By now, everyone has heard about the Philadelphia Eagles and their rise to football supremacy as underdogs – the team that no one respected. On Sunday, we’ll see if the Eagles prove just how underrated and disrespected they were by winning the ultimate NFL prize, the Super Bowl.
Many people have expressed disbelief that being an underdog, or being disrespected, can be a motivator. I can attest that it can be and is a tremendous motivator. I know from experience, and have used that experience to motivate me even more to assure the best results for every client.
In law school, I had no interest in joining a large firm, and never seriously attempted to be on law review. As a result, classmates (and some law firms) didn’t take my legal skills seriously.
As a lawyer, I have always practiced in small firms. Invariably, when involved in cases with attorneys from large firms, I could sense their assumption that I was not as capable as they were because they were on law review, or came from a more prestigious school than Temple, from which I graduated, ignoring the fact that many of our region’s finest lawyers attended this hometown law school.
When I ventured out as a solo, the stigmas became more obvious, and sometimes lawyers did not hide their derision. Then they would read one of my briefs, or hear my oral argument, and their perspective changed, dramatically. Just last year I was hired as appellate counsel in a complex personal injury matter that the trial court had dismissed. I called opposing counsel to request an extension of time to file our brief. Our conversation was laden with condescension.
Then my opponent, a graduate of an Ivy League university and a “top 20” law school (compared with Temple’s ranking at number 50), and a partner at a large firm, received my brief, and heard the argument in the appellate court. His attitude became far less superior, and it changed even more when the court ruled in my client’s favor and reversed his victory. Even worse, his client hired another lawyer to handle the case.
I have always had confidence in my skills, and know that there is a reason judges regularly comment about the quality of my firm’s work. One Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice recently approached me out of the blue, and began to tell me (in front of numerous other attorneys) how “exceptional” and “extraordinary” my brief was in a case that had been argued earlier that day.
Each of us measures our success differently, and each of us uses different tools to motivate ourselves. For me, the fact that some lawyers believe they are superior because of where they went to law school motivates me not only to win but also to demonstrate that my decision to live at home and attend one of the finest law schools in the country, albeit not one in the “top 20,” does not mean that my skills are better, or worse, than an attorney who graduated from another school.
When I consider the number of precedential cases in which I have served as counsel, I understand fully why the Philadelphia Eagles wear their underdog status as a badge of honor, and use it to help drive them toward a championship. Each of us must earn respect from our colleagues, and often the only way to do so is to defeat a supposedly “superior” opponent. Underdogs understand how hard they have to work to gain respect – and win. Let’s go Eagles!