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I'll admit it. From time to time, I watch professional wrestling. I may also have been to a live event or three. The more time I spend watching wrestling, the more parallels I see between wrestling and the practice of law. Here are a few.
• Be careful who you smack with a steel chair, because he will probably be your tag-team partner next week.
In the good old days, Hulk Hogan and the Iron Sheik would never, ever think about joining forces. Their roles as mortal enemies were clear and defined. There were good guys and bad guys, and never the twain shall meet. The upshot of being undying adversaries was that each of them could fight dirty without consequence. Eye-gouges, chokeholds and steel chairs were all in play.
Times have changed. The Undertaker and his half-brother Kane feud, and the next week, Paul Bearer, their manager, negotiates a truce and they are tag-team partners. And back and forth it goes.
In my limited experience, law is much like modern wrestling. No matter how large the legal market, attorneys seem to run across the same colleagues again and again. Bitter adversaries in one case become co-counsel in the next case and then adversaries again after that.
While it is expected and demanded that attorneys will vigorously represent their clients, there is a big difference between a sportsmanlike pin of an opponent and ending his career with a tombstone pile driver. If it acts as no disadvantage to the client, the sportsmanlike gesture of leaving the steel chair outside the ring, rather than using it on your opponent like a chiropractic tool, makes that inevitable joint-defense meeting with this week's opponent a lot more comfortable.
• Arguing with the referees never works.
In a world of over-the-top antics and larger-than-life personalities, wrestling referees have their hands full. However, they almost always manage to call a fair match. Referees only become a factor when one of the wrestlers gets upset and starts arguing about an illegal maneuver.
It happens something like this: Bad guys King Kong Bundy and Big John Studd are in a tag-team match with good guys Junkyard Dog and Hillbilly Jim. The good guys are winning handily until Bundy does something to break the rules. Dog calls the ref over to berate him about missing the call. In the meantime, Bundy and Studd are pounding poor Jim into oblivion. By the time the ref refocuses on the match, the damage is done. A match that was going perfectly well for the good guys just ended with Bundy's hand being raised.
Judges, like wrestling referees, have to deal with big personalities in their courtrooms. Their job is to call a fair match, and they almost always do. Like wrestling, nothing good ever comes out of arguing with a judge. At best, the judge becomes mildly annoyed and stops listening to the lawyer's whining, along with whatever good points he or she was making. At worst, the judge becomes really annoyed and remembers it next time that lawyer comes into the courtroom (and the time after that). Either way, the attorney gains nothing and may lose a lot more.
• One part charisma, one part skill and a dash of improvisation is the recipe for success.
Professional wrestling is 40 percent charisma and stage presence, which the stars usually exhibit through dramatic entrance antics and signature finishing moves. Can't think of anything unique? Just pick one of your regular moves, give it a dangerous-sounding name -- try "Iron Claw" or "Atomic Leg Drop" -- and sell it to the crowd.
Wrestling is 40 percent technical skill. A wrestler who knows how to let himself be body-slammed ensures he will be around next week to have it done to him again.
Finally, wrestling is 20 percent ability to improvise on short notice. It's not easy to stand up boldly in spandex underwear in front of an arena full of people and on live television and compose a three-minute oratory about a rival -- all while pretending you're an undead mortician when you're really just a regular guy from Austin. Improvisational skills also come in handy during the match, as only a few moves and the outcome are typically scripted.
The best lawyers I know share a similar skill set. Technical legal skills, including a solid understanding of the substantive law and procedural rules, form the foundation. But great attorneys have an equal amount of charisma. Those attorneys can take a dull set of facts and use them to tell an interesting story while connecting with their audience, whether it's a jury or a judge. The third skill, improvisation, is underappreciated. Whether it's closing a corporate transaction or trying a case, the unexpected is routine. Attorneys who can adjust seamlessly on the fly, even if they're just winging it, come out on top. While, like wrestling, too much or too little of any of these skills can be a disaster, the perfect combination produces magical results.
• The grudges usually end when the match does.
In wrestling, when the cameras roll, the matches, arguments and occasional insults are real. When the wrestlers get backstage after the match, camaraderie and beer are the common denominator.
The same holds true for law. Although both sides in a case go full throttle while the stage lights are on, it is (or should be) tradition that the attorneys take the gloves off and share a few laughs afterward. After all, it's a good opportunity to meet next week's tag-team partner.
Kip Mendrygal is a senior associate with Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell in Dallas. The opinions and statements in this column are his own.