Friday, February 12, 2016

Running, The Olympic Trials for the Marathon, and the Practice of Law

Even though I have never participated in a single Yoga class, I enjoyed my co-editor Joan Heminway’s Yoga Analogy Post from a couple weeks ago. Her post inspired this analogy post about running and the law.

While I am not the most consistent runner among the BLPB editors---that title goes to Josh Fershee---I have been running 3+ times a week consistently for the last 6 months or so, following a few very inconsistent years.

Below the break, I discuss some parallels between running (particular long-distance running) and the practice of law. Due to these parallels, as a hiring partner, I believe I would look favorably on an applicant who was a distance runner.

Also about distance running, is anyone else really excited about watching the Olympic Trials for the Marathon on NBC tomorrow? Not a great spectator sport, to be sure, but I love that so many people with normal jobs are running. Nashville-area elementary school teacher Scott Wietecha qualified for the Trials (though he has chosen not to run, due, at least in part, the some health issues). Scott has details and predictions here; after reading his long post, I can quickly see that he is even much more excited about watching the race than I am. 


Community. It is very difficult to train for a long race alone. There are at least a half-dozen running groups relatively close to my home in Nashville. Runners quickly learn to cheer for their group members and are some of the most encouraging people I have met. Like in law practice, the effort and strain forges strong community among the members.

Competition. Law is often competitive. Even in a transactional practice, which is often less adversarial than litigation, you are competing with the other side for the best terms. If you are overly passive, you may get walked on in a serious law practice. Runners compete—against the other runners and against the clock. Of course, competition has its downside and a myopic focus on winning without consideration for rules and ethics can lead to things like doping in running or misrepresentation in law.

Discipline/Grit. Every consistent runner I know is disciplined, not just in running, but also in (at least most of) the rest of their lives. You can’t properly train for a half-marathon or marathon in a week or even a month. It takes months, and sometimes years, to develop the necessary fitness. It takes waking up early or going to bed late; you have to fight through sickness, injury, and harsh weather. Running 10 miles at 5am is not really all that different than making the push to a deal closing without regard for sleep.

Jargon. Both running and law are areas where heavy use of jargon is common – and both groups seem to embrace the jargon quickly. Just like giddy 1Ls name their trivia teams things like res ipsa loquitur (not that I know anyone who did that); runners have a tendency to geek out using terms like VO2 Max, Fartlek, Iliotibial Band Syndrome, Negative Splits, Plantar Fasciitis, Pronation, PR/PB, Supination, and “The Wall.” Jargon, however, also has a useful purpose, as it allows members in both groups to communicate more efficiently. I imagine all areas have their jargon, but runners and lawyers seem especially fond of it. 

Planning. You don’t train for something as daunting as a half or full marathon, even if you are relatively slow like me, without serious planning. A typical training plan spans three to four months and varies between speed work, tempo runs, and slower and longer runs. Likewise, law requires serious planning --- both transactional and litigation work requires organization and forecasting. While you need to be flexible, and willing to amend the plan, having a plan is essential in both law and running.

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I have practiced law for 38+ years and I run national and international marathons. I disagree with the parallels the article draws between the practice of law and running.
Stress. The trial of a case is very stressful. Sleep is lost before and during a trial. If the case is lost, sleepless nights are spent considering how to right the perceived wrong and gain your client his freedom of regain the family business that was lost. I run to relieve stress. I can clear my mind and release the stress in my body.
Combat. A trial is combat. We have all experienced the surprise witness, the withheld documents, the overlooked issue or the unfriendly judge. Then the client or witness that changed his story on the stand or did not testify as anticipated. Opposing counsel is not your friend. There is no cheering section at a trial. Running is personal. If the runner trains mind and body, he knows what to expect. The only competitor is self and the clock. Even if running with a running club, when the gun sounds all are off to win. There are no cheerleaders. Bragging rights at the finish line are everything. People who are not competitive do not run races. The runner wins or loses based on personal performance. There is no one to hold the runner back or carry him on. The winner at running wins because of personal performance. If you train you win if you don’t train you lose.
Finish Line. A court case and trial has no finish line. After the verdict there are post-trial motions, then appeals. Maybe a retrial or a new case. All victories are temporary. In a race, the finish line is final. Celebration is safe. The runners high can last for days. I keep telling myself “You did it.” the story can be retold with confidence. No one can appeal it or take it away. The high from willing a case is short lived and cautious. Running is not a spectator sport. Some watch, but I do not know why. The excitement is within the runner. We run for the love of the game. Those who fail to reach the point of inter peace, joy and the runners high will soon quit. There is no comparison to the trial of a case.

Posted by: Al Lander | Feb 14, 2016 1:46:38 PM

Hi Al. Thanks for your comment and for engaging with my post. I respect your experience and do not claim that the analogy is perfect – obviously there are plenty of distinctions between running and the practice of law - but I do have a few specific responses.

Regarding stress, while running can relieve stress, a big race can also be stressful. Plenty of runners, from the top levels to the non-serious amateurs, lose sleep prior to big races. Granted, I don’t think running is typically as as stressful as a trial, but if you care about the race, it can be stressful.

Regarding combat, your comment seems to support my analogy, showing that both law and running can be competitive. That said, I hope you will agree that neither law nor running is always no holes barred combat. If you watched the Olympic Trials, you saw that, even at the most competitive levels, running friends (Flanagan and Cragg) sacrifice for one another, encourage one another, and even help one another (Cragg grabbing water for her teammate, opening it, running slower with her for a good while, etc). I’d venture to wager that without Cragg’s help, Flanagan would not have qualified for the Olympic Trials. Similarly, countless runners win and reach new heights with the help of pacers. Similarly, in law, while all parties want to “win” – and there is surely backstabbing that exists – we should aspire to civility, justice, and ethical behavior.

About finish lines, I agree that most cases drag on longer than most races, but every case has its ultimate finish line.

Again, I definitely recognize distinctions between running and the practice of law, but I also see the similarities described in the post. Thanks again for engaging the post.

Posted by: Haskell Murray | Feb 14, 2016 3:55:51 PM

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