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Coaching Lawyers to Better Futures


Seven years into her legal career, Whittney Fruin decided she wanted to try something other than practicing law. She wanted a new challenge that used the lawyering skills she most enjoyed and the opportunity to work with people to solve their problems intrigued her.

After graduating from UCLA School of Law in 2000, she clerked for a federal judge, handled private equity and securities transactions at a big firm, worked in-house at a pharmaceutical company, and taught corporate finance at California Western School of Law.

In those seven years, she found that what she enjoyed most about lawyering was helping people solve problems; Fruin was leaning toward therapy or family counseling in her hunt for a new career. But then several people suggested she become a life coach.

“I thought, ‘That sounds kind of kooky,’” she recalled. “But then I learned that it involves talking with people about their lives and helping them thrive. It didn’t require a master’s and there’s no past healing work, which didn’t interest me anyway.” Fruin wanted to help clients achieve future goals, not work on problems related to the past. Life coaching seemed like a perfect fit.

Fruin enrolled in a one-year/one-weekend-a-month life coach training program in San Diego, where she was living. Eventually, she was certified by the International Coach Federation and opened her own practice.

Many of her clients, it turned out, were attorneys. Their goals would “run the gamut,” including improving their chances of making partner and developing business, Fruin recalled. She’d help them define their goals, create a project to achieve those goals, and help them meet milestones.

Three years later, Fruin decided that she wanted to continue working as a life coach but wanted to move in-house. “I had a great work-from-home life, but I didn’t like it,” she explained. She was largely isolated working from home. “I wanted to be on a team, to be around people doing interesting things.”

She joined Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, LLC, which employs not one but two life coaches. Based in the Los Angeles office, Fruin helps Orrick lawyers with career development, performance review issues, team relationship management, and assisting lawyers who just feel overwhelmed.

“Sometimes a life coach will just listen,” Fruin said about the “100 percent confidential” conversations. “I’m trained to listen without sharing an opinion. I can then reflect and reframe issues for them.”

Having a legal background herself has helped Fruin succeed in the position. “I relate to lawyers and their way of thinking about the world.” In addition, her experience “managing a lot of content and a lot of moving parts” prepared her for life coaching multiple clients with varying issues.

Law school, in particular, helped “shaped my brain,” Fruin added. “When you first read cases, you think everything is important. But then you learn that some of it is noise and start to hone in on the info you need. Now I listen in that way. Especially, if I’m working with someone who is upset. I can parse that stuff out and get at what’s really underneath everything and get them some resolution. I’m looking and listening for the meat and getting the person to drill down to that, as opposed to the noise.”

Leslie A. Gordon Freelance legal affairs journalist and corporate writer/editor for law firms and other professional service firms. Former staff writer at The Daily Journal, a legal affairs newspaper in San Francisco. A "recovering" lawyer, also spent five years as an adjunct professor teaching writing at UC Hastings College of the Law. Author of the novels HEADS OR TAILS and CHEER.

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