Reprinted with permission from the American Bar Association GPSolo eReport.
This article is the first of four installments exploring the stories, lessons, and advice of high-level athletes who went on to become successful solo and small firm attorneys.
Before becoming an attorney, I played tennis. I worked hard to become a ranked junior, both in my home state of Idaho and in the Intermountain region section,1 winning a high school state doubles championship and then continuing to play tennis for two years at Idaho State University. From age 11 through 18, I enjoyed competing against five outstanding young women who consistently achieved the top Idaho rankings in our age group. Out of our group of six, four of us became attorneys.2 Was this merely a coincidence? Or could it be that we learned some valuable lessons from all those hours spent practicing and competing that propelled us to our current legal careers? I contend it’s the latter.
This article series will explore the relationship between sports and the law, and how athletics provides the perfect training ground of hard work, discipline, strategic skills, competitiveness, passion, balance, teamwork, and sportsmanship—all desired qualities for running a successful solo or small-firm legal practice. To add to my experience, I interviewed four other athletes who will be featured throughout this article series.
Another “graduate” of the group of six Idaho tennis players and my doubles partner throughout my junior tennis career, Kathleen earned junior rankings as high as number four in Intermountain and number 104 nationally, and she enjoyed a successful collegiate career at the University of Utah. After a stint as a geological engineer, Kathleen earned her law degree at Seattle University and an LLM in tax from the University of Florida. She later founded Third Party Reproduction Law, a small firm with offices in Boise, Idaho, and Provo, Utah, representing “clients in achieving their family goals through surrogacy, egg donation, sperm donation, and embryo donation.”3 Kathleen believes there may be a tie between playing tennis and founding a law firm. “To the extent that it’s an individual sport, you control your own destiny. It’s the same as a solo practice, you sort of control everything. It’s really how hard you want to work, how far you want to take it.”
Merrell started out as a swimmer and then was recruited by a coach in her Florida high school to join the rowing team. She fell in love with the sport and later competed for the University of Central Florida’s rowing team. Merrell went on to graduate from Barry University School of Law and founded her own law firm, known as “Your Caring Law Firm.” Merrell now represents clients in the areas of estate planning, charitable planning, asset protection planning, family limited partnerships, nonprofit organizations, and gift, estate, and generation-skipping tax planning.4 In discussing the lessons learned from sports, Merrell opined:
Athletes are the employees that everybody wants because they are so disciplined, goal oriented, and coachable. For every trait that an employer has on their dream list, a college athlete has that attribute. For the law students, or the students thinking that they might go to law school, if they were athletes, they don’t need to worry about the fact that they might not have had a part-time job at the local mall. They’re going to be fine.
Bob initially competed as a ski racer while a student at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. While training in Oregon, Bob noticed that some members of the U.S. Ski Team biked in order to cross-train. Bob decided to give cycling a try, discovering, “I got the idea that I might be better at that than skiing, and so then I just kept my head down in that direction.” This was an excellent choice, given Bob’s exceptional cycling career. Bob became an Olympian as well as a U.S. National Champion (1990) and won more than 100 races in his seven-year career. In the 1988 Summer Olympics, held in Seoul, he placed fourth in the Individual Road Race. Bob also placed sixth in the 1990 Pan American Games held in Havana. In the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Bob assisted his teammate, Lance Armstrong, to a 14th-place finish. Bob became a professional racer in 1993, his final season, but began to realize, “I didn’t want to keep doing it. It was taking a lot out of me physically and even psychologically.” Bob retired from cycling and tackled the new phase of his life by attending the Willamette University College of Law.
After graduation, he went on to found his own small law firm in Portland, Oregon. Bob started the first bicycle law practice in the United States, “representing professional racers David Zabriskie, Michael Barry, Tom Danielson, and Kevin Livingston, while also defending the legal rights of weekend warriors, commuters, and messengers.”5 Discussing the tenacity he developed as an athlete, Bob explains:
You might have a whole season as a bike racer where you just couldn’t do anything. You might start losing hope. But you stick it out another year, and then another, and then you have the best year of your career. But if you had quit when you were down, you would have been out of it. It’s the same in life. And obviously, that includes a legal practice.
The daughter of Brazilian political refugees, Patricia decided to try out for her eighth-grade wrestling team at Redwood Middle School in Saratoga, California, noting: “I was the only girl there but didn’t think much of it.” As someone who loves a challenge, Patricia quickly became hooked. Breaking the stereotype of the male wrestler, she was the first female to wrestle for her middle school and high school. Patricia then attended Stanford University, where she wrestled on the men’s team. “My goal was to start for Stanford and to beat a competitor in Division One.” Although her coach labeled her as a bit “delusional,” Patricia did indeed accomplish her goal in college. She went on to win two World Cup gold medals in freestyle wrestling,6 another gold medal in the 2003 Pan American Games in Santo Domingo, three World Championship medals, and a bronze medal in the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens.
Patricia graduated from Yale Law School and is now a partner at the three-attorney law firm of Miranda, Magden & Miranda, LLP, with offices in Monterey and Salinas, California. She focuses her practice primarily on immigration law.7 Patricia believes that her athletic background and achievements helped ignite the desire for her to start a small practice, stating, “It takes a unique set of characteristics, I think, to want to be your own boss. The ability to have answered a lot of the questions about myself, and increase my ability to rely on myself, definitely helped me feel like I might be able to run my own business.”
These four inspiring and accomplished athletes now apply the life-altering lessons learned from sports to their notable legal careers as solo and small-firm lawyers. What can we learn from their experiences? I look forward to exploring these insights in my three upcoming articles in this series.
1. The United States Tennis Association divides the United States into sections for competitive purposes. I competed in the Intermountain Section, consisting of Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Nevada, and Wyoming.
2. Besides Kathleen McRoberts, who will be profiled in this series, the other two women are Patricia Cassell, chief prosecutor in the Summit County, Utah Attorneys’ Office; and Wendy J. Olsen, a former U.S. Attorney for the District of Idaho who is now a partner in Stoel Rives LLP’s Boise, Idaho, office.
3. For more information, please see the firm’s website at thirdpartyreproduction.com.
4. For more information, please see the firm’s website at yourcaringlawfirm.com.
5. For more information, please see the firm’s website at bicyclelaw.com.
6. Patricia won the World Cups in 2003 (Tokyo) and 2007 (Krasnoyarsk).
7. For more information, please see the firm’s website at mirandalawgroup.com.