A coach training programme at international legal practice Osborne Clarke has produced both a cohort of internal coaches and a business support function that has led to improved talent retention and progression, an enhanced brand and reduced coaching costs. Guy Buckland reports


As an international legal practice, Osborne Clarke (OC) stands or falls by the quality of its people, and needs to attract, retain and progress talent from diverse backgrounds.

In spring 2016, we conducted a review of our lawyer population and identified a need to improve the following key business drivers (KBDs):

  • The rate of progression of talented lawyers, and their ability to take on more challenging roles
  • The length of time we retain lawyers
  • The support given to Partners and others in strategic leadership roles
  • The impact of senior business support professionals (BSPs) in their day-to-day interactions within the business, particularly with senior stakeholders.

We identified coaching as a key intervention for improving all these areas and decided to train an internal team which would enable us to deliver impactful coaching at scale and take a coaching approach in day-to-day business activities, to deliver our strategic outcomes.


Programme drivers

I wanted a holistic and sustainable development approach which aligned with the firm’s culture and would help build competitive advantage in the long term. Training people to be internal executive coaches would help meet our business goals in a way that achieved these aims, expanding the already successful use of coaching within OC in a sustainable and cost-effective manner.

I also wanted a collaborative approach to the design and delivery and, through a competitive tendering exercise, I chose Caroline Talbott Ltd, in partnership with her associate, Clare Smale of inspired2learn, to deliver training and ILM accreditation to expand the pool of accredited executive internal coaches while also training key senior BSPs in the same skills.

Says Caroline, “I have worked with Guy on several projects over the years and we have found that our complementary approaches and expertise enable us to work in a way that delivers quick and effective results. For instance, Guy can see the visionary big picture and has a deep understanding of L&D; I am able to turn his vision into a nuts and bolts programme, drawing also on my OD background.

“My previous work with inspired2learn indicated that Clare could bring expertise and robust support to the ILM accreditation process. We are both experienced coaches and trainers with complementary styles.”

One of the things that is unique about the programme is that we used a single model to develop the two sets of capability of executive coaches and BSPs able to use a coaching approach in their day-to day-work. We trained both groups together, using a common approach and materials, with the objective of helping everyone become the best coach they could be, regardless of how they would deploy their skills, and to facilitate shared learning. The Brinkerhoff research1 provided pointers for maximising business benefits.


Keys to success

Working with Caroline and Clare, I was confident we would form a team that could deliver the full stakeholder
buy-in and engagement of all involved, as well as designing and delivering effective upskilling.

From both research and our own experiences, we recognised that the following would be key to our success:

  • Gaining full stakeholder buy-in to the initiative, including support of the OC board and the managers of those taking part in the training
  • Identifying the appropriate people to train and become coaches
  • Engaging and briefing those identified as potential participants
  • Design and delivery of the training.

What we did

I worked with key stakeholders to gain support and commitment to both the concept and practicalities of the programme and to identify people who had the aptitude and/or experience to become great coaches or use a coaching approach, as well as having the opportunity to use those skills to produce significant business impact.

We briefed all of them face-to-face on the contents of the programme and the expectations of them, including the need to attend all the training sessions and prioritise them in relation to other work demands.

Everyone identified was invited to make a personal decision as to whether to participate in the training and whether additionally to pursue accreditation in ILM Level 5 Coaching & Mentoring. A total of 26 people have participated in the programme in two cohorts during 2016 and 2017.

Caroline and Clare designed and delivered a programme comprising four face-to-face, day-long workshops with an additional workshop for ILM candidates. Skills practice and feedback formed significant parts of the content.

Considerable effort went into pre-course preparation consisting of MBTI profiling, self-assessment of existing capability levels, one-to-one telephone conversations and pre-reading. Between workshops participants practised their coaching with real clients, which included preparation and reflection on their progress and development.

Those who had chosen to become accredited in the ILM Level 5 Certificate in Coaching & Mentoring were supported and assessed by Clare through induction, supervision, accreditation tutorials, feedback and guidance with their assignments and coaching diaries.

Clare encouraged candidates to seek plenty of help and guidance with the written assignments and coaching logs, including submitting draft written work for regular feedback. This quickly built candidates’ confidence in studying and assessment, as well as providing rigour and a quality outcome.


The challenges

There were three key challenges:

  1. Convincing participants to prioritise their training

All participants had challenging and demanding ‘day jobs’ to which a significant personal commitment was being added, especially for those pursuing accreditation. This required a high level of motivation on the part of participants and a significant amount of management on the part of course managers.

We mitigated this risk in part by:

  • Careful selection of participants with a high aptitude and interest in coaching, as well as helping each participant to articulate and affirm their personal goals and motivation to complete the course.
  • Removing the usual ‘claw-back’ clause regarding training courses that apply to individuals receiving training at OC, to demonstrate the firm’s commitment to them.
  • Encouraging participants to collaborate with each other.


  1. Instilling confidence in the participants

Not all participants occupied senior roles within the firm and some were not fully confident about their credibility as an executive coach at OC. My team shared feedback from the business and individual clients to demonstrate how each coach was making a significant positive impact, as well as matching coaching assignments to each coach’s level of confidence.

My L&D team also held two CPD events, covering subjects such as coaching ethics, process and broadening skills, thus developing a culture of continuous learning.


  1. Ensuring training is aligned with OC culture

The high-quality approach to this training ensured that coaching is knitted into the OC way of doing business. OC’s accredited coaches and BSPs now help our people think about how they work with each other and clients, which has resulted in better overall collaborations. It has been implemented in such a way that it reinforces the employee value proposition with participants.


Programme impact

First, there was an immediate impact on the capability of the participants and their use of coach-like approaches in business and personal interactions. We asked each participant to give us tangible examples of where they had put learning into practice and their thoughts on the benefits.

Second, there was an impact on those receiving coaching. At the outset of every coaching assignment clear business goals were agreed between the coach, client and business sponsor. The overwhelming feedback three to six months after coaching showed a positive impact on both behaviour and bottom-line business results, and an uplift in performance.

Third, the impact on our ability to deliver coaching widely across OC at no additional revenue cost, including adding coaching support to more personal development programmes as follow-up to promotion assessments.

Some 70% of our coaching is now carried out by internal coaches compared with 35% previously, all of which was by me!

A longer-term impact on KBDs is shown in Figure 1.



We have gained much and learnt a lot from the experiences with our first two cohorts of coaches and BSPs. The key challenges as we move forward are to increase their confidence in coaching very senior lawyers and in cracking the conundrum of combining the attainment of a challenging, worthwhile qualification with a demanding, busy work role.

We are reviewing our approach to coaching. Our business continues to grow and evolve, so we need to think about how we take our coaching impact up another level. We want to help our people succeed by giving their work and career, meaning and purpose personal to each individual. We think this is the best way to continue to attract, retain, develop and progress the best people. The challenge to do that never stops.


  • Guy Buckland is head of people development at Osborne Clarke and an executive coach
  • Caroline Talbott is a coach, trainer and author of Essential Career Transition Coaching Skills (Routledge, 2013)
  • Clare Smale is a director of inspired2learn, an ILM and CMI approved centre, offering qualifications in coaching, mentoring, leadership and management. She is author of Transform your Goals with VISION and The A-Z Coaching Handbook.




Senior associate Jane (not her real name) received coaching alongside her participation in the Female Senior Associate Development Programme. The coaching not only helped her to clarify her own career goals, it also enabled her to put plans in place to achieve them.

Jane said, “The confidence I gained from the coaching was huge. Just having someone challenge my beliefs was enough to get me thinking about what I could accomplish if I set my mind to it. The sponsorship process also got my line manager onside, which was important, as before the coaching we hadn’t been singing from the same hymn sheet.”

Six months after the coaching finished, Jane was promoted to associate director. Her internal coach, Deborah (also not her real name), was delighted. “Obviously Jane is the talented one, and did the work herself. But it’s great to have the opportunity to be part of an internal group that can facilitate impacts like this.”


The feedback

  • “My ability and perspective are the main things that have changed – once acquired you tend to use them automatically”
  • “Using a coaching approach in meetings I have increased influence over colleagues which in turn has helped me improve the quality of my working relationships”
  • “I had a person in my team who was struggling… after several scheduled coaching sessions they are a changed person”
  • “Had some much more meaningful conversations with [my spouse] on potentially tricky areas!”


Lawyer attrition

Talent progression in 2018

2014/15: 16.8%

2017/18: 12%

  • 5 candidates for fixed share partnership
  • 4 candidates for legal director
  • 3 candidates to equity partnership

All but one (a recent recruit) had received coaching from the internal team

Cost Saving

Reputation, brand and employee satisfaction

17 coaching programmes a year can be delivered by internal coaches saving £68K in external coaching

  • ‘RollOnFriday’ law firm of the year 2018
  • OC rated 4th in career development, with 82% employee approval rating

Figure 1: Longer-term impact on KPDs



  1. R O Brinkerhoff, ‘The Success Case Method: A strategic evaluation approach to increasing the value and effect of training’, in Advances in Developing Human Resources, 7(1), pp86-101, 2005
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