Anthony McMahon, Glengarry Football Club (Photo Credit Laurinda May)

5 surprising things lawyers can learn from footy players

If you’re anything like me, the end of the year means time to wind down, eat, drink and generally be merry.

Photo Credit: Yuctacar

So it was with amazement I noticed football players of all shapes and sizes getting stuck into pre-season training in November. November?! I was surprised. Footy doesn’t start back for months. Until next year?! Until… April next year!

I was impressed by their dedication (and slightly depressed at my own lack of dedication).

Perhaps dedication is expected from elite level players – after all, they get paid very well to be dedicated. However, even the amateurs and volunteer coaches are getting themselves organised for next year’s season.

It got me to thinking lawyers could learn a lot from football players.

Apart from the obvious marveling at players’ strength, speed and fitness, lawyers can learn much professionally from the way footy players (elite, amateur and everyone in between) go about the business of football. So here you go; 5 unexpected things lawyers can learn from footy players!


Can you imagine if, before things start to get busy for your firm or company each year, you practiced your leadership skills and honed your legal knowledge for three nights a week for a three months?

Imagine how skilled and ready for action you would be. Best of all, no last minute scramble to get all your CPD points in March.

Just as football players take time to build up strength and condition physically, lawyers need to take time out to keep themselves physically healthy and mentally engaged. Lawyers need to continually train themselves to learn the latest advances in the legal industry; especially as the law continues to advance rapidly in areas of automation and technology.

If you are a lawyer and aren’t putting in effort during your pre-season, your legal game will suffer throughout the year.


The overall game plan might be complicated. There’s so many factors to take into account – the opposition, the current trends, the weather, your team’s strengths… Things get complicated in footy and in business and in law.

Taking a sophisticated, nuanced approach into negotiations means you can react effectively and provide more detail when pressed. However, when you’re trying to keep a large project on track, or when lawyers get stuck in the minor points of a deal, a simple plan is needed.

…when you’re trying to keep a large project on track, or when lawyers get stuck in the minor points of a deal, a simple plan is needed.

Book coffee simple plan Photo Credit: Hope House Press

Photo Credit: Hope House Press

Just like on game day, when the pressure is on a legal team, you need to focus on what’s going to have the most impact for effort.

You want to get yourself close in and in front of the goals, so your efforts are more likely to have scoreboard impact. It’s hard to get strong reward for your efforts if you don’t have a strong, simple strategic plan.

For in-house teams, this might be connected to the company values or strategy. For private practice lawyers, a simple plan might be a one line reminder of what a client wants to get out of the matter you’re assisting them with.

A simple plan can cut through difficult situations for both lawyers and footy players alike.

What is the plan that will get you in front of the goals?


Footy coaches understand not all team members understand things by reading slabs of text. Some players need to see a diagram. Other players might need to see a play in action to learn it.

Photo Credit RhondaK Native Florida Folk Artist

What not to do (Photo Credit RhondaK)

Lawyers need to recognise this when giving clients advice. Clients do not (and should not have to) understand legalese. Clients need plain language. Some clients might need a matrix, flow chart, diagram, table or metaphor in order to understand your advice.

Providing your clients with plain language advice in a take away format provides them with future reference information and makes it more likely your advice will be understood.

Every word that is unnecessary only pours over the side of a brimming mind – Cicero

Look into the work being done on visual contracting (such as the work of South African lawyer Robert de Rooy on Comic Contracts or Helena Haapio and Stefania Passera who look at visual tools for better contracting).

If you are a regular Checklist Legal reader you’ll know Visual Contract elements are a pet fave of ours. Do some investigating into the results of using visuals in contracts and I’m sure you’ll become a fan too.

People understand things in different ways – sometimes words and text just aren’t enough.

Legal advice is only advice if it is understood.

If you are lamenting the stupidity of your clients or their lack of understanding or their cowboy/cavalier attitude towards legal issues, start looking at yourself and how you are communicating your legal & compliance game plan.

Your legal advice is only as good as the game plan your client understands.


During a game, footy players understand the importance of fresh legs. Even the best and hardest running players understand the need to take rests to keep going at a fast pace throughout the whole game.

A football game is played in quarters, with a short 6 minute break between the 1st and 2nd quarters and the 3rd and 4th quarters, then a longer 20 minute break at halftime between the 2nd and 3rd quarters.

These breaks are not just good for the players to catch their breath, it’s also a chance for strategic adjustments

These breaks are not just good for the players to catch their breath, it’s also a chance for strategic adjustments, remedial massage or maintenance, or administrative tasks like changing socks or strapping up injured body parts.

Breaking up the day into chunks works well for lawyers also.

Photo Credit Cris Saur

Photo Credit Cris Saur

A lawyer who works straight through the day will end up feeling lethargic and distracted. Their work output suffers in the same way a footy player’s would if they were on field the whole game. Not only that, but the minute details of day-to-day life that need attending to are just as important as the work you need to get done. Buying birthday presents, visits to the dentist, all these necessary life admin items need to be attended to.

Many lawyers neglect to take even a lunch break. I’m guilty of this myself. Often, I get caught up in something but fail to pause during the day. Those are the days I chug along and end up feeling I haven’t achieved that much.

Footy clubs know how to build depth within their team so a bench player can hit the ground running when another player comes off for a spell.

If your legal team doesn’t have depth, you run the risk of burnout and poor outcomes.

You must be able to delegate and rotate work through the team to ensure your own work output doesn’t suffer from having to be the only one able to do certain matters.

I know I am ranting but it is an area I am passionate about. I’ll leave you with a few more ideas which capture the need to take regular small, medium and large breaks:

» A rested field gives a more bountiful crop – Ovid

» Parkinson’s Law is the maxim that work expands to fill the time available for its completion.

» Mini breaks make you more efficient, why you need to take time out to sharpen your axe

Replenishing mental sharpness and physical fitness is equally important for lawyers and footy players.


Something lots of footy clubs do well and do often is systematic analysis of the opposition.

Clubs often have dedicated personnel who spend hours watching and assessing opposition to ensure each tactic is covered and every strategy can be matched. This analysis is used for team selection, press conference topics and even determining who appears at training sessions. And, it is repeated weekly during the season and, to a lesser extent during the pre-season.

Photo Credit: Jez Timms

Photo Credit: Jez Timms

Law firms and companies often only keep one eye on competitor actions. Law firms may react to a competitor move in a knee-jerk way instead of proactively assessing the competition regularly.

The one-on-one combativeness of footy is not as apparent in the legal system outside a courtroom (hopefully). However, it still makes sense for private practice and in-house lawyers to pay attention to the actions of their colleagues from boutique to top tier as well as small to ASX top 10 companies.

Learning from the best in your field is an amazing way to get a leg up or a head start on your career.

Often other people have done the hard work for you. If you understand how your professional counterparts make success happen, you can work to emulate their success in your own practice.

Similarly, if you haven’t noticed the competition using blockchain technology, electronic signatures, artificially intelligent lawyers, legal chat bots, virtual reality law firms, and electronic document automation, and haven’t investigated using these new tools in your practice, it’s likely you and your legal team will end up on the bottom of the ladder.

If you fail to consider the actions and strategy of competitors, you leave yourself vulnerable for a 100-point hiding.


Once I got going, it was difficult to stop at 5! Some other comparisons to footy which lawyers could take heed from:

  • Eating to win
  • All for the team
  • Celebrate each other
  • Footy trips
  • Be efficient
  • What gets measured gets managed
  • Be effective
  • A fast game’s a good game
  • Mentoring
  • Rookies and succession planning
  • Know the rules
  • All for one, one for all
  • Passion matters

What do you think? Where do athletes get it right and how can lawyers apply this professionally?

– Verity

Thanks to Lauren Stephens for editing and Anthony McMahon as the inspiration for the article with his impressive (yet slightly depressing) dedication.

Posted in Career, Corporate, Legal Visuals, Life Hack, Productivity, Visual Contracts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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