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Where Fantasy Football and Trial Practice Intersect

September 03, 2015 Matthew Schechter

With Labor Day right around the corner, the NFL is gearing up for the 2015 season.  Fantasy football leagues are getting ready for another year of camaraderie, smack talk, and thoughts of a championship.

Mention fantasy football to most people and you are likely to get eye rolls, knowing chuckles, and even thoughts of lost productivity by employees. However, for lawyers, there are aspects of fantasy football – four in particular – that have corresponding attributes with trial work.

1. Draft Preparation.  Before you can get to the draft, you need to prepare.  Which players are hurt?  Who is going to be the breakout star?  When do teams’ bye weeks fall?  All these questions, and more, are matters a good fantasy football owner has to consider before even stepping into the draft room. 

Similarly, a good trial lawyer does not just walk into the courtroom on the first day of trial without preparation.  There are the obvious steps, like witness outlines, pocket briefs, and opening statements.  But that’s not all. What are the courtroom’s technical capabilities or limitations?  How does the judge conduct jury selection?  May I simply approach the witness or do I need to ask permission each and every time?  These, and similar matters, may seem like small things, but knowing the answers in advance will help make the trial go smoother, letting you worry about the more important issues to come.

2. The Draft.  It is now time to pick your team.  Regardless of the draft method you use, the goal is to have the best possible team that, week in and week out, will score you the most possible points. 

For the trial lawyer, the equivalent is selecting a jury.  True, one does not have quite the same control of the reasons who get on the jury as one does in fantasy football, but who ends up on the jury will play a key role in the verdict.  The plaintiff’s lawyer will want to excuse jurors who believe in awarding minimal general damages in a personal injury case, whereas the defense attorney will want the opposite.  In addition, just as a player you want gets drafted a pick or two before your turn, an attorney must also adjust quickly when a preferred juror is excused by the other side.

3. Managing Your Lineup.  As any fantasy football champion will tell you, your team at the end of the season will not be the same one that you drafted.  Maybe a player is injured, or you want to pick up that unexpected star receiver whom nobody has claimed.  You need to decide whom to start, whom to sit, what players to pick up off the waiver wire, and whom to drop in exchange.  If you do not adapt and react, you will not win.

Trial lawyers have similar concerns.  A witness may answer a question differently than when you met with him or her during trial preparation.  An unexpected legal issue arises.  The judge will not admit an exhibit into evidence.  Whatever it may be, you cannot plan everything.  Being ready and able to adjust to these unexpected “twists,” and, continue to move forward with your case, even if not as originally planned, will serve you well in the long run.

4. Trades.  At some point during the year, you will be approached by another manager who wants to make a trade.  In some cases, the decision to accept, or reject, the trade offer, will be an easy one.  Then there are those offers that you cannot reject out of hand, but you are not sure if you should accept.  What’s the risk if I say no?  Can I try to negotiate further and maximize the benefit I’ll receive? 

For the trial lawyer, questions like this arise when the other side makes a settlement offer during trial, possibly even while the jury is deliberating.  Like fantasy trades, some offers may be exactly what you want, and others will be easy to rebuff.  The real dilemma is when you get an offer that has some pros and cons, and that needs to be balanced against how you think the trial is going.  Do you feel the jury is leaning towards your client or the other side?  How much can I push back to maximize the benefit to my client without killing the offer?  There are no easy answers to these questions, but, like any trade, they are ones a trial lawyer needs to be prepared to handle.

Ultimately, fantasy football is, and should be, all fun and games.  Although certainly not a game, the aspects of preparation, management, and negotiation that are essential to success at fantasy football are equally useful to a trial attorney in the courtroom.

Matthew Schechter is an attorney with McManis Faulkner whose practice focuses on employment law.  His trial experience allows him to advocate effectively for his clients both in and out of the courtroom and at all stages of litigation.  We’ll have to get back to you on whether he successfully defended his fantasy football title from 2014.  For more information, please visit mcmanislaw.com.