On the Court and in the Court: 5 Lessons Tennis Taught Me About Working at a Law Firm | McManis Faulkner

From a young age, I have played tennis and competed on a regional and national level, before continuing my career in college as an NCAA athlete. I work at a law office now, and although there are no tennis nets or racquets here, there are many skills I learned through my decade of competitive tennis that may be applied to working in the legal field.

Adaptability

Playing the game of tennis is somewhat similar to the puzzles one may encounter in the field of law; you must either pursue your game plan or change it. You may outline a strategy down to the finest detail, but last-minute factors may require us to think on our feet and modify our approach. Adaptability is critical. If you are not adaptable, you are likely to limit your successes and allow unexpected events to throw you off. Preparing to be unavoidably unprepared and knowing how to react when you must will make your experiences on the court and in the courtroom significantly more positive.

Losing Correctly

Things do not always go in our favor, whether it be losing a tennis match, or having the judge rule against you. It may feel uncomfortable when the outcome is not as you would like, but one loss must not defeat you. You are bound to lose. See this as a chance to reevaluate what went well and what didn’t, then look to the next task at hand and conquer it by using the lessons you learned from your previous experience. As tennis player Rafael Nadal once stated, “losing is not my enemy, fear of losing is my enemy.” You cannot fear failure itself, rather you should learn to see it as something that will benefit you moving forward. Less favorable outcomes will happen at some point in your career, regardless of the field, and how you frame these losses will affect your future successes.

Be an Individual and a Team Member

Tennis is both an individual sport and a doubles game. Also, there are many people who greatly influence the success of an athlete ‘behind the scenes.’ From coaches, to doctors, to personal assistants, the team around the player is crucial to success and to work well with the people around you, while still maintaining high standards in your personal practice, is important. Your legal team is somewhat similar: mentors, paralegals, law clerks, and receptionists to name a few. You may be an attorney, but your team is there to help and work with you to achieve a common goal, so you should ask for advice and help when needed, as collaboration can often spur many of the greatest ideas. That said, your team cannot be successful without your own hard work. You must remember that you are supported, and you should ask for assistance, always aware however of your individual responsibilities and duties. There is an element of accountability which is also cultivated when you know that you are part of a team and something bigger than yourself. You have a duty to the people around you to show up and put in effort regardless of how you may feel on a given day. This in turn also benefits your own development and tenacity.

Creativity

This one may sound a little surprising, but creativity is a common attribute of many of the greatest tennis players. In order to outsmart your opponent, you must think ‘outside the box’, and use effective strategies that are unexpected or troublesome to manage on the receiving end. You must also be able to see how the opponent responds to your method and react accordingly. This is where things can, and should, get creative. Technical creativity is important to be successful in law. Thinking in ways which may not initially appear obvious may allow you to get one step ahead of the opposing party, and help your team find innovative solutions to the problem that may not be evident at face value. When stalemates arise, creativity may be the determining factor in progressing your case and may ultimately lead to a successful outcome.

Resilience

There are no shortcuts to success. Not in tennis, nor in the law. Discipline and relentless determination to achieve a desired outcome is what will make you successful. A tennis match, unlike many other sports, is not played within a set time limit. It could last 30 minutes or 11 hours and 5 minutes (such was the longest match in tennis history). You must be prepared to be fully present for it all and perform at the optimum level. Similarly, many legal cases demand hours, weeks, and years of your time and you must be able to withstand the hardship and focus on the end goal throughout. Resilience is a ‘proactive’ attribute and requires choosing to preserve through stressful and difficult times, which are inevitable both as an athlete and a lawyer.

These five skills require experience and practice, but they are manageable over time. Applying lessons that you have learned from areas of your life external to the law may be beneficial if you are looking to improve your performance in your career, and you may be surprised at the number of overlapping attributes that contribute to success.

I never would have anticipated that tennis would shape my career in the legal sector, but using what I know will hopefully lead to my future in the field of law: game, set, match!

Ines Pelvang was Captain of the Women’s Tennis Team at UC Santa Cruz her sophomore, junior and senior years. She was named to the Coast to Coast Conference ‘All Tournament Team’ in 2022. A recruited athlete from the UK, she played at Wimbledon when she was in high school, and her team was ranked 6Th in Great Britain in 2017. She is currently employed at the San Jose trial firm, McManis Faulkner.

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