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Graceful in Defeat


I don’t know much about hockey.  I didn’t grow up with it and I can’t seem to follow it on TV.  However, after you have been to a Colorado College game or two, it’s hard not to be a hockey fan – or at least a fan of Colorado College hockey.  I go as often as I can.

I am particularly partial to Saturday night games.  If you stay until the end you get to see something you won’t see in any other sport.  When the game is over, college hockey teams line up and shake hands, right in the middle of the ice.  Amazing!  After beating each other up, knocking each other into the boards, maybe even drawing blood, the winners and losers shake hands.

At first I thought this handshake thing was out of respect for the other players.  Not exactly.  I work with an attorney who is married to a hockey coach.  According to her – and she knows hockey – the handshaking is not a sign of respect for the players as individuals, it is out of respect for what they do, the game, and the sport.  They may not personally know some of the other players and they may hate some of them.  It doesn’t matter.  When the end-of-the-weekend-series ritual takes place, hands are clasped, kind words are exchanged, respect is paid.

If you have not lost a case, or been on the wrong end of a deal, you have not tried many cases or done many deals.  Most of us win our share and lose our share.  We often do not choose our clients.  We do not make the facts.  The situation is presented to us, and we do with it what we can.  There is joy in winning and disappointment in losing.  However, there should be no shame in losing, so long as you did your best.  Winning, too, should be kept in proper perspective.  As we all know, someone has to lose.

After twenty-one years of practicing law, I still believe that the outcome of most cases turns on the merits.  My best work and my opponent’s worst can only affect things so much. When all is said and done, the outcome will be determined by the facts and the law, not by me or by what I did or didn’t do.  When I stop believing this, I need to stop trying cases and perhaps stop practicing law.

So, as in hockey, when the case is over or the deal done, it is time for the winner and the loser to pay their respects to one another.  This is not because a lawyer likes his or her opponent personally, but because the lawyer has respect for what lawyers do and how hard it often is to do it well, and for a legal system – as cumbersome as it is – that lets us resolve disputes without drawing blood (unlike hockey).

I almost forgot.  Go CC!

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