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Playing Offense and Defense in Continuing Legal Education

Most will associate offense and defense with sports and not with Continuing Legal Education. However, let me explain why it makes sense to consider training your incoming recruits to play either offense or defense. As we know from sports, it is impossible to excel at both when playing at the professional level.

What is the differentiation?

offense or defense
Offense or Defense?

When thinking about offense and defense, the first thing that may come to mind is that this is a differentiation between stellar and mediocre performers. However, a winning team has both stellar offense and defense capabilities.

What then is the differentiation? In strategic management, the difference is labelled exploitation and exploration. Exploitation is making better what is there already. It is playing within the current boundaries and making sure the system functions optimally. Hence, the employees interested in defense will be following in the footsteps of their successful leaders, while improving the current offerings. Your defensive team guards your current customers and revenue streams.

Your offensive team are your explorers. They will have to find or create their own path to success. In other words, your offensive team is responsible for developing novel services and a new client base, ensuring future profits and growth.

Just as in sports, the training that both teams need is very different.

Training for defense

The defensive team needs to learn about current processes and customers, and be well connected with the firm’s leadership. They need to be educated in process improvement and legal project management, and will benefit from all other education opportunities that will help strengthen their skill set within the current focus areas of the firm.

They benefit from being given the opportunity to work for and learn from the firm’s leadership.

Training for your offense

The offensive team needs to learn how to innovate, that is, how to ideate, develop and implement novel ideas. For example, project management for an innovation project differs significantly from project management for recurring projects.

Your offensive team needs guidance as well, but of a different kind. They need to be encouraged to wander into unknown territory and back up when things don’t go as expected. Often this requires mentoring from senior managing partners, who were explorers themselves years ago.

How many players do you need?

Clearly, as an organization you want to excel at both offense and defense. Does that mean both teams need to be of equal size? No. But to perform equally well, they both need to have an equal distribution of the high and medium performers in your organization and to get adequate resources and management attention.

The ratio of offensive and defensive players you need depends on the growth strategy of your firm. If you have the ambition to grow significantly and do so organically, that is, not through mergers or acquisitions, you will need a larger offensive than defensive team.

If you prefer to keep things as they are, and don’t see the need to venture into new territory or explore technology opportunities, your firm will be better off with a larger defensive team.

Transforming your incoming recruits into offensive and defensive players:

  1. Determine the strategy of your firm. How ambitious are the objectives for growth and novel business compared to previous years and compared to other law firms?
  2. Organize an innovation course and a process improvement course, and let the incoming recruits choose which course they would prefer to take. Your improvement class will get the opportunity to prove themselves within the walls of the current system. They have the potential to become part of your future defensive team. The innovation class will get the opportunity to explore beyond the current boundaries and will be prepared to play your offense.

If your distribution is totally imbalanced (less than 10% interest in one of the classes) or not aligned with your firm’s strategy, it will be worthwhile to talk to your recruitment team. Next year, they may want to change whom they hire to make sure your future recruits are ready to execute upon the firm’s strategy.

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