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AFL coaching can inform successful law firm leadership

The principal of a family law firm discusses the parallels between AFL coaching and leading a law firm and outlines the aspects of coaching that are integral to one’s firm.

user iconJess Feyder 10 May 2023 Big Law
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Recently on The Lawyers Weekly Show, host Jerome Doraisamy spoke with Geoff Ebert, principal at Your Online Legal Group, a firm that provides family services.

Mr Ebert has spent the past 25 years coaching football and has found his skill set as a coach has ingrained within him leadership skills that are valuable for leading a law firm.

“From working at an elite level with AFL coaching, there are a number of lessons to impart on the methods of how a football club is run, which is transmissible to running a legal practice,” Mr Ebert stated.


“In football, there are lessons of teamwork, being aligned as to where you’re wanting to go, which are very much the same pillars on which you build a law firm.”

“The vision and the mission of a law firm are very much like an elite football side trying to reach a goal,” explained Mr Ebert.

“There are some differences; for example, a team lives or dies in a football sense, generally on a year-to-year basis, while a legal firm is an infinite thing that can go on for decades.”

“There is a difference between how you manage a football team trying to win a trophy, on a year-to-year basis, as opposed to running a legal firm, but the alignment and the non-negotiables of how you get there are very similar,” highlighted Mr Ebert. 

Mr Ebert delved into the non-negotiables in football: “For example, timeliness, attendance to training, looking at the outcomes and work rate of various activities that they undertake.”

“Comparing that to a legal firm, our non-negotiables, for example, are that we act with every client, in kindness and empathy,” he explained.

“In every meeting, we look at the feedback that we seek from clients and focus on that because of the sensitive nature of the area in which we practise.

“Those pillars are the things that we operate on.”

Mr Ebert discussed the attribute of competitiveness and how it is harmful both for law firms and for AFL clubs.

“Within AFL, the ultra-competitiveness between clubs can be highly detrimental,” continued Mr Ebert.

“I’ve adopted the philosophy, and teach our younger practitioners to avoid ultra-competitiveness.

“This is critical because at the end of the day, particularly working in regional practice, if you take advantage of another solicitor or you are unnecessarily combative, that’s going to come back to you.”

“We remain in a collegiate practice, albeit we act [in] our client’s best interest,” he added.

“You can’t have law firms at loggerheads because it’s detrimental to the client experience — they’re not there because of petty bickering between various lawyers.”

“I’ve always had the view that there is generally a mediated way forward on most disputes,” explained Mr Ebert. 

Mr Ebert imparted several leadership lessons to be taken from football coaching.

“Football clubs, at a higher level, are good at drilling down on overall performance while also looking at individual performance.

“They have individual development plans, the goals of the player, and how the player is aligning their goals with the club, and then threading that together to get a picture of how the team might be successful,” he explained.

“Whilst law firms, especially small- to medium-sized ones, struggle with that concept — not because they don’t want to — but mainly because they don’t have the time.

“If you’re a busy general practitioner and you’ve got two solicitors working with you, making the time to sit down and develop their individual development plans, as opposed to passing them work, is quite difficult.

“That’s a struggle I’ve grappled with for 30 years of practice.

“Football clubs are better at it than a lot of law firms, which is a resourcing issue to some extent.”

“You’ve got to have sufficient free air to work with your staff towards where they’re wanting to go and how the firm is aligned to getting them there. 

“The advantage of a football club or a football team is that they might have six or seven coaches and two or three of those coaches’ sole role might be player development,” he explained.

“When you’ve got resources like that, it makes a big difference for the amount of time you can put into an individual player.”

Mr Ebert highlighted the importance of prioritising career development for lawyers: “If you don’t nurture younger practitioners, you lose them. That’s the facts.”

“I’ve seen it throughout my career, you lose staff for a number of reasons, but a failure to communicate with them is one of the probably two or three major reasons that you will lose key staff.”

“It is a matter of making the time to do it,” he stated.

“You can delegate it or add sufficient staff whose job it is.” 

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