Maria Sfreddo is an Equal Justice Works Fellow at the Legal Assistance Foundation where she represents low-income clients in domestic relations matters. When her fellowship term ends this fall, she will be joining Pasulka & Associates. She can be reached at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
During a recent interview for an associate position with a firm, one of the partners asked me a seemingly simple question that I was not prepared to answer. “Did you play any sports in college?” I hesitated, unsure if this was something I should disclose in an interview. Against my better judgment, I admitted that I was a college cheerleader. Her response did little to assuage my concerns. Let me be clear about the fact that I am a proud former cheerleader and will take on anyone who argues that it’s not a “real sport.” However, I am aware of the stereotypes that exist and was concerned that I had just committed job interview suicide.
After careful consideration, I came to the conclusion that good cheerleaders and good lawyers have a lot in common. Here are a few of the most important skills that we cheerleaders bring to the legal profession.
There is no “I” in team. Cheerleading is the only sport that focuses not only on individual performance, but on supporting the efforts of others. Cheerleaders recognize what many other athletes do not — the world does not revolve around you. While cheerleading is often devalued for its ancillary role to other sports, I think it’s a valuable lesson for all athletes. Have you ever heard of a cheerleader holding a press conference to announce where she’s “taking her talents”? Cheerleaders know how to leave their egos at the door.
Lawyers, much like cheerleaders, have a bad rap. We aren’t exactly known for our team spirit or our willingness to cooperate and we are quick to believe we know it all. Good attorneys recognize that the legal profession is, at its roots, a helping profession, much like nursing or teaching. The best attorneys are willing to look outside themselves for answers, to listen closely to their clients needs, and to collaborate with others.
When the going gets tough, the tough get going. Cheerleaders don’t always get to cheer for a winning team. Unlike players who throw their helmets in frustration when their opponent gains a hefty lead, cheerleaders must stay positive. In these situations, they pull out the big guns, like complex tumbling passes and dangerous stunts. It’s not easy to get a stadium full of disenchanted fans to yell along with you while they watch their team die a slow death, but that never stopped us from trying.
What if attorneys had this same attitude? A courtroom loss or a particularly challenging case would result in creative new strategies to the often rigid legal process. It’s easy to take a one-size-fits-all approach to similar cases, but that is hardly fulfilling our duty to be zealous advocates. Any cheerleader will tell you, a positive attitude goes a long way in persuading others and meeting challenges.
All the world’s a stage: Cheerleading isn’t always about playing second fiddle. Whether they are on the sidelines or at a national competition, cheerleaders are performers in the truest sense of the word. I performed in front of thousands of people on a regular basis and represented my school at events ranging from Alumni Weekend to the local news broadcast. The cornerstone of cheerleading is a precise mix of showmanship and poise in a wide range of situations.
Likewise, an attorney’s courtroom skills are of paramount importance. The best attorneys are expert public speakers and effective communicators. When it comes to making a legal argument, delivery and presentation matter. An attorney that can command the attention of a judge or jury with equal parts humility and self-confidence will have an undeniable advantage.
If I could go back and answer the same interview question again, I would do so with the confidence that cheerleaders make good lawyers. Not only am I a skillful and aggressive attorney, but I also happen to be able to spell “aggressive” while nailing a perfect high kick. While I may be advocating for clients rather than touchdowns, I will continue to pride myself on being a “cheerleader for justice.”