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

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From a young age, I played tennis and competed at the regional and national levels, before continuing my college career as an NCAA athlete. I now work in a law firm, and while there are no tennis nets or rackets here, there are many skills I’ve learned over my decade of competitive tennis that can be applied to legal work.

Adaptability

Playing tennis is somewhat similar to the puzzles that can be encountered in the field of law; you have to pursue your game plan or change it. It is possible to outline a strategy down to the smallest detail, but last minute factors may require us to think on our feet and adjust our approach. Adaptability is key. If you are not adaptable, it is likely that you are limiting your successes and allowing unforeseen events to sidetrack you. Preparing to be inevitably unprepared and knowing how to react when necessary will make your experiences on the field and in the classroom significantly more positive.

Lose correctly

Things don’t always work out in our favor, whether it’s losing a tennis match or having a judge’s decision against you. He may feel uncomfortable when the outcome isn’t the way you would like, but a loss doesn’t have to defeat you. You are bound to lose. See this as an opportunity to reevaluate what went well and what didn’t, then look to the next task at hand and conquer it using the lessons learned from your previous experience. As tennis player Rafael Nadal once said, “losing is not my enemy, the fear of losing is my enemy.” You can’t fear failure itself, rather you should learn to see it as something that will benefit you moving forward. Less favorable outcomes will occur at some point in your career, regardless of field, and how you frame these losses will affect your future successes.

Be an individual and a member of the team

Tennis is both an individual sport and a doubles game. In addition, 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 critical to success and working well with the people around you whilst maintaining high standards in your personal practice is important. Your legal team is somewhat similar – mentors, paralegals, legal clerks and receptionists to name a few. You may be a lawyer, but your team is there to help you and work with you towards a common goal, so you should seek advice and help when needed, as collaboration can often spark many of the best ideas. That said, your team cannot be successful without your hard work. You must remember that you are supported, and should ask for assistance, but always aware of your individual responsibilities and duties. There is an element of responsibility that is also cultivated when you know you are part of a team and something bigger than you. You owe it to the people around you to show up and engage regardless of how you might be feeling on any given day. This in turn also benefits your development and tenacity.

Creativity

This may seem a little surprising, but creativity is a common attribute of many of the greatest tennis players. To outwit your opponent, you must think “outside the box” and use effective strategies that are unexpected or difficult to handle on the receiving end. You also need to be able to see how your opponent responds to your method and react accordingly. This is where things can and should get creative. Technical creativity is important for success in law. Thinking in ways that may not seem obvious at first can allow you to get ahead of the opposing side and help your team come up with innovative solutions to the problem that may not be obvious on face value. When deadlocks occur, creativity can be the determining factor in moving your case forward and can ultimately lead to a successful outcome.

Resilience

There are no shortcuts to success. Neither in tennis, nor in the law. Relentless discipline and determination to achieve the desired result is what will make you successful. A tennis match, unlike many other sports, is not played within a set time limit. It could have lasted 30 minutes or 11 hours and 5 minutes (this was the longest match in tennis history). You must be prepared to be fully present for everything and to perform at your optimum level. Similarly, many legal cases require hours, weeks and years of your time, and you need to be able to endure the hardships and focus on the end goal throughout. Resilience is a “proactive” attribute and requires choosing preserve through stressful and difficult times, which are inevitable as both an athlete and an advocate.

These five skills require experience and practice, but are manageable over time. Applying lessons learned from areas of your life outside of the law can be helpful if you’re 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 predicted that tennis would shape my legal career, but using what I know will lead me to my future in the legal field: play, set, match!

Ines Pelvang was the captain of the UC Santa Cruz women’s tennis team as a sophomore, junior and senior. She was named the Coast to Coast Conference ‘All Tournament Team’ in 2022. She A recruited athlete from the UK, she played Wimbledon when she was in high school and her team ranked 6th in Great Britain in 2017. She is currently employed by the San Jose law firm, McManis Faulkner.

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Written by Natalia Chi

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