Edge International

Playbooks Aren’t Just for Coaches!

Mike White

For those of you who have had the patience (of Job!) to read my previous articles on law-firm differentiation and client-experience innovation, you have heard me extol the virtues of a “law-firm playbook.”

Team sports coaches create playbooks to write down on paper the tools, strategies, and methods their players will use to defeat their opposition. Similarly, a law-firm playbook can clarify for its own players – its lawyers – how they will help their clients “win.” It should be a thoughtful compilation of a firm’s own best practices, operating procedures, and way of doing business; it should emphasize the less obvious as well as the more conventional inputs that produce legal work; and it should tell a compelling story of process richness that lets the market know that good client experiences with your firm are no fluke.

So, build your own firm playbook! Below are some thought points I suggest our law firm clients keep in mind relative to playbook development.

Where to Begin? The best law-firm playbooks are comprehensive, and reveal to playbook readers (your lawyers, clients, perhaps prospects) the secret sauce of why your firm (or practice group) is different and, therefore, better. I encourage firms to start off their playbook planning by thinking about the three following firm or practice-group feature sets:

  1. Compelling sources of differentiated value that are perceptible to clients when they rely on your work product; e.g., “We have arbitrated and never lost an investment manager ‘raiding’ case in ten years . . . .”
  2. The different methods, processes, and structural attributes of your firm that, while not perceptible to your client, help you produce a better set of insights and better work product; e.g., “We are not a very leveraged firm by design, as most of our clients want our more senior lawyers to have more exposure to their matters . . . .”
  3. Areas of technology, process and structural innovation that will allow clients to consume your service differently; e.g., “We have a documented and technology-supported matter-management process on which all lawyers are trained from Day One, so that clients know that no hour will be invested in a client’s matter casually . . ..”

Identity Building Playbooks also shape and inform culture, and give your attorneys a unified sense of identity. As a result, lawyers will engage their prospects and clients with conviction.

Culture Building Playbooks don’t just reflect culture externally but rather help build it internally. When your lawyers read a cogent formulation of your firm’s way of doing business they will mobilize around it and reflect it.

Example Playbook Structure

  • Unique M&A Transaction Structuring Strategies
    • Engineer the deal structure from the earn-out backwards
    • Using an expert system to support due diligence contract review
  • Proactive Client Value Management
    • Authoring a tailored ROI model that allows clients to determine return on investment in acquired companies, and legal fees associated with structuring acquisitions
    • Aggregating multiple data sources to help client with deal sourcing, not just deal execution
  • Relationship Development & Management
    • “January meetings” – at the beginning of each year, require key clients to educate you about the priorities coming out of their annual planning process
    • Review annual departmental plans of your client to better understand the functional areas of the business (and, thereby, the legal work they likely generate) that are likely the most active internal clients of the law department
  • Practice Innovation and Management
    • New service and product development function to create a pipeline of new capabilities to address emerging client problems
    • Shadowing the non-legal thought leaders and consultants to your clients’ industry sector to gain an early warning on new business gaps that need to be addressed

One-Firm Integration

The development of the playbook should be a collaborative and internally integrating exercise for your firm and its lawyers. Clients and prospects who know about the playbook and how it was developed will give your firm a lot of credit for having a “one-firm” integrated culture from which they will benefit as clients.

So . . . make your firm’s “secret sauce” a little less secret, and develop your own playbook. After all, playbooks aren’t just for coaches!