lawyers feel more comfortable talking about their needs and ideas in general, which increases our collegial environment and the transparency throughout the firm.
Second, it helps create happy alumni. If someone comes to me looking to make a change and I’m able to provide them with the tools to do that, it spreads goodwill, which can come back to the firm in terms of client work or referrals or an extended network of O’Melveny alums who have found their perfect jobs.
How would you describe the key “lessons learned” through speaking with O’Melveny’s attorneys that you now can pass along to other firms or lawyers?
Now that I’ve been doing this for five years, I’ve come to recognize patterns. For example, it’s very common for a first-year attorney, after about eight months practicing, to have a moment of panic that there is no tangible end date like the end of a semester or completion of an internship or clerkship. I can walk them through this and normalize that experience. Many of our mid-level associates hit a cross-roads in terms of where they want to take their careers in the short and/or long term. I share that this is a common experience that even many of the partners faced at that stage of their careers.
I’ve learned that our partners, in general, want the associates to have fulfilling and satisfying careers. The more I can get partners to share their experiences and talk about how they’ve evolved through their decision-making in their careers, the more it encourages the associates. Everyone likes to hear they aren’t alone in their concerns—a “you’re not crazy” reassurance.
How does this career counseling fit in with other O’Melveny programs?
The creation of my role was rather progressive, but that fits in with the firm’s innovative policies. When someone comes to me about an issue I can point them to our other programs like our flexible-work program or secondment program or business development trainings. O’Melveny has extensive maternity and paternity leave and specific coaches to help lawyers transition back to work after an extended leave of absence. Or, they may be considering utilizing our sabbatical program if they need a change or a break. So when people come asking for help, I can point them to the resources the firm has in place.