Thomas E. Stephan, J.D., CLC is the self-proclaimed Chief Navigating Officer of Stephan Coaching and Search, LLC. With over 30 years of combined legal practice, and legal search and professional coaching, Thomas deeply appreciates assisting clients in seizing their opportunities to improve their lives, their careers, and their practices.
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In Thomas' words:
Since you asked, allow me to share a little background and some key milestones along my journey. I am, basically, an explorer at heart. My "gap year" (before there was such a term) was spent hitch-hiking across the US, reaching points from Vancouver Island, B.C. to Key West, Florida. (Ask me about it sometime!)
Wishing to expand my world, I studied French in college and spent a year in France, partly in my new home-away-from-home, Toulon, and partly in Paris. I passed that summer solo-bicycling on a trip through France, Germany and Switzerland.
Having that year decided to study law and pursue a career in international law, I began studying German and completed my B.A. in French Language Instruction by student teaching in an international school near Munich. After college, I spent another “gap year” in Freiburg, Germany, studying German and philosophy. While in law school the Berlin Wall fell and upon graduating law school I moved to Berlin where, at the Freie Universitaet, I studied German and E.U. law and worked as a teaching assistant, teaching US law to German law students. In Berlin I also worked with a German law firm engaged in the divestiture of former East German companies. I then joined the New York-based international law firm of Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle as an associate in their new Frankfurt office where I was engaged in all manner of international business transactions.
And yet, despite my success and the interesting and rewarding view my mind’s eye had of my projected trajectory in a long and robust career in law, I hesitated. Something wasn’t right; something didn’t fit. I oddly felt that if I were two or more people, that is, if there were more than one of me, one of us could go off and have that career, but not this me. Life seemed too sacred to sacrifice the only me there was on an adventure that appeared to diverge from my true course, however undefined it was at the time. So, I did what any right-minded young American ex-pat would under similar circumstances: I returned to the US and started fly-fishing for trout.
It was love at first cast with my great-uncle’s fiber-glass rod and automatic reel. Despite being an absolute neophyte, the joy and passion were real and I set out to learn the techniques of fly fishing and to discover the beautiful places where trout live. The exquisite combination of knowledge, skill, chance, clear flowing water and the beauty of the trout deeply hooked me. Moreover, I felt compelled to pursue this passion as it seemed to promise me much more than simply catching fish: there seemed to be an important life lesson I could learn that would direct me along my quest for identifying my life’s goal and purpose. Daily I was overcome with the urge/need to be in a stream, leaving behind my work on a legal treatise chapter on German antitrust law. In comparison, lawyering couldn’t hold a candle to a trout rising to my fly. So, there was that!
And although I couldn’t yet make out the exact career path I needed to be on, I had learned that whatever it was, it needed to be inspiring. Fly-fishing had taught me that. And though I worked as a lawyer again for a couple of large companies in Minneapolis, I knew my best and highest use - my personal best - was not to be found in a corporate legal department. I was, however, keenly interested in the process I was going through to identify the work that best suited my inner game plan/life journey/life goals. I was then contacted by an exceptional legal recruiter who presented invigorating questions that stirred my thinking in an uncommon way. I left the conversation with the kernel of an idea – recruiting may offer me the opportunity to align my unrelentingly inquisitive nature (the explorer, if you will) with my heart felt desire to help others.
I pursued this idea to the point of co-founding a recruiting company. I also obtained a professional coaching certificate to broaden and deepen the quality and breadth of helping client attorneys and legal employers. I see myself as a sort of fly-fishing guide in the stream of relationships in the legal community, helping clients identify and obtain what they want.
My path has not been without its share of hurdles, primary of which was the identity-shift from being a practicing lawyer to lawyer coach/recruiter. A lot of personal effort goes into becoming, and continuing to be, a lawyer. And while my inner-lawyer occasionally reproaches me for having abandoned the practice no matter how enlightened of a coach I become, I am satisfied knowing that the path that I have taken has been the best one for me, and ultimately for my clients.