One-on-one coaching is the most effective curriculum to foster each student’s growth toward later stages of development on both legal education’s foundational learning outcomes and each student’s post-graduation goals. Legal education’s foundational formation-of-student-professional-identity learning outcomes are: (1) each student’s ownership of continuous professional development toward excellence at the competencies that clients, employers, and the legal system need; and (2) a deep responsibility and service orientation to others, particularly the client. Empirical research shows that law students’ ultimate goals are bar passage and meaningful post-graduation employment.
The students are at different stages of development on both of the two foundational learning outcomes above and the two student goals of bar passage and meaningful post-graduation employment. An effective curriculum has to go where each student is developmentally and engage at the student’s current developmental stage; this is why individualized one-on-one coaching is so powerful.
An effective coach with these goals is offering individualized guided reflection and guided self-assessment to foster each student’s growth. What are the most important capacities and skills for an effective coach? A reader who wants a twenty-page overview of the scholarly literature on effective coaching should look at Neil Hamilton, The Foundational Skill of Reflection in the Formation of a Professional Identity, 17 U. ST. THOMAS L.J. (forthcoming 2022), available at http://ssrn.com/abstract=3921251
The table below summarizes the most important capacities and skills needed by a coach for law students.
Foundational Capacities and Skills Needed by a Coach for Law Students
A reader who wants to focus on growing to the next level with respect to active listening skills should look at Lindsey Gustafson, Aric Short, & Neil Hamilton, Teaching and Assessing Active Listening as a Foundational Skill for Lawyers as Leaders, Counselors, Negotiators, and Advocates, 62 SANTA CLARA L.REV (forthcoming, 2022), available at http://ssrn.com/abstract= 3830107
Note that there is empirical evidence that a forty-five-to-sixty-minute coaching interview to promote student reflection with respect to self-directed learning is effective and can have an important and lasting impact on a student. For example, a study of 102 undergraduates (with a mean age of twenty-one) involved a trained interviewer conducting a one-on-one, in-person interview designed to promote reflection about the student’s purpose in life, core values, and most important life goals. The study included both a pretest and a posttest nine months later, for assessing the impact of the interview. On average, the coaching engagement led to benefits for student goal-directedness toward life purpose nine months later. The authors suggest that these conversations are “a triggering event [that] would impel an emerging adult, who is likely in this stage of life to be predisposed to identity exploration, to reflect on life beyond the interview in considering his or her life path.” In general, individualizing students’ learning experiences, so that the students can practice versus just observe, and combining these individualized experiences with an instructor who provides continuous feedback to the students have been associated with more learning benefits than large-group training with respect to self-directed learning.
We will be creating some modules for this website for the reader to practice coaching capacities and skills. We recommend the coaching guide below that we provide to our coaches at the University of St. Thomas School of Law who are coaching 1L students in January and February of the spring semester on each student’s written plan to use the student’s remaining semesters of law school most effectively to achieve the student’s goals of bar passage and meaningful post-graduation employment. The guide gives good examples of powerful, open questions to foster each student’s guided reflection and self-assessment.
Coaching Guide for a Meeting on Each 1L Student’s ROADMAP
© Neil Hamilton and Jerry Organ
As a ROADMAP coach, you are part of a national movement led by UST Law to foster each student’s professional development and formation more holistically. The two major goals of the movement are to help each student grow to later stages of development regarding:
- the student’s pro-active ownership of continuous professional development toward excellence at the competencies that clients, employers and the legal system need; and
- a deep responsibility and service orientation toward others, especially the client.
In other words, each law student has to grow from being a passive student, where the student just does what the professors ask, to become a pro-active lawyer owning and planning her own development including an orientation of deep care/service for the client. As a major step to facilitate each student’s growth in these ways, each 1L student at UST Law at the start of the second semester has to spend several hours both reading Professor Hamilton’s book, ROADMAP: THE LAW STUDENT’S GUIDE TO MEANINGFUL EMPLOYMENT (2d ed. 2018), and creating a written ROADMAP plan to use the student’s remaining time in law school most effectively to achieve the student’s goals of bar passage and meaningful post-graduation employment.
Current empirical research points toward one-on-one coaching for each student as the most effective curriculum to foster this type of student growth. It also points toward the importance of one-on-one coaching and guided reflection at the major transition points in law school, and the period right after first semester grades are out (January/February of the 1L year) is a major transition point where each student needs guided reflection to create a written plan for the student to use the next two and a half years most effectively to reach the student’s goal of bar passage and meaningful post-graduation employment. This is a particularly important transition point for the students who did not do as well academically after the first semester as they hoped; they especially need guided reflection about how to gain experience and develop their strengths to realize their goals of bar passage and meaningful post-graduation employment.
Empirical evidence points toward three key foundational competencies for a good coach in this context:
- actively listen to understand both where the student is developmentally and what are the student’s post-graduation goals as best the student can discern them at this time;
- asking powerful open questions to raise the student’s awareness and responsibility; and
- facilitating the student’s growth toward the next stage of development regarding the student’s pro-active ownership of continuous professional development toward excellence at the competencies that clients and employers in the student’s area of post-graduation employment interest need, and a deep responsibility and service orientation toward others, especially the client.
Part II of this Coaching Guide discusses the ROADMAP process in which the students are engaged. Part III discusses your coaching goals, and Part IV provides a separate Question Template document of powerful open questions for fostering a meaningful conversation with the student about the student’s goals and plans.
II. The ROADMAP Process
The data available indicate both that a major goal for law students is meaningful post-graduate employment and that 50-60% of the 1L and third semester 2L students are at an early stage of development with respect to taking ownership over their own professional growth in order to achieve meaningful employment (self-directed learning). At the same time, all law faculties are adopting learning outcomes that include the ABA required minimum competency in “the exercise of proper professional and ethical responsibilities to clients and the legal system,” but in addition many faculties are adopting learning outcomes that go substantially beyond the ABA minimum to include fostering each student’s moral core/values of responsibility and service to others including the disadvantaged. It makes common sense that a student has to take substantial responsibility for him or herself in terms of professional development of the necessary skills before the student can do much in terms of responsibility and service to others as a lawyer.
The breakthrough concept of the ROADMAP curriculum is to go to each student’s shoes (developmental stage) and to help each student understand the student’s goals of self-sufficiency/meaningful employment are best realized through two the following faculty learning outcomes:
(1) each student should create and implement a written professional development plan to grow toward excellence at the competencies needed to serve others well (self- directed learning); and
(2) each student should understand and internalize an ethic of responsibility and service to others (this is the subtext message of the student’s ROADMAP value proposition and all the chapters about relationships).
Note that the meta-message is that all lawyers should develop the habits of both creating and implementing written professional development plans. Every lawyer should also seek and reflect upon veteran lawyer feedback on both the plans and the internalization of deep responsibilities and service to the client and others.
The figure below outlines the ROADMAP process.
Each 1L student will spend a minimum of five hours to draft a ROADMAP template that outlines the student’s reflection on the following steps:
ASSESSMENT OF YOURSELF
- What are your strengths?
- What are the characteristics of past work/service experience where you have found the most meaning and positive energy? Are there particular groups of people whom you have served where you have drawn the most positive energy in helping them? What specific strengths and competencies were you using in this work or service?
- How do you self-assess your trustworthiness in the past to help others on important matters? How do others who know your past work/service assess your trustworthiness?
- Looking at the competencies that clients and legal employers want, how do you self-assess what are your strongest competencies? How do others who know your past work/service assess your strongest competencies?
- How do your strengths and strongest competencies match up with the competencies that legal employers and clients want?
- Step back and think creatively about the changing legal market and possible entrepreneurial responses to those changes. Could you demonstrate some innovative ideas and differentiating competencies to help potential employers and clients to be more successful in this changing legal market?
ASSESSMENT OF YOUR MOST PROMISING OPTIONS FOR EMPLOYMENT
- Can you create a tentative list of the most promising options for employment where you see the best match among your strengths, the characteristics of past work that have given you the most positive energy, and the competencies that legal employers want?
- What is your value proposition to demonstrate to these potential employers that you can add value beyond the standard technical legal skills to help the employers’ clients and the employer itself to be more successful?
YOUR PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT PLAN
- How do you plan to use your remaining time in law school to gain good experience at your most promising options for meaningful employment so that you can confirm or eliminate (or add to) your list of most promising employment options? What metrics will you create to assess whether you are implementing your plan?
- How do you plan to use your remaining time in law school, including the curriculum and all the other experiences of law school, most effectively to develop the competencies that support your value proposition? Are you assessing your progress in implementing your plan?
- What evidence are you collecting to demonstrate to potential employers your development at your differentiating competencies? What evidence do you want to develop going forward?
- How do you plan to develop long-term relationships based on trust with other lawyers, particularly senior lawyers and judges who can give feedback on your employment plan, help you with experiences to implement it, and help provide evidence that you have developed a competency? Are you assessing your progress in implementing this plan?
- What is your biggest fear or roadblock holding you back in implementing any of the steps above?
- How will you most effectively communicate your value to specific potential employers on your list of most promising employment options? Have you worked with the Career and Professional Development office to develop an effective communication and interviewing plans.
III. Coaching Goals
The main coaching goal is to help each student to understand the importance of pro-actively creating and implementing a professional development plan to grow toward excellence at the competencies needed to serve clients well, and to seek feedback on the plan from veterans, both now and over a career. This is called the competency of self-directed learning in the literature. A second principal coaching goal is to help each student to understand that he or she will succeed at the goal of meaningful employment and career success through an ethic of deep responsibility and service to the client and others.
Note that while self-directed learning is a critical competency for each law student and new lawyer, as emphasized above, a surprising 50-60% of the 1L and third-semester 2L law students are at an earlier stage of this competency than where they should be in terms of both their own self-interest and the interests of their law schools and the profession itself.
You can see that steps 1-6 of the ROADMAP ask the student to identify the student’s strengths in the context of the competencies that legal employers and clients want. Each student has a narrative or story of experiences prior to law school that helped the student develop strengths and competencies on which the student can build. Help the student to understand that he or she is building on an existing narrative of strengths.
Note that some students may feel that they don’t know enough to respond to Step 7 with a list of most promising employment options. Please stress that the student needs experience to test whether employment options are a good fit or not so it is better to identify options and start exploring them. Moreover, a veteran lawyer can help a student far more if the student has a plan with specific options to explore rather than having no idea what the student wants to do with her law degree. The idea is that this is a work in progress; the student will be revising her list of “top three employment options” as she gains experience.
Step 8 of the ROADMAP asks the student to articulate a value proposition. Ask the student why an employer included in one of her top employment options should hire the student instead of other candidates? What specific competencies differentiate this student from her peers? Indiana law professor Bill Henderson emphasizes, “There is a glut in the market for entry level law graduates. Further, virtually all [students] lack the skills needed to differentiate themselves.” We want to help students begin to be able to articulate how they add value and how they can differentiate themselves.
Steps 9 and 10 focus on how to use the student’s remaining two and a half years in law school both to gain good experience at one or more of the student’s top three employment options and to develop toward later stages of the differentiating competencies that the student is emphasizing. The accompanying guide provides a framework for talking through this “planning” process with students.
Step 11 asks the student to begin thinking about how the student can develop relationships with faculty or lawyers who can ultimately will be in a position to provide recommendations. This is evidence of a student’s later stage development of a competency that the student is emphasizing. Note that many students do not focus on having strong evidence to back up the student’s value proposition of differentiating competencies. Talk through with the student the importance of having at least two professors and two practicing lawyers or judges who have good evidence of the competencies that the student is emphasizing.
Step 12 of the ROADMAP asks the student to create a networking plan that helps the student to build trust relationships that help the student gain experience and build the student’s competencies.
Step 13 asks the student to reflect on the major roadblocks or fears that are holding the student back with respect to any of the earlier steps.
Step 14 of the ROADMAP directs students to take advantage of the resources available in the Career and Professional Development office to assist the student in her job search process.
IV. Suggested Powerful Open Questions for the Meeting with the Student
Begin by talking briefly about how you wish you had help of this kind during law school to create a professional development plan with feedback from veteran lawyers. Then begin the process of talking with the student about his/her experiences and where he/she would like to be upon graduation. This Question Template is fairly thorough. It is not imperative that you ask *every* question or get to every single topic. We know the conversation is only going to be 30-45 minutes generally. Rather, we want you to find the major areas of need/interest for each student and cover a range of the things the student needs to be thinking about to get from where they are to where they want to be. Phrased differently, we are looking for you to be a new voice -- a trusted and experienced voice – who can both encourage the student and press him/her toward articulating and actively pursuing steps on a career path.
- Drawing on Steps 1-6, ask the student to share both strengths and earlier experiences in which serving others has had the most energizing aspect or a life-giving quality. A good way to break the ice at the beginning is just to ask the student about both what his or her parents and family members do for a living, and what the student’s best employment experiences have been. Listen carefully for natural networks and strong competencies that the student can build upon. What are the student’s existing references? What will they say about the student’s strengths?
- Connecting with Step 7, ask the student to describe the discernment process that led the student to identify the student’s three most promising employment options at this time.
- It is helpful here to make sure you have an understanding of the student’s academic situation and his or her sense of how to make progress on the law school learning curve. Ask “How did your first semester go in terms of your academic performance?” (What are your grades?) This is an important question to get answered to understand where someone is situated moving forward. For students who did not have a good first semester, that experience can be demoralizing. Grades will not be their “doorway” into opportunity – they will have to develop competencies and network to create opportunities. They also will need to consider an academic program (5. Below) geared toward preparing them to pass the bar exam. That is the key hurdle for them in terms of creating professional opportunities. In the Serving Clients Well course this January (of which the ROADMAP is a component), we discussed the importance of a “growth” mindset. That might be a point worth reiterating.
- Building on Step 8, ask the student why an employer included in one of her top employment options should hire the student instead of other candidates? Ask: “What value do you think you can bring to an employer to help the employer and its clients be successful beyond just technical legal skills? What specific competencies differentiate you from your peers?”
- Focusing on Steps 9 and 10, explore with the student what the student’s plans are for using the remaining two and a half years in law school both to gain good experience at the student’s top three employment options and to develop toward later stages of the differentiating competencies that the student is emphasizing. Ask the student to outline how she intends to achieve the student’s goals over the next five semesters by using:
- summer and part-time work experiences;
- volunteer activities;
- the Mentor Externship Program;
- the curriculum (skills courses, doctrinal subjects of interest, clinical experiences, externships); and
- co-curricular activities;
Questions worth talking through with the student might include the following:
- What are your thoughts on this coming summer? Broadly speaking, the summer provides opportunities for part-time or full-time work, opportunities to volunteer, and opportunities to take summer classes in lieu of or in addition to work or volunteer opportunities. Have you thought about when you might want to get part-time work experience in an area of interest to you? Are you watching for opportunities in Symplicity?
- How are you doing on your 50 hours of public service? Have you thought much about ways in which some volunteer opportunities might help you explore some of your areas of interest? By the time they graduate, students need to have performed (and logged) 50 hours of public service. It does not need to be pro bono public service. Students should be thinking about volunteer opportunities that align with their areas of interest or that will help them develop and demonstrate competencies.
- What have you learned from your mentor experiences? Have you considered requesting a mentor for next year in one of your interest areas? You should talk with the Mentor Externship Directors about the possibilities that might exist. It is always useful to “cross-sell” and help students see the Mentor Externship Program not only as a professional development opportunity generally, but more specifically as a program that can help them explore and build networks in areas of interest to them?
- Have you given much thought to your courses for next year and the year after?
Ask the student to pencil in a four semester “tentative plan” on the ROADMAP Goals Worksheet. (One benefit of summer school is that it allows the student to take a lighter load some semester in the future which might facilitate more productive part-time work opportunities.)
- Have you thought about extracurricular activities that would help you demonstrate competencies? Law journal, Journal of Law and Public Policy, moot court, trial team, leadership opportunities in student organizations, student government, etc.
6. Connecting Step 7 and Steps 9 and 10 and 11 and 12, ask the student how the student plans to develop trust relationships with professors and with lawyers in the profession (particularly in areas related to employment options) to help provide evidence to support the student’s interest, competencies and value proposition regarding areas of employment of interest to the student. This segues into the development of a networking plan to be implemented over the coming semesters.
7. With regard to Step 13, ask the student to reflect on the major roadblocks or fears that are holding the student back with respect to any of the earlier steps.
8. Finally, in connection with Step 14, ask the student specifically whether the student has sought the help of the Career and Professional Development office with respect to how best to communicate the student’s experiences, interests, competencies and value proposition?
9. Note that the biggest hurdle for many students in terms of actually implementing the student’s ROADMAP plan is that the student is too busy. A student must create and implement a calendar with specific goals and specific assessment metrics with respect to the student’s top employment options and overall differentiating competencies. The figure below may prove useful.
 Matthew J. Bundick, The Benefits of Reflecting on and Discussing Purpose in Life in Emerging Adulthood, 132 New Directions Youth Dev. 89, 93 (2011).
 Id. at 93.
 Id. at 97–98.
 Id. at 98.
 Ryan Brydges et al., Self-Regulated Learning in Simulation-Based Training: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis, 49 Med. Educ. 368, 369–70, 372, 374 (2015).
 Neil Hamilton, Mentor/Coach: The Most Effective Curriculum to Foster Each Student’s Professional Development and Formation, 17 UNIV. ST. THOMAS L.J. (forthcoming 2022)(available at http://ssrn.com/abstract=3747309)
 ABA Accreditation Standard 302.
 Malcolm Knowles defined self-directed learning as “a process by which individuals take the initiative, with or without the assistance of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identifying the human and material resources for learning, choosing and implementing appropriate learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes.” MALCOLM KNOWLES, SELF-DIRECTED LEARNING: A GUIDE FOR LEARNERS AND TEACHERS 18 (1975). Legal educators, legal employers and the profession itself want each law student and new lawyer to take ownership over her own self-directed learning so that she continually improves over a career toward excellence at all the competencies needed to serve clients and others well. This is highly beneficial to the law student also.