Happy Opening Day 2019! Every year I get excited about baseball — America’s pastime. Whether it’s watching the boys of summer on TV or the sound of metal bats clinking balls at the little league fields, baseball is back and summer is near.
Anyone who has played backyard baseball as a child has envisioned him/herself standing at the plate in this scenario: Bottom of the ninth, tie game, two outs, full count. The pitch is thrown and you swing — Crack! goes your bat as it hits the leather of the ball — “Going going gone!” You run around the bases pumping your fist as you hit the game-winning home run to the cheer of the crowd.
When we all grow up and enter our actual professions (most of us don’t end up playing baseball), we still have these occasional visions. As a lawyer, I want the home run hit that wins the game for my client. If you watch any movie involving lawyers, you’ll likely see that fantasy on the big screen. A lawyer, down in the count, goes in and delivers a fantastic closing statement and his/her client is found not guilty. The lawyer found some swagger (or already had it) and just rips it out of the park for the client. If you ever watch any baseball and know what a “bat flip” is, then every lawyer wants the home run/bat flip moment. However, just like dreaming about playing in the Majors as a kid, these flights of fancy are not what the practice of law is about.
In past presentations and publications, I argue that the practice of law is a lot like the 2015 Kansas City Royals’ baseball team. Granted, I’m biased towards the Royals, but here’s my opinion: Your lawyer should not try to swing for a home run every single time he/she’s at bat. That swagger and bravado will only get them so far in the courtroom. What every lawyer needs is an appreciation for the fundamentals.
During the Royals’ run in MLB’s 2014 and 2015 seasons, they didn’t put up a lot of flashy numbers. Backed by a good defense, the Royals just tried to put the ball in play on offense. Each player knew that getting a bunt for a single was just as important as swinging for the fences. In some innings, the Royals just hit singles over and over and over. Eventually, the pitcher wears down and the runs accumulate. The Royals won repeatedly with this approach. They didn’t need big hits or swagger. They just needed to put the ball in play. By constantly putting the ball in play, the score would suddenly get out of hand and the Royals were suddenly in control of the game.
Don’t get me wrong — your lawyer should have confidence in your case. I think confidence is different than swagger or bravado though. A confident lawyer says, “I prepared my depositions well, my discovery well, and I’m prepared for trial.” A brash lawyer thinks he can just waltz into the courtroom without working on the fundamentals of the game and hit a home run every time. More often than not, that lawyer is going to strike out!
Here’s the best part about getting singles and doubles: When your lawyer really starts hitting and putting the ball in play, and his/her fundamentals are solid, then there will be that moment when he/she can take a shot that is more effective than a flashy solo home run. If you watch any baseball, those are the moments when the other team’s will just breaks. The pitcher just can’t get anyone out, everyone is hitting and getting on base, and then someone just unloads and knocks one out of the park. But, it’s timed and comes as a result of just getting a hit here, a hit there, and working on the fundamentals instead of relying upon misplaced confidence.
I’ve watched and participated in a lot of trials and have seen this first hand. One side just starts accumulating hits by all of the hard work they put in before and during the trial. The other side can’t stop the hits from coming. Frustration mounts and a mistake is made — the side who was just hitting singles and doubles is well on the way to a win and sees a pitch coming right down the middle of the plate. A well-timed big hit puts the contest out of reach. You can call these moments “lucky breaks”, but in reality it’s just preparation meeting opportunity.
So, the next time you see a flashy lawyer on TV, know that everyone wants to (hopefully) knock one out of the park for his/her client. Swagger and bravado can only get you so far, though. While it may look impressive and may make a highlight reel, flash and bravado rarely translate into wins. In reality, wins comes from consistent hits and focusing on the fundamentals.
Happy Opening Day!