LL.M. students need to be coachable

By Desiree Jaeger-Fine 

We talk a lot about networking as an important factor in an L.LM. student’s success, but there is another much-overlooked element that many L.LM. students are blissfully unaware of—coachability.

Coachability refers to our capacity to solicit, receive, and integrate feedback. Those who are coachable appreciate that there are other ways to approach situations and that there are things that we can learn from others. Being coachable is not a sign of weakness or vulnerability; it is, to the contrary, a sign of fortitude.

As a foreign LL.M. student who may not yet have spent any considerable time in the U.S., there are many things that we need to learn. Culture in general, but especially business culture, is quite different from that in other countries. It took me quite some time to find my groove here in the U.S. and I am still learning.

We all know people who lack the ability to be coached. These people would rather remain convinced of their correctness than improve what they do. They refuse to take personal responsibility for their actions; they resist feedback by being defensive or making excuses; they blame others for their shortcomings; they lack general interest in self-assessment or self-improvement; they are not receptive to change or to learning new things or new approaches; and they exude a sense of negativity and pessimism. LL.M. students with these traits will get stuck somewhere along their pursuit in the U.S.

Those who are coachable, however, possess endless potential. They embrace a commitment to learning and improving; they accept responsibility for their behavior and do not look to place blame or responsibility on others; they demonstrate a strong sense of self-awareness by recognizing their own weaknesses; they demonstrate tolerance for a high degree of candor by soliciting, actively listening to, synthesizing, and integrating constructive feedback.

Coachable LL.M. students are willing to learn new things and ways of doing things, and to go outside their comfort zone and engage in discussions that might be uncomfortable; and they appreciate the perspectives of others, which they view as opportunities to learn and grow.

Have you ever had a conversation with someone who was seeking advice or assistance, and who had a “but” response or counterargument to every suggestion you offered? These LLM students are not easily coachable. They are not truly looking for advice or solutions, they are looking for validation, and when they do not receive it they become defensive. Others who are not coachable are those who always have excuses and explanations for missteps.

Being coachable requires that we accept that there are things that we do not know. And as a foreign L.LM. student in the U.S., there are many things we do not know. Consequently, there must be people whose judgment we come to trust so deeply and inherently that we accept their guidance even when we are unable to appreciate its wisdom. Have confidence in those whose judgment you value and learn to be coachable.

Desiree Jaeger-Fine is principal of Jaeger-Fine Consulting, LLC, a career management firm for international attorneys in New York, and author of "A Short & Happy Guide to Networking" (West Academic Publishing) and "A Short & Happy Guide to Being Hired" (West Academic Publishing).