Most lawyers do not get too many opportunities to bond with their coworkers outside of the office. Sure, many law firms host annual holiday parties and other similar gatherings outside of the four walls of an office, but such events can be stressful, and it might be difficult for attorneys and staff to unwind at such functions and connect on a deeper level. Some law firms participate in softball leagues, and perhaps other sports leagues, so attorneys and staff have the chance to bond while participating in a nonlegal activity. Participating in such leagues is difficult in the COVID-19 era, and it seems like such participation has been on the decline in recent years. Nevertheless, more law firms should participate in such leagues for a variety of reasons.
The first time I ever heard about a law firm softball league was when my older brother (and law partner) played for a law firm softball league when he was a summer law clerk at a law firm. I remember him saying that this was a good way to connect with management at the firm, and I distinctly recall him wearing his dirt-stained softball shirt and baseball cap when he got home from work at night that summer. I kept this in the back of my mind when I was a summer associate, and I made sure that I would participate in my firm’s softball league if the firm at which I worked had a team.
I am not at all good at softball. Some vision issues make it almost impossible for me to reliably catch or hit a ball. As a result, I was a little hesitant to join the firm’s softball team. However, summer associates are usually rewarded if they go above and beyond to connect with people at the law firm, so I cast any fears aside and wholeheartedly participated in the firm’s softball team.
Going to the softball games was an enriching and unique experience. I got to know the members of the firm’s softball team better than people I just knew around the office since it is much easier to open up to people when you are outside of a workplace. In addition, it is much easier to make memories and forge a deeper connection with people while participating in softball than while working on any of the legal tasks we needed to complete in the office. Moreover, many law firms participate in softball leagues against other law firms and such participation is a great way to connect with colleagues who may work at another law firm.
After each softball game, the firm would pay for us to have an after-game dinner at a local sports bar. This was another chance for all of us to unwind and discuss what happened during the game. Also, this was a way for me to score free dinner, which was a plus since I was still a poor law student at the time!
When attorneys and staff participate in sports leagues like softball, it is easy for people to forget about their roles at an office and just focus on the task at hand. It doesn’t matter if someone is a partner, associate, or staff, everyone was there to have fun. Fortunately, most of the time, the softball games that my firm participated in were rather chill, and when I went up to bat, people cheered like hell for me even though I almost always invariably struck out.
Of course, it is important to keep considerations in mind when law firms field a softball team. For one, it is important to recognize that people of different genders and ability levels should be able to participate in games. This is usually fairly easy to accommodate, especially if people are participating in a noncompetitive softball league. Of course, some of the softball leagues I hear law firms participate in are super competitive, and it is unfortunate if people are excluded from participating because of their ability. In addition, it is important to ensure that even if the team performs poorly, everyone still has a positive experience (which is usually easier to do when there is an after-game dinner from my personal experience).
The only time I ever worked at a firm that had a softball team was when I was in Biglaw. Of course, a firm needs to have a large number of employees and resources to field a team, and this might be a reason why Biglaw shops are more likely to have softball teams. However, it seems from my anecdotal experience that even before COVID-19, softball and other similar leagues among law firms were on the decline.
Nevertheless, more law firms should consider fielding softball or other sports teams for all of the benefits shops can realize from this participation. Not only can such teams increase connections between coworkers, they can forge connections with colleagues within the legal community as well.
Jordan Rothman is a partner of The Rothman Law Firm, a full-service New York and New Jersey law firm. He is also the founder of Student Debt Diaries, a website discussing how he paid off his student loans. You can reach Jordan through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.