I play in three weekly basketball games at various gyms near my house. The games themselves are very different: three-pointers count for “2” in one game, “3” in another and not at all in a third; in one, the start time can be as late as 9:30 p.m. depending on the 8th grade boys’ practice schedule; and after playing in one gym, someone wheels out a cooler and those so inclined share some good-natured ribbing and an adult beverage.
For all the differences in the three games, though, there are also some striking similarities. For starters, lots of attorneys play in all three of these games… which got me thinking about how these games provide context for and comment on the daily practice of law.
Another similarity is that a high skill level is not a prerequisite for playing (thank goodness). Almost invariably, the players considered “best” in all three games are those who are in the best shape and can get up and down the court quickly and consistently. Other, more naturally-talented players who don’t play as often and clearly don’t spend the time on their own to stay fit usually find themselves gasping for breath with their hands on their knees after a just few times down the court while the man they’re supposed to be guarding speeds past for an uncontested layup.
It’s impossible, I think, not to make the connection to practicing law. Just as the most successful players in these pick-up games are those who train the hardest when they’re not playing, the most successful attorneys are those who work the hardest when the bright lights of the courtroom are not shining. It is the countless hours of practice and preparation — often in an office with darkened windows long after colleagues have left — that separates excellent attorneys from average ones. Success in basketball, as in law, is about hard work and preparation.
The other common theme is a respect for the rules. These games are “call your own” for fouls and other infractions. If you’ve played in a game like this, you’ve probably heard the phrase “respect the call.” Yes, there may be some griping about a call at the time it is made, but everyone playing ultimately respects the call (with a reminder or two sometimes) and trudges into place at the correct end of the court to start play again.
Here, the pick-up games share another similarity with practicing law. For while we attorneys may sometimes gripe about a court’s interpretation of a certain statute or case or a legislature’s decision to pass a certain bill, we ultimately “respect the call” and the rule of law.
So whatever team you root for (Go Greyhounds!) this March, remember that playing basketball and practicing law are not as different as you might think.