In the law – as in baseball – if you’re not careful you can find yourself in a pickle.
It’s not a good place to be. Enemies try to force you into pickles. Friends and competent counsel help you get out of them.
And so, in an act of soul-cleansing I must confess to spending one summer not only encouraging others to get caught in pickles, but showing them how to do it.
Even more shameful, these were mere children. One of them was my own son.
Perfect Diamonds and Green Monsters
This was back in the Bronze Age, under the impossibly blue skies of Chapel Hill, when I coached youth baseball and practiced a little law on the side.
I grew up loving baseball, primarily Rico Carty of the Atlanta Braves. As a fan, I knew there was no greater humiliation than getting caught in a pickle, at least for the picklee. It happens when a runner greedily tries to take an extra base but is trapped between two or more fielders who lob the ball tauntingly to each other, forcing the hapless victim to scurry back and forth like a caged rat. It is a cruel game of human Pong, and it can last for days, even weeks.
In the big leagues, of course, the runner is almost always eventually tagged and put out of their misery.
But it was a different story in the Chapel Hill Pee Wee League. Half the players on my Cardinals team didn’t know which hand the glove went on (hint: it’s not as intuitive to a child as you might think) and the other half cowered in terror if a ball came their way.
“Did we lose again?” they’d ask after another lopsided defeat.
“It’s not about winning and losing,” I’d say.
“That means we lost.”
It Ain’t Over Til It’s Over
But then, in mid-season and the Cardinals winless, I woke in the night with a jolt of coaching genius. I’d observed how commonplace pickles were in Pee Wee ball. Apparently young humans are like wind-up toys. When they start running they keep going, around first and second and third, heedless of their coach’s frantic cries.
“Stop, stop,” I would yell to no avail, as they pursued their mindless quest for a “home run.”
But it turned out my players were smarter than me. They usually scored easily. That’s because the defenders were typically so mesmerized by the sight of a madly-dashing opponent they’d just stand there watching mutely. If they did attempt a run-down, the ball would inevitably end up in the stands or rolling into deep centerfield.
The result: another “home run.”
And before you could say Bull Durham, I had a new coaching philosophy.
“If you make it to first base,” I said. “Don’t stop.”
“Yay,” shouted the Cardinals, and we won our first game.
Déjà Vu All Over Again
We won the next game too. And sure, they were ugly wins – made possible by reckless base-running and countless throwing and catching errors – but a win is a win.
And so as the season neared its end, I began preparing my Coach of the Year speech. But then the wheels came off. Literally.
For that, I have my son Rudy to thank. In a pivotal game against the dreaded Yankees, Rudy stepped into the batter’s box and unleashed a Ruthian clout. By Ruthian clout I mean a swinging bunt that plunked the ball into the dirt just inches from the plate.
Rudy took off. But when he arrived at first, instead of rounding the bag and trucking onward, he stopped. He accepted a measly single.
“Run, run,” I hollered, but Rudy just stood there.
The Field of Dreams
I cannot remember how that game turned out. Maybe we won. Maybe not. What I do remember is that some of the other Cardinals followed Rudy’s lead and began running the bases in a sane manner and not like crazed animals.
“Why didn’t you keep running,” I asked my son.
“Because we should win by playing good,” he said with a shrug. “Not by trying to make them play bad.”
The Rules of Professional Conduct say we can be strong, ethical advocates without pressing every advantage. We don’t have to be jerks. We become excellent by practicing our craft, honing our skills and drawing on our unique strengths.
Rudy understood that at age eight. Soon I will visit him in Manhattan, where he lives and works. We’ll go to a ballgame. We’ll eat peanuts and stretch in the seventh inning. We’ll be together, and I can’t wait.
Jay Reeves has practiced law and done some other things over the years. Another childhood hero was Ty Cline from his native South Carolina. Rudy now follows the dreaded Yankees, and that’s just fine. Want to jump-start your law marketing or improve your law life? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 919-619-2441.
Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina and is author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World. He runs Your Law Life LLC, which helps lawyers and firms improve their well-being and create saner, more successful law lives. He is available for talks, presentations and confidential consultations.