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Coaching Google Execs (Among Others)

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When Michael Melcher entered the joint JD/MBA program at Stanford University, he had “no clear view” of what he wanted to do. But having worked in the US Foreign Service before law school, he was interested in public policy and international work.

After graduating in 1994, he joined the securities practice at Davis Polk & Wardwell in New York and later went in-house at a hedge fund. He then embarked on a series of different jobs, including cofounding a start-up and even cowriting The Student Body, a novel under the pen name Jane Harvard. In 2001, Melcher found himself “out of ideas.” He began working with an executive coach and soon wondered if he could do something like that. At preliminary trainings, he discovered that “people were interested in ways I could help them.”

Melcher earned his coaching certification from the Hudson Institute of Santa Barbara and has worked for more than 12 years at Next Step Partners, a New York executive coaching and leadership development firm. His clients include Google, the National Resources Defense Council, AOL, Doctors Without Borders, law firms, and tech start-ups. Much of his work is international and includes both non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and private-sector companies. “In some ways, I’m doing what I originally set out to do,” Melcher said.

As the author of The Creative Lawyer: A Practical Guide to Authentic Professional Satisfaction, Melcher said finding the right job may include trial and error. “Most lawyers are logical, thinking, ‘What do I want to be and how can I get there?’ But experimenting—taking a step and determining what you like and don’t like—is more true to how rewarding careers develop.” In Melcher’s own case, working for a hedge fund was “not a growth moment for me,” he recalled. “I need people and creativity. Earlier in my career, I didn’t realize it. But eventually, I saw it.”

Fortunately, a law degree is beneficial for a variety of careers, including what he does, Melcher added. “Law is really about language and speaking precisely. Coaching is about language and communication, about distinguishing the presenting issue from the real issue. Plus, law hones critical-thinking skills. Lawyers can take a large mass of data and identify what’s important. That’s key.” Among his fellow coaches, the ones who were once lawyers are more professional, Melcher added. “Law gives self-discipline and professional skills. When you’re in a client-service job, it raises level of standards of what you deliver. That’s good training.”

For law students who may want a more eclectic career like Melcher’s, he offered this advice: “Tak[e] a look at yourself and be honest about what you enjoy doing. Don’t just conform. Honor what you’re excited about.”

Vol. 43 No. 3

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.