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From Court to Court: The Dynamics of a Superstar Basketball Team and a Superstar Law Firm

By Ariana M. Flynn

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MARCH IS HERE!

For some, the dawn of March means sunny skies and the beginning of Spring. For us, March means the bitter end of college basketball season, but the sweet start of the March Madness NCAA tournament.

But that begs the million-dollar question, “who is going to win?” Well, save your money on “bracketology experts” because this tournament is unforgiving and unpredictable. Upsets will be coming our way. Underdogs will rise; powerhouses will fall. There are, however, several common core characteristics in a championship basketball team that distinguish themselves from mediocre teams. The difference? Creating a superstar team, rather than a team of superstars.

These same characteristics are paralleled in high functioning law firms with top employee retention. What’s surprising is that these characteristics are often overlooked. Society only wants to see that game winning shot or the closing argument, sealing the deal on your case. No one sees the hard work, dedication, and sacrifice it took to get there.

So, when creating your brackets this year, keep in mind these qualities in looking for your top team. Likewise, when looking to expand your firm, keep these characteristics in mind to align your team for success.

1) Everyone Knows Their Role

Let’s be real, Coach K isn’t suiting up any time soon. You’re not going to put J.J. Reddick in the post. (Can you tell I’m a Duke fan?) On mediocre teams, you often see players “doing too much” on the court and one player trying to do it all: the prima donna. The prima donna does not tend to their strengths, and takes on all tasks, including their weaknesses. This intercepts their teammates’ ability to perform their strengths. The prima donna has now become a liability on the court because they are shooting and missing three’s, getting frustrated, when they should be sprinting back on defense and play to their strengths.

This cutthroat, selfish play is all too common in the legal industry. From law school class ranks to pinning associates against each other, some attorneys are “doing too much,” which counterintuitively, makes them perform worse because they are not capitalizing on their strengths. A good attorney is able to analyze where they are going to be an asset, and plug the firm’s weaknesses by bringing a set of skills and talent unique to that individual, not one who tries to take on everything.

Knowing your role goes beyond recognizing your personal strengths and weaknesses. It is also knowing your role within the team itself. A point guard, generally, is the leader on the floor and they execute by creating open shots. Without a solid point guard, the “scorer” on the team will not be able to get the ball; thus, will not be able to score.

A law firm works the same way; each player acting as a cog in the entire machine that leads to success.

A superstar team not only capitalizes each individuals’ strengths and weaknesses, but each player knows their role within the team.

2) The Power of Partnership and Teamwork

Partnership and teamwork go hand-in-hand in the game of basketball and amongst attorneys.

You all may have experienced a “helicopter” boss. One who micromanages you, watching every little thing you do, who’s afraid that if you don’t follow orders to a tee, everything will fall apart. One who needs to be in full control all the time. This is how a dominating model manifests itself in team management, ultimately restricting creativity and diversity. On the other hand, if you work for someone who inspires you and facilitates your work, who gives you proper guidelines and leeway, while encouraging you to use your own judgment and creativity, then you have experienced a partnership type of organization. Not only does this inspire creativity and diversity in the work force, but also maintains employee happiness and mental health.

Teamwork is equally important on the court as it is in court. Teamwork means being reliable, while sticking up and having your colleagues’ backs. It means active listening, rather than dominating a conversation. It means being dependable, trusting your teammates, and working as hard as necessary for the better of your team. It means making sacrifices and putting the needs of the team above personal gain.

In basketball, one of the biggest sacrifices a player can make is to “take a charge.” It’s painful, there are no points or statistics to add to your stat book, and there’s no glory in it (you’re not making any highlight reels with a charge). However, it’s one of the most selfless moves and the benefits are substantial: the opposing player obtains a foul, you gain possession of the ball, and the game’s momentum swings to your team. This is a prime example of a sacrificial play and translates over to the practice of law. If more attorneys shift their mindset to “taking the charge,” everyone will have more opportunities to make the power play on the opposite end.

A wholistic, cooperative team approach yields the best decisions by diverse teams with top problem-solving and best practices. This then leads to better results, while building healthy relationships, encouraging creativity and innovation.

3) Perfect Practice Makes Perfect

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

Malcolm Gladwell coined the concept of the “10,000 Hour Rule” which provides that people are not born geniuses (or top athletes), they get there through effort. Specifically, you must practice 10,000 hours before you get “good.”

It’s the players who spend countless hours in the gym after practice getting up shots. Simply put, to be great, you have to put in the work. It’s the raw work ethic of an individual to succeed to the best of their ability to become a critical asset for their team.

May the Best Team Win

There are many uncertainties that we cannot control. In basketball, the players can’t control the referee’s calls or the craziness of the fans. In court, we cannot control the judge’s thought process, ruling, or opposing counsel’s hostility. But in both, what we can control are these common characteristics of hard work, sacrifice, teamwork, partnership, and preparation. Winning is simply a game of luck; but the more we practice and prepare, the luckier we will get.

While the pieces may come together in crafting a superstar team, there is no fool-proof recipe to predict our next NCAA championship winner. But there is one thing we know for certain in the month of March: it’s madness, baby.