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World Cup lessons

OK, I will admit it: Over the last month, I was captivated by the World Cup. In many ways, this was the World Cup of surprises. Many of the teams expected to be contenders either did not qualify for the tournament or they found themselves exiting early. The underdogs stepped toe to toe with much larger, more experienced nations, the traditional David vs. Goliath scenario, and in many cases, upsets took place; not always, but often enough. In order to celebrate this international showcase of soccer talent, pride and sportsmanship, I would like to share a few insights that came from watching (a lot of) the games and how these can apply to the practice of law and your career as an in-house counsel.

Don’t focus on the ‘superstar’

In many ways, the superstars failed to show up. A team was built around them and their needs. Resources were marshalled around specific players so as to provide them with the opportunity to shine, but the teams that played “like a team” were the most successful. Those that put all of their eggs in the basket of one player were not as successful. Lawyers and law firms tend to marshal most of the resources to reward, support and promote the high-level partners. Instead, they should be focusing on providing training, developmental opportunities, client time and the ability to manage files to all members of the team so as to make it well rounded and capable.

There is no ‘I’ in ‘team’

Closely related to the point above, in-house counsel should at all times remain a part of the business team. This means that, to be effective, it is critical to get to know the business, look to become part of the strategic decision-making group and always be willing to roll up your sleeves and help the team address any challenges or opportunities that may arise.

In providing legal advice, don’t be the place where good ideas go to die. Instead, help generate alternatives and help the business meet their objectives, while minimizing risk and complying with the legal or regulatory requirements.

Moreover, a lawyer’s critical thinking skills and their focus on risk management can be valuable in so many different ways beyond providing legal advice, defending litigation or reviewing contracts.

Ask to be involved, demonstrate an interest in participating in business meetings and strategy sessions and, most importantly, don’t be seen as just the lawyer but rather as a valuable and contributing team member.

Develop a litigation strategy, but be flexible

Many teams entered the game with a specific strategy or approach. Some focused on their offence, others gladly sat back and defended, focusing on finding that opportunity to launch a decisive counter-strike. However, an unexpected goal for or against, a key player’s injury or send-off or a myriad other situations often required a re-think of the strategy and approach. Successful teams were able to make that transition as quickly and as smoothly as possible.

Similarly, a litigation strategy is developed after many hours of planning, reviewing the evidence, getting to know your opponents and, in many instances, obtaining the necessary buy-in and approvals from the executive, the business group or within the legal department.

However, as soon as the trial begins, at some point, it can become clear that the chosen strategy will not work or the risk of an adverse finding is greater than what was anticipated or reported. A key indicator of maturity and success is the ability to re-think the strategy and to communicate the possible need for change to your reports and stakeholders.

Always be mindful of your reputation

Players work hard and spend their entire careers building on their skills, developing a brand and proving themselves game after game, year after year. But the same reputation can crumble quickly based on their actions, their (exaggerated) reactions and the manner in which they approach their role, obligations and interactions with others. Their skill may become overshadowed by their antics. It is critical that in-house counsel and lawyers always keep in mind the importance of building relationships, maintaining their reputations and adhering to the highest level of professional standards. Represent your clients to the greatest intent possible, but always keep in mind that there may be a trade-off between the short- and long-term best interests of your client (a win today may represent a larger loss for tomorrow) and that you must always preserve your reputation.

Diversity is a source of strength

I, along with many colleagues in the legal profession, have for some time advocated the importance of diversity and inclusiveness within the legal profession, in our workplaces and within our communities. This year’s World Cup winner, France, provided a clear example of the strength that can come from diversity. Out of 23 players on the French team, 12 have African ancestry. This was a symbolic, but poignant, way of supporting our view that any team that can incorporate and leverage the diverse backgrounds, experiences and traditions of its employees and citizens will benefit from this diversity.

We must wait another four years until the next World Cup. In the meantime, I hope the insights and lessons shared above will help you in becoming a more effective and “team-focused” legal practitioner.

  • Sports Analogies For Lawyers

    James Bliwas
    Great minds think alike, apparently. I'm not a soccer or World Cup fan at all. But in October 2015 I wrote an article entitled "5 Things Law Marketing Can Learn from the Kansas City Royals" shortly after the scrappy, no-name team won the World Series. It's at https://tinyurl.com/ycm33rgw.

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