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What fantasy football can teach young lawyers

Sometimes you just can’t win. My fantasy football team is a prime example.

I lost again this week, despite having the second-highest score in the league. Granted, this is the first season I’ve played fantasy football, so I’m cutting myself some slack (or so I keep reminding myself).
Next year, they’d better watch out.

But for every winner, there has to be a loser. Except in the peewee baseball league that my little brother played in. At some point in each of our lives, we will each inevitably find ourselves in the losing position. Sometimes it will be deserved. Sometimes it won’t. Most of the time, you will be able to convince yourself that something went terribly, terribly wrong and you should have won. But it will still be a loss, and you will have to deal with it.

While I was clerking, I heard many stories of wins and losses, some of which came from attorneys with the federal public defender’s office.

By way of background, Maryland has an outstanding group of federal public defenders, supplemented by equally-outstanding private attorneys on the Criminal Justice Act panel who volunteer to assist the federal public defenders when conflicts of interest arise.

The federal public defenders are an amazing, inspirational group of people who believe deeply in what they do. But, despite their impressive pedigrees, skills, and abilities, they don’t win every case. It’s just the nature of their jobs. They don’t pick their cases or their clients. Every defendant brought into the federal criminal system is entitled to a lawyer; if they can’t afford one, a federal public defender is appointed.

I once spoke with an excellent federal public defender who was on a losing streak. Even so, he spoke passionately about how great his job was — the people he worked with, the work he did, and the role his work played in the judicial system as a whole. But how do you deal with all the losses?

Beer and video games, he said.

But seriously, he said, what kept him going was knowing that his work— even the losses — made a positive difference, both to his clients and to the integrity of the overall system. Equally important, he said, was working with a great group of people who helped him get through the loss(es).

So what does this mean to young lawyers? Prepare to lose. Just kidding. Especially if you’re playing against me in fantasy football. But do think about it. What would it mean if you lost?  Would you still be happy doing what you’re doing? Would you be able to bounce back from a loss (or multiple losses)? Do you have a support system of people who would commiserate with you and then help you move on?

If not, what can you do to change that? Beer and video games will only get you so far.