I’m a roller derby mom.  My youngest daughter was on a team through high school, the awesome Gotham Girls Juniors. I spent countless hours on the sidelines, in cities and towns across the country that I never expected to visit (Lincoln, Nebraska anyone?) watching my kid get body slammed by girls on skates. And in those countless hours, I had plenty of opportunity to think about what I’ve learned from the experience, even as an advertising lawyer. 

(1)  Know the rules.  

Deeply and intimately. I confess that I never mastered (or, frankly, really even understood, roller derby rules), but the girls did and they had to in order to score without getting penalties. I may not know the derby rules, but I am an avid scholar of advertising and marketing law.  There’s a crazy amount to know but I need to in order to do my job effectively and give the best advice I can to our clients.  Fortunately for those of us in the ad law field, it’s interesting and consumer-relevant stuff.  Imagine having to keep current on [fill in the blank] law?  

(2) Own your decisions.  

Sometimes a skater would do something really daring to score, like an apex jump.  (An apex jump is when a skater takes a short cut through the air to get past opponents on the inner part of the track oval.)  It’s very exciting to watch but sometimes that move would fail: the skater would fall or get knocked out of bounds.  But you’d rarely see whining or blaming ensue from a failed apex jump.  (Though there was often one obnoxious person yelling from the sidelines, who the girls would ignore — a good life lesson in and of itself). 

Practicing as an advertising lawyer means constant use of my judgment.  All those rules I’ve learned?  I have to apply them to the real world of marketing, and it’s rarely a black or white situation.  So I use my knowledge, make judgments and tell clients what I think.  There’s almost nothing a marketer hates more from her lawyer than a “well, on the one hand...” type of advice. So I do my best to avoid counseling like that.

(3) Be Aware — And Respectful — Of Difference

Roller derby aficionados, and especially roller derby parents, are quite an interesting and diverse group of people.  A lot of tattoos.  A wide range of red and blue state sensibilities. I'm a New Yorker through and through.  As a roller derby mom, I spent a lot of time with a lot of very different types of families.  And that was great.  As an ad lawyer, I also have to listen to, learn from, and adapt to, many points of view and sensibilities, from people coming from backgrounds and life experiences very different from my own, as good marketers themselves must do. The outcome is so much better.

(4) Fight Smart

Like all athletes, roller derby skaters need to spend time training and conditioning to build their strength, speed and agility. They also have to train themselves mentally, individually and as a team, to withstand the aggression of opposing teams. The less disciplined opponents are actually the scariest and the skaters need to develop both the skills and the smarts to handle them.  The best — and most fun — bouts seemed to be the ones where the opponents played with the same respect for the rules and “clean play” as our girls. 

As an ad lawyer, I do a lot of dispute work, particularly at NAD.  Because our bar is so small, I am often facing off against lawyers I know well and will undoubtedly run across again soon, at the next conference or on the next case. We all want to shine for one another and not be considered jerks. That encourages smart and ethical practice.

(5) Never, Ever Underestimate Women

The girls and women who play roller derby are seriously badass. Roller derby is a contact sport. The skaters get knocked on their butts and then just get up and keep playing.  Do they sometimes cry when they get hurt or lose a game? Yeah, sure they do. So what?  As an ad lawyer, I’m proud to be part of a bar that includes so many talented and tough women, in-house, at firms, in government and at NAD.  Anyone who underestimates our smarts — and our willingness to get up and keep fighting after getting knocked on our butts — does so at his peril.

Roller derby...lessons for life and the law.