It’s Not Just the Stars

Jim Chen has written another MoneyLaw gem about the lesson to be learned from a b-ball player named Shane Battier.  Who?   

Shane Battier, a forward playing for the Houston Rockets, may be “the most abnormally unselfish basketball player.” Lewis calls him “the player who seems one step ahead of the analysts, helping the team in all sorts of subtle, hard-to-measure ways that appear to violate his own personal interests.” He is valuable not because of his raw athleticism, but in spite of his physical limits.

What matters about Shane Battier is that stars need people to support them.  There can be no effective Yao Ming without a Shane Battier.

It’s hard to overstate Battier’s value to the Houston Rockets. That team’s payroll having been committed, “for many years to come, to two superstars: Tracy ­McGrady and Yao Ming,” management needed to seek undervalued, underpaid players. “That’s the scarce resource in the NBA. . . . Not the superstar but the undervalued player.”

Jim makes the point for the purpose of showing the hidden value of the supporting player on a law school faculty.  I steal his point to say the same about the lawyers for the defense.  Many, perhaps even most, of my cases involve multiple defendants.  I represent one defendant, and other defendants have their own lawyers.  Aside from the lawyers pushing their clients to flip, the defense lawyers often have the opportunity to work together for the mutual benefit of all.  It frequently doesn’t work out that way.

There are two basic reasons for this phenomenon, one legitimate and one not.  Each lawyer has an individual client to represent, and to the extent that their defendant’s interest differs from that of a co-defendant, they are required to put their client’s interest ahead of all else.  But the fact is that much of the time, the interests of defendants are mutual, and it is in the defendants mutual interests to work together toward the common goal.  Still, lawyers don’t.  They can’t.  They simply find it impossible to put aside their personalities, their selfishness.  Each is a star, and stars cannot sublimate their interests for the common good.  It’s not in their nature.

This isn’t true of all lawyers.  Some are happy to be team players when it doesn’t interfere with duty to their client.  They will contribute selflessly, even though there will be no glory for them personally.  Somebody has to pass the ball to the star for the dunk.  They have grown beyond the  fear that no one will notice, or appreciate, their contribution.  Their contributions are invaluable, while the wannabe stars lounge about waiting for the hard work to magically get done so they can pretend they had something to do with it.

When I am not lead counsel in a case, I try to contribute this way.  There are a number of lawyers with whom I love to work, knowing that they will contribute this way.  There are far more lawyers who I know won’t, and will either disappear or drop the ball when time comes to contribute to the team work that wins cases.  I dread them being on a case with me.  They can be more dangerous to success than the prosecution.  At minimum, they are just a drag on the case, an additional needless burden to carry along the way.

Jim Chen’s sports analogy may not be perfect, but it offers much to think about for anyone whose playing field is a court.  No matter how much of a star you want to be, there are times that being like Shane Battier will be the most valuable contribution you can make.

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