Executive coach (and former Solicitor)
Based in York, England.
Hi John, can you describe your legal background?
I left the law in 1994, with one year’s post-qualification experience. I was finding those early days very stressful, although I didn’t realise at the time that I wasn’t coping very well, nor that I could have asked for help from my firm. I left the law, and my lawyer’s salary, for a one-year intern role with a non-governmental organisation in Geneva, Switzerland. Who knows, if I had stayed in the same law firm, by now I might be in line to be senior partner; but I don’t regret my choice to leave.
What have you done since leaving the law?
I’ve done various things since leaving the law and returning from Geneva back to the UK.
I now work primarily for myself. I am an executive coach, coaching leaders in companies and organisations who want to improve their effectiveness, wellbeing or impact at work. I also work part-time for a coach training company; I think and write about leadership; and I have a very part-time role teaching leadership and management at the University of York’s Centre for Applied Human Rights.
What is your educational background?
Law Degree, Lancaster University.
When did you qualify?
What do you enjoy most about your job?
The chance to help good people doing good work to be even better at what they do.
What is the hardest part of your job?
Marketing. Despite all the evidence that people are interested in what I do, it’s still an effort to make contacts or initiate a pitch.
What have you found to be the greatest myth about being a lawyer?
That winning at law is about justice. It’s just as often about research, case preparation and case presentation.
What advice would you give to your pre-law school self?
“Don’t change your mind”; I’ve never regretted completing my legal training.
Do you have any tips for handling difficult clients?
They’re not difficult clients, they’re just clients I find difficult. They’re human, they have rights and needs. So I need to listen well, suspend judgment, stand up for myself and my profession, and be open to compromise.
Do you have any advice for lawyers just starting out?
Don’t overdo the sympathy for your clients – you’ll burn out. Don’t be a lawyer just for the money – you’ll burn out. Operate from your humanity and compassion – otherwise you’ll burn out.
Do you do any volunteering/pro bono work etc?
Plenty, in my local community and in my faith group (Quakers).
What would you say is the best tool you have at your disposal?
My best tools include being able to ask powerful questions; to listen behind the words; and to bring my curiosity and empathy without needing to ‘fix’ people.
Who is the lawyer you most admire and why?
Albie Sachs, a white former South African freedom fighter; he ended up as a judge on the Constitutional Court of South Africa.
Is there a quote which defines you?
“Be the change you wish to see” Gandhi.
The view from John’s window
Which law would you change and why?
The laws which permit routine detention of asylum seekers in the UK.
Which book have you found most influential?
Too many to mention; but a selection includes:
Man’s Search for Meaning (Viktor Frankl)
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (Robert Pirsig)
The Chimp Paradox (Steve Peters)
Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway (Susan Jeffers)
Staring at the Sun (Irvin Yalom)
The Artist’s Way (Julia Cameron)
What 3 things would you take with you on a desert island?
A piano; running shoes; a never-ending book of crosswords.
What is the step/change you are most glad you’ve taken in life?
Realising at the age of 16 that I didn’t have to be part of the in-crowd, I could choose to do what I was interested in doing instead.
What is the first thing you think of when you hear the word ‘lawyer’?
What does a lawyer represent to you as a concept?
Magna Carta – the right to be represented, and not to ‘disappear’ or suffer arbitrary detention (as happens in too many countries around the world).
What is the best lawyer joke you’ve heard?
Client: How much do you charge?
Lawyer: £1,000 for three questions.
Client: That’s quite expensive isn’t it?
Lawyer: No, I don’t think so – and what’s your third question?
Thank you very much for your time, John.
To find out more about him and the work he does, visit John Gray’s website.