Law students: A winning lesson from Alabama’s uber-coach Nick Saban

Posted on 01-14-2016 by
Tags: SuperBowl , LIT , Law school , Top Stories

“Defense wins championships!”

It’s an old football adage, but one that can’t be proven. The adage, in lawyerly speak, suffers from expressio unius -  that the inclusion of one thing implies the exclusion of the other. In a nutshell, if defense wins championships, offense doesn’t win championships. But you can’t win championships without points, and (with few exceptions), you can’t score points without offense.

Defense aside, there is one thing I can prove about football championships: Alabama coach Nick Saban wins them … and keeps on winning.

“The Process”

Saban’s formula for winning championships involves something called “The Process.” Boiled down, Saban’s  “Process,” learned from Dr. Lionel "Lonny" Rosen, a Michigan State University psychiatry professor, is about focusing on the journey, not the destination. As reported in Business Insider (quoting biographer Monte Burke) :

"Rosen emphasized that the average play in the football game lasted about seven seconds," Burke writes. "The players would concentrate only on winning those seconds, take a rest between plays, then do it all over again. There would be no focus at all on the scoreboard or on the end results."

And it’s a “Process” that Saban sticks to himself. Business Insider goes on to note:

[Saban has] found that keeping an eye on the past or future either creates anxiety or dangerous comfort, and so he spends as little time as possible caught in the emotion of a win or a loss.

The Law School Scoreboard

Law school, for me, was the antitheses of Saban’s “Process.”  The destination was my only focus:

Can I win that Cali award?

Can I score the highest grade in Contracts?

Can I graduate with honors?

Was the endgame important? Yes.

Was it more important than the process? Hell no.

Focusing on the process, not the destination, would’ve made me a better lawyer. Many will argue that the endgame - high grades - equals a better job; consequently, what I’m saying might ring untrue. But for me, mastering “grade making” was the only thing that counted in law school.

Mastering the practice of law was secondary.

The process of learning the law was, in a way, de minimis.

Coach Nick Saban: Your Law School Guru

So I’m preaching Saban’s “Process” to law students. To be better lawyers, focus less on the scoreboard and more on the “average play” … whether that’s mastering the rules of statutory construction, absorbing the Rules of Civil Procedure, or sharpening your legal writing skills.

Need a little proof for “process over product”. Hiring partners, when surveyed, didn’t single out “grades” as the weakness in law school graduates. They singled out specific skills … skills that must be won during the law school process. As the survey revealed:

… 95% of hiring partners and associates … believe recently graduated law students lack key practical skills at the time of hiring.


In the litigation area, skills that were lacking primarily consisted of writing and drafting documents, briefs and pleadings, and skills beyond basic legal research.

Focus on the law school process / master your legal skills, and the grades/jobs will naturally fall into place. It’s like winning the Heisman Trophy, which Alabama running back Derrick Henry took home this year. Saban had this to say about Henry, illustrating Henry’s commitment to “The Process”:

"I love Derrick Henry," Alabama coach Nick Saban said during the offseason. "He's one of the hardest workers on our team. If you were going to give a Most Valuable Player in the offseason program for just finishing, running hard, finishing every race, finishing every drill, he would have gotten it or been in the top three at least.


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