How to Master Change Management At Your Law Firm
With Smokeball's CQ Hub
Chapter 1: Building A Winning Team
Uncover the surprising parallels between running a law firm and a sports coach's strategy. Learn how embracing a coach's mindset can reshape your law firm, utilising key tactics to navigate the legal complexities with finesse.
Geoff Ebert
September 2023

Great sporting coaches draw their inspiration from multiple sources of outstanding performers within and external to sporting arenas. Taking the time to listen, learn, and adopt the best principles and practices from others who have succeeded in the wider community is a great foundation for running a successful law firm.  


Start with the End in Mind

Former American chess champion and champion martial artist, Josh Waitzkin, explains that starting with the end in mind brings success in the game of chess. Visualising which pieces you would want on the board at the end of the game to checkmate your opponent and win guides your play.  

Paralleled to a law firm, this concept would have you considering the components and resources necessary to attract or acquire for the successful execution of your strategy or business plan. Once you have thought about what your winning team would look like, then you can reverse engineer it piece by piece.  

Source and Develop your Team

Upon entering the coaches’ offices at the Brisbane Lions the first thing I noticed was the list management room. The list manager's job is to examine and recruit the best available talent for the senior team. On the whiteboards covering every wall in this room are the names of every player in the AFL system, where they played, when they were contracted or signed up, and how they may be a fit within the growth of the Lions team. This enormous visual system assisted the list manager and coaches with a continual review of player availability in coming years to allow strategy around approach or targeting for trade in pursuit of building a winning Lion’s team.  

The ‘list manager’ approach can be applied when growing and scaling a law firm to scout for the talent that might be available at both administrative and professional levels so recruitment plans can be formed to fast-track the successful growth of your firm.  

Alternatively, just like the AFL uses an annual system to draft budding 18-year-old talent, similarly a law firm can look to recruit personnel with enthusiasm and a growth mindset from outside or new to the legal sector to train and establish a specific firm culture from the ground up. This was demonstrated by the Brisbane Lions about eight years ago when changing coaches and appointing a head coach who was a trained secondary teacher combined with bringing in a group of young players resulted in the last five consecutive years of finals for the Club.  

Set Expectations for Your Winning Team

The concept of needing a vision, mission, and values in the business world commonly translates in the world of sport to the non-negotiables, or more accurately, the expectations of the team members. Coach of the champion All Blacks from New Zealand, Steve Hansen, probably best explains the difference between having Rules within your team versus having Expectations.  

Steve explains that Rules are guides for the wise and roadblocks for the ignorant but Expectations are a set of principles by which the team operates and the standards that need to be met by the coaching group and the team to be successful. A great team like the All Blacks have their expectations generally managed by the players themselves and start from the little things such as:-  

• Leaving the change rooms in the same condition as they found them,  

• Always being on time or early for training and  

• Properly preparing physically in the days before a game.  

Current premiership coach for Collingwood and a former Lions premiership player, Craig McRae, gave a beautiful example of this when he said that one of his players needed to “read the room” referring to the reaction of the other players when they learned that their teammate had gone to the races the night before an important match rather than rest. Whilst you can't make a rule for everything you can have a series of Expectations that can be enforced with more flexible outcomes than Rules alone.  

Encourage Your Team to Gel

An old football quote states ‘’a champion team will always beat a team of champions’’. So how do you build a champion team?  

Start with building camaraderie by encouraging team members to understand each other's backgrounds and beliefs and know each other beyond technical skills. NBA coach of Australian NBA superstar Patty Mills, Gregg Popovich, demonstrated this before an NBA final by spending a training session with the team exploring Patty's cultural background from his Thursday Island upbringing, rather than running around the court. Coach Popovich prioritised building team unison over court practice at that time and later, Patty explained that he felt both understood and “10 feet tall” leading into the finals knowing that his coach had taken the time to explore his heritage.  

In the same way, getting your people to know each other outside of the office roles and screens builds unison and an effective legal team.  

Celebrate Wins

While “starting with the end in mind” is effective, taking the time to celebrate wins along the way is crucial for staff morale and long-term success. Simple things like reaching milestones in the number of conveyances/wills or completed court applications in a month or quarter are worth recognition. A successful outcome of an individual matter alone is a good cause for celebration – particularly for individuals directly involved.  

There is an expectation that for 24 hours after a Brisbane Lion’s win the players are entitled to celebrate before knuckling down to review game footage and look at the next match. Interestingly, despite a perceived view that a culture of alcohol goes with “celebrating”, there is an Expectation, not a Rule, about any alcohol consumption being acceptable depending on the number of days before the next game.  

Consistently taking the time to celebrate before moving on, Dan Carter, arguably one of the greatest All Blacks having won 99 of 112 test matches for his country would celebrate a win then each Sunday night would privately sit down to review where he went well and needed improvement the following week.  

Build a Winning Mindset

Mindset Coach, Ben Crowe, who worked with Ash Barty as an individual and the Richmond Football Club as a team during their 3 recent premierships, looks at three important topics - Agency, Attitude, and Appreciation.  

Agency is the right for you to understand that you can choose or own your future decision-making. In a workplace, this could mean that you choose to schedule client appointments only three days per week allowing you the other days to complete the actual work rather than allowing client demands to govern your time.  

Attitude is the power to accept in a positive or negative sense the circumstances brought about by choices made, or a situation surrounding you or the team/group. A workplace example is deciding that a large project given  

to you by a client at the last minute will be an opportunity for long-term firm growth rather than the inconvenience of extra pressure and a short timeframe.  

Appreciation is the time taken to reflect and appreciate even the little things that are working for you or the team. For example, upon losing an important court case, you could choose to view it as a failure or an opportunity to reflect and tweak. Even taking the time to Appreciate that you were given the opportunity to undertake that court case adopts the growth mindset principles of a winning team.  


There are always opportunities to demonstrate leadership and to assist/coach others in your firm regardless of the role you play. In both my legal practice and my role with the Brisbane Lions, coaching youth players, I teach the players firstly to coach themselves, then take the time to help or coach fellow teammates. Our role as designated leaders and coaches is to provide the framework to allow individuals to develop in understanding of their Agency, or their power to control their own decisions to influence the future; whether it be as elite footballers or just simply to become good humans. Either way is winning.  

Read Chapter 2

Read Chapter 3

Written by Geoff Ebert, Your Online Legal Group

Geoff Ebert
Principal, Your Online Legal Group
For over three decades Geoff Ebert has observed the legal industry and elite sports landscape developing a philosophy of embracing empowerment and a growth mindset. The major areas from which he draws his knowledge and experience are:- 15 years as managing partner of a large regional law firm; more recently, founding Australia’s first wholly online divorce practice, currently the leading provider nationally; and decades of coaching youth representative teams in AFL. Along the way he has collected endless threads of wisdom from various sources to share with others in the hope of developing empathy, resilience and growth in business, sport and community leadership.

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