General Publications April 17, 2024

“Whitewater Kayaking Makes Me A Better Lawyer,” Law360, April 17, 2024.

Extracted from Law360

Whitewater kayaking doesn't appear in most people's daily vernacular.

When people learn I spend my free time on a river, they assume I'm doing it in a raft, because chances are that's how they've experienced white water. But my vessel of choice is the more exciting, and sometimes more punishing — a whitewater kayak.

Trial work provides its own twists, turns and adventures. But the lessons kayaking teaches transcend the rapids of a river and prepare attorneys for the courtroom and life.

Whitewater kayaking teaches you to prepare for the journey, to ensure you're "bombproof" in your execution, to surround yourself with the right team, and to feel the beauty of navigating through powerful currents — whether in the river, courtroom or life.

Becoming Bombproof

The term "bombproof" refers to the ability to roll a kayak upright in virtually any condition (referred to as combat) that the river uses to inevitably turn you upside down. The combat roll blends technique with physical ability and becomes exponentially more difficult as the environment escalates.

Being bombproof doesn't insulate you from all risk, but it does free you up to take full advantage of the thrills, challenges and beauty that are the rewards of the sport. Striving to level up my kayaking reminds me of the balanced approach to growing my success in the practice of law.

Technique and experience matter, but what's most important at any stage is balancing risk avoidance and goal pursuit. Too much focus on what can go wrong takes us out of forward progress and our true purpose, but being blind to the risks can result in equally devastating outcomes.

Connecting to Your Team

Kayaking lends perspective to my law practice in another related way: We do not, and should not, do this alone.

The practice of law and trial work is a team sport. Nothing balances risk with reward like having the right team around you.

Just because I lead the charge to take on a new river doesn't change the fact that I need someone I trust by my side on that journey. My unforgettable first trip down the famous and thrilling Ocoee River in Tennessee would not have had a happy ending if not for the experienced guide I followed without question through specific, proven rapid lines.

Similarly, my husband and I would not have experienced the pristine waters and striking views of New Zealand had I not pushed him to join me on the adventure that day.

Knowing when to lead and when to follow, and being open to that shift like the current in a fast-moving river takes trust and humility — difficult attributes to cultivate in the legal trade, where confidence is an important currency.

Like the unpredictable river itself, the people who show up are not always who you'd expect either. Offering the benefit of the doubt, showing up curious and maintaining a servant-leader approach allows others new opportunities to step up and lead, and gives you new opportunities to learn along the way.

Changing Perspective

Our extracurricular activities can and should be opportunities to change the way we see the world. Pointing a kayak upstream while positioned in a hydraulic whitewater feature allows for a new, Zen-like experience of flow.

Look down while surfing like this, and you'll swear you're flying as the water rushes under and around the boat. Look up, and you'll realize you're not moving at all.

These perspective-changing moments stay with me in the office, the deposition room, the courtroom and beyond. When one fast and furious input seems unstoppable, it behooves us to change our metaphorical field of vision, remembering where we are and where we are going, or even determining if we are just standing still.

Going With the Flow

As successful advocates handling bet-the-company litigation, the work can be consuming. Yet the most successful attorneys I know have outside interests that call to them for numerous reasons, including the promise of a needed break and a new perspective.

In my case, one of kayaking's great benefits is reconnection.

Disconnecting from work, putting down the phone — you can't paddle and check email at the same time — and being mostly unreachable for a couple of hours is a good start. But more important is the opportunity to reconnect with nature and my breath, and feel the connections between my mind and body, and the people with whom I paddle.

Setting an intention for my attention on the river is an opportunity for present-moment awareness that results in a clearer mind and refreshed spirit. The personal investment of time, effort and even money in the process creates even more buy-in and commitment to success and fulfillment in the activity.

Finally, sharing the happiness of a good day on the river with friends and family transmutes the experience into pure joy.

Navigating Rough Waters

While all this sounds wonderful, it's not always easy. In law, in life and on the river, the most rewarding paths forward are not always the easiest.

Tackling new stretches of river, for example, comes with a great deal of uncertainty. The logistics of how to shuttle before or after the run, being properly informed about what to expect on the river, and navigating the river itself all add to the need for thoughtful planning and honest assessments of your abilities and the opportunity ahead.

Once on the river, that calculus continues, even if it's a run with which you're familiar.

It's been said that you'll never see the same river twice.

Experienced paddlers take to heart the techniques and tricks we learn to read the river, however counterintuitive those techniques may be. Kayakers know to lean toward the very rock that seems like a hazard, because we know if we shy away, we'll meet it anyway, only upside down and without the benefit of oxygen.

Loose lips may sink ships, but loose hips are yet another unlikely source of stability in a kayak. And if we find ourselves trapped in a hole — a rapid that hangs onto boats and people — sometimes we have to swim deeper into it before it will release us.

I can't help but think about the metaphorical similarities between law and kayaking in this regard and what I can apply to my practice. When the very surface of the issue beckons, we must resist the temptation to stop there, and dive deeper into arguments and facts that seem to be working against us.

I knew whitewater kayaking drew me in for a reason, and this only scratches the surface of how it benefits my law practice. Whether it's helping me see my clients and their issues from a new perspective, or staying nimble in a moment of intense challenge, it's incredibly rewarding to connect the dots between our professional and personal lives.

Meet the Author
Media Contact
Alex Wolfe
Communications Director

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