The immeasurable benefits of a healthy work-life balance are well known. Engaging with outside organizations, taking time for personal interests and hobbies, spending time with family and friends, exercising, gardening, caring for pets, traveling – all of these are ways in which we can help our bodies, minds, and souls stay fresh for our law practices and our clients. Additionally, we can learn a lot from our out-of-office activities that help us as attorneys.

In my working life, I am an elder law and special needs planning attorney. I love this field of law. I help families create estate plans that incorporate the long-term needs of an individual receiving public benefits, I work with individuals who receive benefits to assist them with maintaining eligibility, and I help establish surrogate decision-making arrangements for people in different phases of life. Every new client I work with presents a unique challenge, and I appreciate that I can help my clients achieve a positive outcome to whatever concerns brought them to my office.

In my personal life, I’m a basketball mom. To say my family is a little basketball-obsessed would be an understatement. My husband and I both played most of our lives, and many of our first “dates” while students in law school were at the gym shooting around.

Today we consider ourselves lucky to have two daughters who either have a practice or a game just about every day of the week. When I’m at home there is constant dribbling in my kitchen, and pickup games in our driveway whenever it isn’t iced over. If we aren’t either watching or coaching our girls, we are cheering on our favorite high school teams, the Badger men’s and women’s teams, the Bucks, and the New York Liberty, our favorite WNBA team.

Even if basketball is not a daily activity for you, I’m hoping you can take some time away from your busy legal career to appreciate the greatest time of year – March Madness. And while watching, consider the many lessons you can learn from basketball that are clearly transferred to the practice of elder and special needs law.

For example, here are my top four lessons I’ve learned from basketball that has helped me in my law career:

Practice is Critical to Success

No one can show up to a basketball game and expect to be successful without putting in hours of practice and preparation. Teams practice together to establish their offense and defense, and if an individual player wants to have success, they should be working on their own skills as often as they can. Kobe Bryant said it best: “Hard work outweighs talent – every time.”

The same is true for attorneys. We of course have our professional obligations to attend continuing education seminars to maintain our licenses, but we really should view continuing education as critical to providing the best service to our clients regardless of our licensure requirements.

Working under the guidance of an experienced attorney, staying current on changes to the law, and learning about best practices from colleagues is so valuable. You cannot show up on Day One out of law school and expect to know how to provide comprehensive advice to your clients, let alone draft a special needs trust. It takes years of learning and practice.

We are fortunate in Wisconsin to have an active Elder Law and Special Needs Section of the State Bar that helps make staying up to speed simple through engagement with colleagues on our elist, attending outstanding continuing education seminars led by subject matter experts, and by challenging ourselves to study and give back by writing and volunteering our time through writing and presenting.

I encourage you to “get to practice” – sign up for upcoming CLE seminars from State Bar of Wisconsin PINNACLE®, including an Introduction ​to Elder Law, the Wispact Update, and the Legal Issues of the Aging (coming in fall 2024), just to name a few.

When Feeling Trapped, Don’t Forget the Power of the Pivot

Last year I coached my younger daughter’s fourth/fifth grade basketball team. It was a fantastic group of girls, most of whom just picked up a basketball for the first time. While learning to dribble and dribble under pressure, they often would panic and pick up the ball. That’s when the basketball move of a “pivot” becomes so important, allowing them enough body movement to, hopefully, pass the ball to their teammate. We worked on this move a lot in practice.

Life, like basketball, often requires a pivot. Sometimes a client’s seemingly “normal” life takes a major turn, requiring changes to their long-term plans. Perhaps one spouse recently received a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. Now instead of meeting with you to go over their “basic” estate plan, they need to start thinking about the reality of long-term care and how that will affect their retirement savings and estate plan. That’s when an elder law attorney can provide great help, pivoting away from a “traditional” estate plan to a plan that contemplates more complex scenarios, including one spouse requiring care during both of their lives, developing a plan if the healthier spouse dies first, and ensuring advanced planning documents are in place for both spouses.

Helping clients understand they have options to pivot their plan to meet their new reality provides them with great peace of mind.

Remain Calm Under Pressure

Full-court pressure can rattle even the strongest ball-handler. With the ball in their hands, the player dribbling is fighting against the opposing team, against the constraints of the court, and against the clock. Panicking under that pressure often results in getting trapped and turning the ball over. It is critical in basketball not to panic.

Similarly, in elder and special needs law it is important to remain calm under pressure. Often our clients come to us in crisis mode. They may be up against strict time deadlines to establish or retain eligibility for their critical benefits for themselves or a loved one. Though our clients may be panicking, their attorney needs to calmly assess the big picture and map out a plan. By being prepared and knowing the rules of the complex benefit programs, as well as useful and relevant planning strategies, attorneys can help their clients understand their options and help facilitate their plan quickly.

Finally: If You Can Shoot, You Can Shoot

One of our favorite WNBA players is Sabrina Ionescu. I took my girls to a New York Liberty game last summer to see her and the Liberty play in person, and it was an amazing experience. Sabrina has always been a star in the women’s game, but recently broke out with more mainstream fame when she dominated the WNBA three-point shooting contest last summer, scoring 37 points – more than any man or woman in any three-point contest in the NBA or WNBA.

This feat prompted a friendly competition at the recent NBA All-Star game, pitting Sabrina against the NBA’s best shooter, Stephen Curry. The two went head-to-head, with Stephen coming out on top 29-26.

After the competition Sabrina had this to say about going up against the best men’s shooter around: “I think a night like tonight shows a lot of young girls and young boys that if you can shoot, you can shoot. It doesn’t matter if you’re a girl or boy, it just matters the heart you have and wanting to be the best that you can be.”

This lesson translates to our professional lives as well. You may not have gone to the highest ranked law school or graduated top of your class. You may not be at a big law firm with unlimited support and resources, and you may not practice in a big city. These facts do not mean that you can’t become an excellent elder law and special needs planning attorney, and with that also become an important part of your community and our legal community as a whole.

The State Bar Elder Law and Special Needs Section benefits greatly from the individual efforts of attorneys working at legal services agencies, nonprofits, small firms, and solo practitioners, many of whom practice in more remote areas of the state. The demand is great across the state and a lot of our membership is aging closer to retirement each year. Our field needs more attorneys, so if you aren’t already a member, I hope you consider adding elder law and special needs planning to your practice. Take a shot, you won’t regret it!

So, this March when you fill out your brackets and cheer on your favorite teams remember you aren’t just watching basketball, you’re making yourself a better lawyer.

This article was originally published on the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Elder Law and Special Needs Blog. Visit the State Bar sections or the Elder Law and Special Needs Section webpages to learn more about the benefits of section membership.