5 Ways Legal Practice is like the Melbourne Cup

We all saw it (or most of us did).  It’s the “race that stops the nation” and, generally speaking, what that means is that it’s the race at which lots of people get too drunk to function any longer.

However, my nerd-like celebration of the Melbourne Cup Festival is not to lose all my money on a speculative punt, but to draw some analogies between your legal career and the cup itself.

As you read, it will become apparent to you that I don’t know anything about horses.  So just try go with the flow here, OK?

You Can Always Tell the Long Shot…

It’s interesting, isn’t it.  In the Cup there are always a couple of horses paying something like $200 on a $1 bet.  Why is that?  Because they are absolutely NOT going to win.  At all.  Ever.

My theory is that these horses exist only for the perverse reason that some punters will take the long shot no matter what.

However, law is much the same.  There are some people who, for whatever reasons, have done a law degree and started legal practice despite being patently unsuitable for the role.  They are generally easy to spot.

That probably comes across as harsh, snobby or arrogant – but there is a definite line below which people should not be practising law.  Describing the line and who falls beneath it is quite hard – but you know it when you see it.

… But Choosing the Winner is Much Harder

Contrary to the first point, although picking those that are NOT going to win is pretty easy, trying to pick the best horses is actually a mug’s game.

I’m sure the hard core punters out there will disagree – but if you do, then I’m sure you’ll back it up by sending me a statutory declaration of all your wins and losses since you started betting.  Right?

The fact is this – there are lots of talented horses, just are there are lawyers.

We all get similar training, similar skill-sets, similar degrees.  The law doesn’t change between people.

So just like there is a line at the bottom, there is also a line at the top – over that, picking the best isn’t a matter of science, but of art.

The Best Horses can have Bad Days

We saw this in this year’s Cup.  It wasn’t a “bad day” in the true sense, but an unknown rare heart condition (or that’s the thinking as I write this).

But law is much the same.

The best lawyers don’t always “win”.  They can’t always find the smoking gun, the magic case on point, or the legal technicality to get their client out of a dumb decision.

No – the best lawyers are consistently accurate, devoted to their jobs and their clients, emotionally invested, and aware of their own deficiencies and need for improvement.

But despite all those things, some days just turn out badly.

A Preferred Stomping Ground

Just like some horses prefer firm ground, I like commercial litigation and tax litigation.

Other horses run better on different turf, over different distances, and in different weather – they might practice in property, commercial law, hospitality, planning and environment, or personal injuries.

The fact is that we all have a sweet spot.  That doesn’t meant that we shouldn’t go outside our comfort zone as often as possible, but it does mean that we operate better and more efficiently when the conditions are right.

Significant Investment

Race horses cost lots.  Don’t believe me?  Then go out and buy one.

Beyond the initial outlay, however, are vet fees, training fees, agistment, feed and so on.  By the time your horse runs a few races, you can rest assured you are well and truly out of pocket.

A lot of time, money, blood, sweat and tears have been invested (or are being invested) in your becoming a lawyer.

Do you honour that investment with the way you practice?  Do you just go through the motions, or are you really engaged at an emotional level in your your work and with your clients?

Don’t start taking the opportunities you have for granted – time and opportunity will pass you by before you know it.

So take a breath, recognise your achievements and the support you have had to get there – and jump in.

Happy Lawyering!

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