How Team Composition and Legal Analytics Drive Peak Performance

Who do you choose — the Rainmaker or the Expert?

Imagine a parallel universe where kids build their legal dream team, excitedly arguing the pros and cons of preeminent roles in their stack of trading cards. Although the analogy may seem curious, when it comes to building a team that maps to peak performance, we can draw parallels between law firms and sports teams.

Assembling a strong, diverse team — with complementary skills and expertise — is the foundation for success in any high-performing organization. Although the specific outcomes that teams pursue may vary, a number of underlying qualities are prevalent within all highly successful teams. To illustrate the point, let’s compare a law firm partnership to the FIFA Women’s World Cup Champions.

Strategize for Collective Success

In 2019, the U.S. team won the FIFA Women’s World Cup for a record fourth time in devastating fashion. The team scored 26 goals during seven matches, posting a new record for a single World Cup campaign. Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe grabbed headlines for their ruthlessness in front of goal — scoring a combined 12 goals between them — but their team’s success relied on much more than these two players’ swashbuckling attack. With her team conceding just three goals in the tournament, manager Jill Ellis reaped the rewards of a 4-3-3 formation, which provided the defensive structure required to not only keep the opposition at bay, but also afforded the offense the freedom to pursue its scoring rampage with unfettered abandon.

On the surface, the business of law is a completely different field (pardon the pun) than that of a soccer team. But closer inspection shows some remarkable similarities: In the same way that Jill Ellis sought to strike the right balance of attack and defense on the field, senior law firm leaders must also build a well-balanced and diverse team that positions their organization for collective success.

For instance, a team disproportionately weighted toward relationship skills may lack the technical expertise to successfully deliver matters and drive client satisfaction. Conversely, recent talent-acquisition wars demonstrated that few firms succeed when their teams are heavily focused on technical expertise at the expense of relationship skills.

Balance Skill Sets to Optimize Team Performance

Soccer teams use statistics to create a scorecard for each player’s performance across key categories: pace, dribbling, shooting, passing, and defending, to name a few.

Law firms can apply a similar system to highlight individual strengths and challenges for key attribute categories:

  1. Leadership and Management – Leading by example, influencing others and delivering improved results
  2. Relationship Skills – Building trust-based and long-lasting relationships
  3. Technical Expertise – Driving value for the firm and its clients
  4. Business Acumen – Bringing knowledge and awareness to solve complex business issues
  5. Commercial Awareness – Understanding the business environment and staying relevant
  6. Vision – Anticipating change and adapting to it

The optimal blend of individual characteristics will be unique to each specific role within the team. You can expect that a soccer team’s winger will rank high for pace and dribbling, whereas a defender excels at tackling and clearances. To draw parallels within a law firm, relationship partners typically focus on leadership and client relationships, while practice partners prioritize technical expertise and business acumen to support matter delivery.

Firms should evaluate the nuanced nature of these scorecards and characteristics through the lens of each individual’s role on the team. An extraordinarily complex class action lawsuit against a food manufacturer, for example, will require a seasoned lawyer with rich technical expertise in the practice domain as well as knowledge of the industry. Understanding the nature of the role will inform the individual characteristics you must nurture and help determine who will be best suited to fill it.

Capitalize on Incremental Improvements

In 2009, when Sir Dave Brailsford announced the creation of a British professional cycling team — Team Sky — with a goal of winning the Tour de France within 5 years, few believed it was possible. His plan prioritized the application of scientific, rational methods to the art of cycling performance, making a clear break from a past dominated by an unwillingness to explore new technology.

As a significant first step, Brailsford equipped the team’s bikes with power meters — tools that calculate the energy-per-second the cyclists produce — to measure their power output. This one objective measurement transformed cycling into a data-driven sport. The power meters, along with other technologies like video analysis and aerodynamic testing, allowed British cycling performance analysts to create a systematic analysis of the numbers their riders could produce, including lap times, cadences, power outputs, and drag factors. As Brailsford put it, “We would go to the nth degree in terms of truly understanding what winning looked like.”

Alongside his emphasis on sport science, Brailsford introduced an organizational principle called “performance by the aggregation of marginal gains.” He instilled a culture that broke down everything that went into riding a bike and looking for 1% shifts that — in the aggregate — would make a measurable difference.

The results were staggering: The team achieved seven Tour de France victories in an 8-year stretch, becoming the most dominant team in professional cycling. The team is widely considered to be among the best sports teams of any kind in the world.

Law firms can apply Team Sky’s principles to achieve peak performance:

  1. Identify the roles you need to win.
  2. Compose each team with care, for every pitch and every matter, to ensure long-term success.
  3. Equip your team with the tools they need to measure performance and execute their respective roles effectively.
  4. Leverage your firm’s data as an asset.

Beyond these principles, firms can aggregate small gains — which are often overlooked — to create meaningful change. To achieve this end, leading organizations are exploring technology’s role in successfully enabling a digitally connected firm model. A connected technology platform affords law firms a wealth of insights and legal analytics, helping identify and harness these 1% marginal improvements.

So, when it comes to a connected platform, what are the equivalents to power meters, video analysis, and aerodynamic testing for law firms? We believe these are:

  • Zero-entry capture to minimize manual data entry
  • A common data lake to aggregate data points underlying the connected platform
  • Nudges to drive positive behavioral change
  • Personalized tools to tailor role-based insights
  • Client lifecycle management to orient team activities towards clients, not functions
  • Strategic objective tracking to trace execution across practice groups, sectors, geographies, account teams, and individuals.


Learn more about how Intapp Strategic Consulting helps professionals and senior business leaders at preeminent firms.

For more details on putting the power of a connected platform to work for your firm, please get in touch.

Written by:

Jack Hackney

Senior Consultant, Strategic Consulting

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Kian Poon

Director, Strategic Consulting

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Sanjeev Gandhi

Vice President and Head, Strategic Consulting

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