Surviving the Arena: Three Lessons from The Hunger Games
The Hunger Games opened a little over a week ago to huge box office success. With the exception of a few racists, the movie got good reviews. I saw it opening weekend and enjoyed it quite a bit. But what I really enjoyed is how the lessons from the movie apply to lawyers.
This post contains spoilers of the book and the movie. You’ve been warned.
A large part of Katniss and Peeta’s success during the games comes about because the crowd loves them. People cheer for them and want to support them. Their team of support staff helped Katniss and Peeta steal the show and gain the admiration of the crowd. In essence, the two sold themselves to the capitol before the games. Then, during the games, Haymitch continued to sell them in order to procure sponsors for the things they needed to stay alive.
Whether you’re ready for a career in sales or not, all lawyers need to sell themselves. Solos and small firm lawyers need to sell themselves more directly, but even big firm lawyers need sales skills. For a struggling solo, sales ability can mean the difference between staying open or not. They have to sell themselves to potential clients on a daily basis. A skilled salesman can create a lucrative law practice. But only if he or she has something to back the sales skills up with.
In The Hunger Games there are a number of “career” tributes who immediately sell themselves as stronger, faster, and more deadly than the other combatants. But once the going got tough, none of that mattered. It didn’t matter how strong or fast a tribute was if they couldn’t destroy all of the opponents. Similarly, a great salesman can only get so far as an attorney. Sales skills are great, but they won’t help if you’re not good at representing clients. You can and should market yourself. But in time, all the marketing in the world won’t save you if you have a reputation as a lousy attorney.
There Can be Honor Amongst Competitors
During the competition Katniss befriends a girl from District 11 named Rue. When someone kills Rue, Katniss quickly avenges the death and stays with Rue during her dying moments. Later, Katniss encounters the other tribute from District 11 who lets her escape as a sign of respect for what Katniss did for Rue. Honorable, right?
If these fictional teenagers fighting for their lives can display a modicum of honor, why can’t we? I don’t see it often, but regularly enough I see attorneys throw each other under the bus or take credit for someone else’s work. Maybe I’m too new and I haven’t become cynical enough yet, but to me that kind of behavior just lowers the profession. We don’t all have to enjoy a glass of scotch at the end of the day together, but there’s no reason for ad hominem attacks or disrespect. We, as a profession, need to be able to separate business from personal.
We All Need a Little Help Sometimes
Although Katniss is the main character in The Hunger Games, she is not the lone ranger type. Try as she might, she doesn’t win the games on her own. Instead, she has to rely on help from numerous people, including her competitors.
There is nothing wrong with asking for help. I see attorneys struggle every day with procedural issues or problems regarding the local court rules. If they had placed a fifteen second phone call a day or two before coming to court, I could have easily set them on the right path. Although not everyone wants to be helpful, it rarely hurts to ask.
But don’t overdo it. Asking for help too often can alienate court staff (or anyone else you’re looking for help from) and that’s a bad idea. We have one or two attorneys locally that have been practicing law as long as I’ve been alive, yet they come in and ask routine questions all the time. I understand needing help, but don’t try to get someone else to do your job for you.