Monday, May 24, 2010

ARTICLE: Take Me Out to the Ballgame

Below is an article of mine set to appear in the May 25, 2010 edition of the Pennsylvania Law Weekly. I hope you find it as enjoyable reading--don't forget to check out the byline at the end.

Take Me Out to the Ballgame
Little League tips for big league lawyers

Daniel E. Cummins
Pennsylvania Law Weekly/The Legal Intelligencer
May 25, 2010

It's that time of year again — Little League baseball is starting up for boys and girls.

The smell of hotdogs and Cracker Jacks permeates the air, while spent sunflower seed shells crunch underfoot on the dusty floor of the dugout.

For kids, it's a time for new uniforms, cleats and friends. For parents, on the other hand, it can be a time for more laundry, over-the-top coaches hellbent on winning and some equally overbearing fellow parents. As Yogi Berra said, "Little League baseball is a very good thing because it keeps the parents off the streets."

In any event, it's a time for great memories.

During one "quick" two-and-a-half hour long Little League baseball game, it became clear that a lot of the coaching shouted by the managers and others could also be applied to improve one's game in the practice of law.

'Let's Warm Up and Stretch'

Warming up and stretching in baseball prevents injuries. Doing the same before any court appearances may prevent damage to the client's case.

Whether it be the simplest of oral arguments on a slam dunk motion to compel, a direct examination, a cross-examination or an opening statement or a closing argument, all can benefit from a warm up by, at the very least, outlining the presentation on paper.

The more involved court presentations can be improved by a practice run-through in front of another person.

Like pre-game calisthenics or drills, going over such important presentations out loud, in a repetitive fashion, can assist one in committing the same to memory and tweaking it where necessary.

Even better, taking a lap with the presentation in front of another attorney or a lay person can result in tips on ways to improve upon the questioning of a witness or an address to the jury.

'Keep Your Eye on the Ball'

It is said that one of the hardest things to do in all of sports is to hit a pitched baseball. In fact, the "Splendid Splinter," Ted Williams, one of baseball's greatest hitters, said, "The hardest thing to do in baseball is to hit a round baseball with a round bat, squarely."

Analogously, one of the hardest things to do in the practice of law is to keep your eye on the ball when an opposing counsel is throwing all kinds of purposefully distracting maneuvers your way.

The best way to stay focused in this regard is to not take matters personally and to not stoop to the opponent's level in angry retaliation.

Wherever possible, ignore the shenanigans being put forth by opposing counsel and stay the course on your theory of the case. Keep your eye on the ball. Your client will be better off for it.


Everyone's always required to run in baseball. The coaches are always shouting, "Hustle," "Move," "Chase it down," "Run it out," "Run it in!"

Hustling in the practice of law includes quickly answering correspondence, promptly responding to discovery and motions, and staying ahead of opposing counsel's tactics. This will allow one's case to move in a quicker and smoother fashion, hopefully toward the desired result.

The key is to honor your client's case by continually hustling and not loafing, all the way to the conclusion of the matter. As Yogi Berra said, "The game isn't over until it's over."

'Eddie! Run to First Base ... Not Third!'

Learning the fundamentals and the rules of the game in T-ball lays the foundation for a good ballplayer later.

Former St. Louis Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog advised: "Fundamentals are the most valuable tools a player can possess. Bunt the ball into the ground. Hit the cutoff man. Take the extra base. Learn the fundamentals."

The same applies in the practice of law, which is founded on rules and fundamental concepts.
As such, in addition to staying on top of new caselaw, a quick read-through of the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure on a periodic basis, even once a year, is recommended. This will not only refresh your memory of certain rules, and loopholes, but you may also surprise yourself by learning something new.

'Keep Your Butt Down!'

Perhaps nothing irks a coach more than seeing a ground ball go through the legs of an infielder who failed to get his butt down and his glove in the grass.

Something that falls through the cracks in the practice of law may unfortunately bring you much more trouble than an exasperated sigh and a big roll of the eyes from a coach.

To prevent such problems, it helps to regularly look ahead on the calendar, not only to the next week, but over the next 30 days to be reminded as to what's coming up. If the time permits, start a draft of that brief now that's due 30 days out.

It would also be beneficial to stay on top of the mail and phone calls by attempting, whenever possible, to return such communications on the spot and certainly no later than 24 hours after receipt. Once incoming letters and phone calls get older than 24 hours they are more likely to be forgotten, especially with the onslaught of more letters and phone calls received by a fortunately busy attorney.

Staying on top of the calendar and these communications will prevent things from going through the wickets and will make it less likely that you will be charged with an error.

'Cover All the Bases!'

A good baseball coach teaches his players to cover all of the bases on any hit ball.

If the coaching is good, the players are trained so that the first baseman covers first, the second baseman or shortstop go to the bag at second and the third baseman covers third at the crack of the bat. Although such coverage of the bases is usually wasted energy, there is always the potential that this maneuver will come in handy and may even secure an out or save a victory for the team.

Therein lies the pressure of the practice of law — the need to cover all of the bases all of the time. In addition to staying on top of incoming communications as noted above, another way to cover all the bases is to stay on top of the law.

New developments in the law can be committed to memory not only by reading updates but by actively typing case summaries and citations to a running list on a file on your computer.

Whether it be by reading the case digest section of the Pennsylvania Law Weekly, the blue advance sheets of the Atlantic Second Report, or other sources of updates, knowing the latest cases in your field of practice will always keep you ahead of the competition.

'You Never Argue With the Umpire!'

While it may have been socially acceptable in 1977 for Billy Martin to kick dirt all over an umpire's shoes and for Tommy Lasorda to get in an ump's face and say things like "%#@&*!%#@&*%," such is not the norm any more in baseball.

Nor is it in the practice of law, although the legal drama shows on TV these days may continually tempt young lawyers into believing it is acceptable to be flippant and disrespectful toward judges.

Candor, respect, and deference remain the rule in the courtroom and should be honored at all times.

So as much as you may want to go all Earl Weaver on a judge and his or her decision (which is probably the correct decision anyway), it's probably best to leave things unsaid or take it up on appeal.

'You'll Get 'Em Next Time.'

In baseball, failure is not the end of the world — it's expected. Strikeouts and errors happen all the time. Mediocre catcher and great baseball announcer, Bob Uecker, once proudly stated, "I led the league in 'Go get 'em next time.'"

The key in Little League to keeping young ballplayers coming back for more, despite errors or strikeouts, is repeated encouragement.

Noting that perfection is not the goal in baseball, Ted Williams stated, "Baseball is the only field of endeavor where a man can succeed three times out of 10 and be considered a good performer."

While attorneys should strive for better than a .300 average in terms of successes, a lawyer obviously can't win every motion or every case. But what counsel can do is keep their head up, learn from the losses, and move forward in search for a better result the next time around. To quote Babe Ruth, one of baseball's all-time greatest homerun hitters, "Don't let the fear of striking out hold you back."

'Line Up to Shake Hands!'

Last but not least, don't forget to line up at the end of every "game," whether you win or lose, to shake hands with your opponent and say, 'Good game.'

And so while you're out there in the game of law, enjoy it while you're in it, for as the great baseball announcer Vin Scully once said, "It's a mere moment in a man's life between the All-Star game and the Old-Timer's game."

Special to the Law Weekly Daniel E. Cummins is a partner in the Scranton law firm of Foley, Cognetti, Comerford, Cimini & Cummins and maintains a civil litigation blog called Tort Talk at He additionally serves as a T-ball coach where he averages 1.5 bats to the groin per game. He also coaches a coach-pitch team and, with his nasty lob ball, has a .053 ERA and averages 14 strikeouts per game.

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