REUTERS | Vasily Fedosenko

Are legal playbooks right for your business?

The COVID-19 pandemic era has demanded new and evolving ways of working. But as working practices change, especially with the adoption of remote and hybrid working, some elements of an in-house counsel’s work have become even more important.

Having clear and consistent guidelines and approaches has always been important to the delivery of effective outcomes, but perhaps even more so in a world of wholly or partly distributed teams, where it can be difficult to oversee the approach to issues in person. In that context, one method of establishing such guidelines, legal playbooks, could become an increasingly important resource.

Thomson Reuters’ corporate counsel team certainly see them as a critical part of their working practice. “At Thomson Reuters, we’ve been creating playbooks for over 15 years!”, Jennifer Arbuckle, General Counsel, tells me.

“The playbooks started out as a printed resource that individuals referenced at their desk and then morphed into a searchable online reference. Our vision today is to transform our playbooks into a dynamic resource that is referenced as part of the negotiation process, allowing comparison between fallbacks and supplier edits within one system.”

What are legal playbooks?

A playbook is a mechanism to capture and record positions and strategies, facilitate consistency through standardisation and mitigate risk. In practice, playbooks can mean different things to different people, take different forms and even have different names. For example, they can be called:

  • Drafting or negotiation guides.
  • Process manuals.
  • Training manuals.

Playbooks can be used by lawyers, paralegals, contract managers, HR professionals, procurement teams and sales teams.

Key reasons for using playbooks

Whatever the flavour, there are many advantages to using playbooks. Knowledge capture and pooling best practices can enable cohesive strategy and positioning across a team or an entire organisation. Quantifying acceptable and unacceptable risk creates more certainty during negotiations and helps close matters faster by minimising the need for consultation with others.

Playbooks also help save time and money by empowering junior attorneys, paralegals and businesspeople to complete the bulk of work on recurrent matters, which frees up senior lawyers to devote their time to more complex work. More subtly, knowing that consistency is “hard-wired” into how an organisation deals with common issues allows senior counsel greater mental space to produce “creative lawyering” (as one attorney put it to us in our research on this topic).

In the past, playbooks were invariably paper copies in binders. Frequently, this is still the case, and often “digital” playbooks are little more than electronic hard copies. Updating playbooks of this kind is a big undertaking, compounded if physical copies still need producing. Searching is a manual and often maddening process of thumbing back and forth through pages. Worse, for those working from multiple locations, the risk of the playbook you need being found only in the “other” office is real. By contrast, a truly digitised playbook is shareable, updateable, searchable and easily accessible from anywhere.

Playbook adoption

I’m a fan of playbooks, and I’m not alone. Every lawyer I’ve spoken with about playbooks thinks they are valuable. But surprisingly only a small percentage use them. One reason is that the creation of a playbook is seen as too much of an investment in both time and energy. Time is money, and there are always more immediate calls on your attention. Another reason is that it feels too complex or daunting to even begin.

In practice, playbook creation can be more straightforward than you might imagine. Given that any increase in consistency brings benefits, even documenting an outline of an approach is worthwhile. A truly digitised experience allows for playbooks that can be built up and improved over time. Perhaps start with one simple type of agreement, transaction or process as an experiment to prove the efficacy of using a playbook and allow that to lead to other playbooks.

As Jennifer Arbuckle explains, Thomson Reuters’ use of playbooks has evolved from simple beginnings to something quite sophisticated. Today, she explains, the procurement team relies on:

“the guardrails [in the playbooks, which give] guidance on why each clause is important, potential fallbacks based on supplier concern, possible narrative responses to suppliers to aid in negotiation, and escalation points within our business to resolve any roadblocks.”

For further information on how to create playbooks, see Creating a Contract Playbook Checklist.

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