What The Euros Can Teach Us About Building Winning Legal Teams

By William Dougherty.

Warning: this article contains a series of extended football (soccer) analogies.

You can’t avoid it. From the moment managers announced their 26-man squads for this year’s UEFA European Championship, the selection chatter has been relentless. How could Southgate leave out Grealish or Rashford? Who should start at left-back? What barbaric punishment should be meted out for leaving Anthony Gordon on the bench? And how exactly should England deploy its embarrassment of riches in the forward line?

For yet another summer, England1 fans – some at Capacity included – are proclaiming to have all the answers. Let’s face it: role-playing as manager is part and parcel of being a football fan. But as the tournament has rolled on, I’ve noticed more than a couple of parallels between building a tournament-winning side and building an all-conquering legal team. Bear with me.

Let’s start with squad selection. This is everyone you’re going to rely on for the tests ahead – so in legal, that’s your talent. You need to cover all the positions adequately (yeah, we’ll come to Luke Shaw later) while trusting your senior members to step up and make it rain (goals).

Here, England have benefited enormously from the lateral move of Declan Rice from Ireland. Meanwhile, in the form of Ben White, who opted out of playing for his national team this summer, England has experienced ‘unwanted attrition’ (about 50% of all law firm departures, if you’ll forgive a quick reference to research). Rice moved for the prestige, one imagines, whereas England allegedly lost White due to cultural issues.

A quick word on injuries. Harry Maguire sits this tournament out with a muscle injury – perhaps the result of overwork or poor (muscular) training. Luke Shaw remains in the squad despite billing zero minutes for the small matter of Bringing It Home2.  It remains to be seen whether Southgate’s patience with Shaw will pay off, or whether a sabbatical might have been a more sensible resourcing decision.

Next up, the all-important starting XI – the people on the pitch, so to speak. Now, the classier footballing sides – here’s looking at you, Spain – tend to ensure every player’s utilised where they perform best. Not so with Connor Gallagher who, for the first half against Slovenia, spent more time chasing work than producing it. Asking Kieran Trippier to do a job at left-back has also resulted in workflow inefficiencies; what a shame for England that no compensation package under the sun could entice Andy Robertson, who like myself bleeds tartan when cut, into the camp.

Then there’s the thorny issue of leverage. Captain Kane has to be on the pitch (right?) but his grand total of two touches in the first half of the Serbia game seems a colossal waste of talent. Then again, dropping deep to mix with his midfield associates, when he should be at the business end of the pitch, isn’t optimal either. A balance needs to be struck – but how?

Speaking of positional conundrums, how about the Foden-Bellingham paradox – two top-tier talents fighting over the same work, and producing far less than the sum of their parts. Long-suffering England fans will be haunted by the ghosts of Lampard and Gerrard, but few would admit that you sometimes have to drop a star to let another shine.

Whatever, OK, you’ve decided on a starting XI and work has begun in earnest. But what about the substitutes? When do you draft in talent to keep things ticking over? Vastly over-utilised players are liable to burn out – and when there are others in desperate need of experience warming the bench, shouldn’t they be given a run out? Then again, with the stakes so high, isn’t it too late for all that? We need only contemplate the gaping hole in England’s central defence, a result of the suspension of Marc Guéhi for the Switzerland game, to recognise that Southgate probably should have given his understudies more experience in advance of the tournament.

If you’ve stuck with me this far, congratulations. I just have one final point to make, and it’s this: despite every England fan backing up their “management” decisions with data, very few football fans would let a computer pick the squad, the team, and the substitutions – even if it had all the stats under the sun at its disposal.

Football’s a numbers game, and Gareth Southgate is supported by a brilliant team and a whole lot of data, but it’s right that the final decisions rest with him. It’s just the same in law firms. A work allocation solution like Capacity can know an awful lot about your associates, but only a human can know some details – like whether an associate had a bad experience with a partner, or if someone’s in the early stages of pregnancy and will soon be on parental leave. Ultimately, the best decisions are data-driven, but delivered with the human touch.

I thought we should conclude with a cause for optimism. The England team’s diversity –  the result of decades of training, support, mentorship, and trust – is something that the nation can be proud of, even if there are still too few Black managers in the game. No doubt the talent we’re seeing today, if properly nurtured, will be the leaders of tomorrow. And just in case you need another dose of optimism – reports are that Southgate’s considering a back three against the Swiss.

As for Scotland, well, we qualified for another major tournament.

About the Author: William Dougherty trained, qualified, and practised at Dentons in London before co-founding Capacity, an algorithmic work allocation solution designed for law firms. The optimisation of work allocation is, in his view, the most important process to achieve the people-centric profitability that will help firms face the future with confidence.


  1. For a brief period, Scotland also took part in this summer’s Euros.
  2. Something the Lionesses achieved in 2022, it’s well worth mentioning in an article dominated by male footballers.

[ This is an educational and also sporting 🙂 thought leadership article by Capacity. ]