Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Lawyers and Poker

In the 6-handed MATH this week, at one point near the beginning of the tournament I was seated at a table with four out of the six of us being lawyers. Someone commented to this effect in the chat, and what ensued was the normal dribble of lawyer jokes and some interesting conversation related to the number of lawyers in our ghey little group of poker bloggers. This got me thinking about a post a short while ago that Tripjax had written basically asking the same question: why are there so many lawyers who are also poker players and poker bloggers? In that post, there were something like 20 comments left, with many of the same answers repeated throughout, and yet in that many comments I could not believe that no one had posted what I think is a very simple answer. I think I've written about this before here in the blog but not for some time and maybe not as directly as this, but I'll get to my reasons in a minute. First I wanted to go through some of the answers given in the other comments to Trip's post and what I think about them.

1. One common comment to that post was that this is just selection bias at work, and that there are not really a disproportionate number of lawyers in our group. I believe this is false, albeit not hugely so. There are at least nine lawyers I know of among the poker bloggers -- myself, F-Train, CK, PirateLawyer, HoP Jordan, SoxLover, Pirate Wes, muhctim and LJ -- and that is without even stopping to think if there are any others (I'm sure I am forgetting one or two more). Offhand I can't think of any other profession of which there are nine among the blogger crew, other than IT professionals generally. Now #1 IT professionals is a very broad job range, much moreso than "lawyer" is generally speaking, and #2 I think that there is a disporoprtionate number of IT guys who are bloggers in my experience, so that's how I explain that one. But otherwise, I do think there are more lawyers in our group than one would expect from the random distribution of jobs out there in the world.

2. Another common theme there in the comments to why so many lawyers play poker was that it is a stress reliever for us lawyers, who need some outlet to let out our frustrations after a long day of stress. On this point I just have to laugh. I mean, I'm sure there is some of that for some of the lawyer poker players, but I would imagine just as much for plenty of the other non-lawyers involved as well. All of us have stress in our lives, and there are some doctors in our group who I imagine have some stress, some financial industry guys with some stress, and frankly plenty of IT and other employees who have stress. People write about their gheyass work situations all the times in their blogs, and if it's not work that is producing stress for their lives, then it's their health situations, or it's their famliy situations. I guess my point is, I think it is just a little too pat to just say that lawyers need more stress relief than anyone else and thus they play more poker. For myself, I have less stress than most people I know, and what stress I do have from work has very little to do with my legal work and much more to do with the jackfuckers who are supposed to be here working with me. And one other point to make here -- in a way I think playing online poker as a "stress reliever" is a kinda silly idea. I mean, I guess if all you ever play are ghey blonkaments for $11 a pop then maybe you might just not encounter much stress (speak for yourselves on that point though, blonkey poker drives me crazy sometimes as you all know well), but personally I run into more tense situations at the virtual tables on an almost nightly basis than just about anything I'm doing at my "other" job as a lawyer. So that point, too, I think is really not hitting home on the answer.

3. Some people wrote about lawyers just having a lot of money to lose as well. I think that is downright recockulous. While I won't deny having some amount of disposable income for poker, I'm not making money hand over fist by any means. I guess some of our large law firm friends might be in a slightly different situation on this point, but even those guys in the big cities are not exactly rolling in the dough. Now, if you told me that a bunch of cardiologists or investment bankers or traders at the big banks are all playing poker, then I think you've got a point there. But my sense is that the lawyer poker bloggers as a group are not anywhere near even the same league as the guys I mentioned above there.

So you see, I don't really think that any of the common responses to Trip's thoughtful post really capture the essence of why so many lawyers seem to play poker, using our small group of gheyness as a microcosm of the world. My theory, and again I think I've mentioned this before here at the blog but probably sometime a couple of years ago, is that I think being an effective lawyer and being an effective poker player involve many of the exact same skills. Thus, I see a natural overlap between the two professions / hobbies, in that someone who performs well at the one is already naturally inclined to perform well at the other as well. Let me explain what skills I mean:

1. Logical analysis. Generally speaking, lawyers use logical anaylsis as a way of life. This may be true about some kinds of lawyers more than others, but I'm sure your typical litigator type would agree with this statement as far as analyzing arguments and counterarguments, the best way to approach a witness during testimony, etc. And as a corporate / negotiator type of lawyer myself, I can say that all I'm doing all day is basically analyzing contractual terms and conditions, the best way to negotiate them, the counterarguments I have heard and similar things like that. It's what we as lawyers do. And as poker players, I find logical analysis to be at the heart of basically every move we make. Or every move I make, anyways. Basically no move -- be it call, raise, reraise or fold -- on no street is done without thinking through the reasons behind that decision and its likely ramifications.

2. Risk analysis. This one is closely tied to #1 above, but again, as a corporate lawyer type I find that almost more than anything else, I am asked to analyze risks. This involves thinking about the odds of a certain outcome occurring (i.e., my client being sued because our supplier's product infringes a third party's patent), and then sizing the likely impact to my client of such a negative outcome occurring (i.e., the likely size of such a patent infringement lawsuit, given the extent of our usage of the vendor's product and the price we are paying to use it, is, say $1 million), and weigh it against the relative expected positive benefits to my client of any other options available to us with a given contract. Again, this is what I do as a corporate lawyer all day long. And it's the exact same thing in many ways as the kinds of calculations I need to do at the poker table, basically all night long. Analyze the risk associated with a certain play, make a good estimate or calculation of the likely downside and weigh it against the likely upside if it works out. Then assign probabilities to the likely outcomes, and just do the math. For example, the calculation I mentioned above regarding the risk of an infringement suit against my client is almost the exact same calculation that I would do when determining my pot equity in a given hand. With my open end straight draw I know I have 8 outs if I call my opponent's flop bet, and if I don't hit on the turn, which will happen roughly 83% of the time I will likely have to fold and lose the amount that I called on the flop, since my opponent is likely to bet again, say, 90% of the time. And if I do hit one of my 8 outs on the turn, which will happen roughly 17% of the time, then I am likely to win the rest of his stack. So much of both fields involves doing analyses just like these, doing them accurately and quickly, and making quick decisions based on those results.

3. The importance of aggression. This one may be stretching it a little, but really, I do all of my negotiations exactly the same way as I play poker. In negotiations just as at the tables, aggression is king. If you consistently take passive stances and offer up less than what your client really wants, you will see comparatively negative results over time your results in negotiations. That's just the way it is, and it's not a debatable point. Poker in many ways is exactly the same way. Play passive poker -- call a lot, decline to bet when you "should" because you have a strong hand but on a draw-heavy board -- and you're going to find yourself a loser over time. This is just one of the fundamental precepts of playing poker -- aggression is king. Good lawyers, again in particular I can speak for the corporate side of things because that's what I personally am familiar with, are simply more predisposed to using aggression and to even being comfortable being aggressive, and thus I think good poker tends to come easier to them and might even be more attractive as a hobby than it is to someone who is not used to the wonders of aggression all day every day already.

4. Bluffing. Chad made a comment to this effect in Trip's post the other day, and it was done tounge-in-cheekly I think, but I really think there is something to it: lawyers, in all walks of the profession I think, are just much more used to lying / bluffing than in many other professions. While I'm sure the doctors and firefighters and IT guys and financial professionals among our group all have occasion to tell a bit of an untruth in their professional lives, as a lawyer I can say that lying it is almost a way of life. I don't want to paint a bad picture of lawyers here, and I certainly don't think there is anything wrong or unethical at all about what I'm describing, any more than it is wrong or unethical to lie at the poker table, but let me give you an example of what I mean. Recently I was trying to renegotiate a very poor contract that one of my predecessors had put in place a few years back. I had a new lawyer on the other side, someone who himself was not involved in the original negotiation, and I was pushing hard (aggression) to get a certain provision included in the agreement. At some point, the other side's lawyer asked me if this aggressive pro-my-client provision had been included in the previous contract (because he had not seen it), I almost instinctively told him that I didn't know, and that it would not matter to me either way because we needed to get a better provision in place between us now. In fact I had seen a copy of the old agreement and surely could obtain it again if needed, but why would I admit that to him during our negotiation now when I knew that the old agreement did not say what I wanted it to say? I surely would not tell him a big whopper and claim that it affirmatively was not included in the old agreement, because that is to me an outright lie that I don't really like to tell in my job, and of course he could easily find a copy of the old agreement and know that I was wrong anyways. But that doesn't mean that I need to volunteer him the complete slate of full information that I have on a topic, at least not the way that I approach my job.

Or let's take an even easier example -- I know my clients have told me that they absolutely, positively need to sign a contract with a particular customer by this Friday, or my company is going to miss its earnings estimates and they will all be in hot water. That is good, crucial information for me to know as I negotiate the contract with this customer during the week, but do you think I'm going to tell the Customer on Tuesday that we have no choice but to sign the document on Friday no matter how much they have agreed to our suggested language by then? Of course not! If anything, you might easily find me in that situation telling the customer that a particular provision is of the utmost importance to my clients and that we might not be able to sign with them if they do not agree. Of course that is a lie, but it's just part of doing my job and doing it well, just like lying, deceiving, misleading and bluffing are part of playing poker well. A necessary part in fact. So my point here is that lawyers by their nature and by virtue of what we do in our daily professional lives are simply more suited to, more accepting of, and more willing to bluff (and probably better at it, too). We tend to accept that "lying" or at least bluffing can be an accepted and useful part of our jobs, so we tend to have an easier time and probably more experience as a profession in many of the nuances of bluffing when it comes to poker than most other people who are not lawyers by trade.

5. Reading people. To me this is the key area where being a lawyer and being a poker play tend to merge to the same crucial skill. Much of what I do in my job is negotiate contracts. It's not all that I do, but it's a lot of it. And when I negotiate, maybe 20-25% of the skill involved I would say is actual legal knowledge, knowledge of contract law, knowledge of the business details of the deal in question, etc. But to me, the real skill and expertise that I personally bring to the table in my job is the other 75-80%, which is reading people. It's reading the other side and their attorney. When I tell the other side's lawyer that my client will flat-out require a certain provision in our contract, and she responds by telling me that her client is probably going to refuse, the real value-add from me is being able to tell, to know, that she is going to give in eventually, just from the way she presents her argument to me. Similarly, when I ask for a certain security-related protection for my clients in a vendor contract, and the vendor hesitates a bit before saying they'll have to look into it, my value add comes from being anbe to decipher the meaning behind that hesitation, to notify my clients that perhaps they need to investigate the security of the vendor in a bit more detail themselves before agreeing to this contract. This is what I do, and like I said above, most (not all, but most) trained lawyers could learn the bases of contract law that comprise that 25% of the skills I mentioned above, given enough time and training. Only a small percentage of lawyers could really learn to excel at this key ability to read between the lines, to pick up on small nuances and hesitations and to accurately determine their meaning.

This, ultimately, is exactly what playing poker comes down to. Even online I feel like I can often tell from the timing and amounts bet by other players what the real strength (or lack thereof) of their hand is. It's a "feel" thing, something that often cannot be taught, as opposed to a knowledge thing that could be learned by most people with enough training and time, and I think this is something that lawyers as a group are a lot better-versed in than the public at large. And don't get me wrong -- I know plenty of guys who are not at all lawyers and have never negotiated anything in their lives yet who are still great poker players and awesome readers of other people and their hands. So I'm not trying to say at all that one has to be a lawyer in order to have developed this skill. But it definitely helps IMO. And this is true whether you are a corporate lawyer, negotiating contracts or negotiating for a big merger deal to go down, or if you are a litigator cross-examining the other side's witness on the stand. The ability to successfully and comfortably make on-the-spot reads of one's "opponents" and act effectively based on those reads is one of the things that makes someone a great lawyer, and this skill ends up being one of the most crucial parts of being a great poker player as well.

So there you have it. I think the biggest reason for the overlap between lawyers and poker players is not the stress or the money coming from being a lawyer, as there are just too many other professions with equal or more stress, or with equal or more money, who are just not represented at all or at least way less represented in our ghey group of poker bloggers. While I definitely buy into F-Train's comment on Tripjax's post that most lawyers are used to using the written word in their jobs quite a bit, and that may therefore explain the attraction to the blogging part of poker blogging (not that I know any wordy lawyers, but that's what I hear about some of their blogs....), to me the reason that so many lawyers seem to be attracted to poker is not the above but rather that by their very nature as lawyers, they already have the comfort and acceptance, if not the facility and skill, with many of the exact same attributes and actions that make up a good poker player from what they already do in their daily lives. I am still surprised that not one of more than twenty comments to Trip's recent post about this topic mentioned this overlap of skills, but hey I guess if other people don't realize this to be true then that doesn't hurt me at the tables so I can live with it.

I would be interested to hear from some of you litigation-type of lawyers if you really do see this same skills overlap that I clearly do when it comes to negotiation on the corporate law side.

Don't forge the Mookie tonight, 10pm ET on full tilt (password as always is "vegas1"). All are welcome to the biggest and baddest gathering of poker bloggers this side of nowhere every week to donk it up and see if the biggest jackass can win yet another Mookie before me. And dammit I never spoke to Mookie today about our prop bet -- Mookie what's the word? You wanna say the loser buys the winner into the Mookie for a month or something when one of us (you) finally wins the Mookie before the other (me)? Maybe that, plus a special profile of the winner on the loser's blog, since lord knows I'm never getting a Mookie profile up on your blog any other way? What do you think?

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Blogger CC said...

Sorry, new tot his game. I'd say lawyers play poker because they are used to sitting around for hours wasting time doing not much of anything.

1:23 AM  
Blogger Chad C said...

What do you call 100 lawyers at the bottom of a river?

1:27 AM  
Blogger BWoP said...


Nice post. One thing that I would add, which I think you touched on in several places but didn't directly address, is that lawyers need to know how to steer people to the desired result. Sometimes, that is through aggressiveness. Sometimes, that is through bluffing. Sometimes, that is through cogent argument. Regardless of the tactic, lawyers (particularly in our world of negotiating contracts) have to understand how to manage people and situations. And the dynamic of those situations is ever-shifting, so the ability to react quickly and, often times, creatively, is a crucial part of what I do on a daily basis. As lawyers, we are trained to employ an arsenal of skills, depending on context. You may see me taking a hardball stance with one party, but turn around and take a more cooperative stance with another party. Often times, this occurs within the context of the same transaction.

1:45 AM  
Blogger pokerpeaker said...

Chad - A good start?

It's because lawyers are all bloodsuckers who thrive on the pain of others, just like good poker players.

I'll let you guess if I'm kidding or not.

1:59 AM  
Blogger Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

Well said, CK, agreed on all counts. I did touch on that but not directly state it as such, and I agree 100% about that skill being very applicable in lawyering and in pokering. Again am I just surprised that no one out of 20 commenters pointed this out in Trip's post a few weeks back to begin with.

2:20 AM  
Blogger mookie99 said...

Love me some good lawyer jokes...

Mookie prop bet...I'm in, sounds good, but how about 3 months worth of Mookie buy-ins? That way we can also setup the other prop bet with Chad.

"Can I somehow get in on this prop bet? I propose that whoever WINS has to buy the other two into the MOOKIE for a month! That way even when one of us FINALLY WINS THIS LOTTO it still feels like we got kicked in the junk! I heart misery"

So what do you think?

2:39 AM  
Blogger HighOnPoker said...

Hoy, I think you are correct that the skill-sets overlap, but that doesn't necessarily explain why there are a disproportionate amount of poker bloggers who are lawyers. To me, its about the nexus of poker and blogging, both of which are things that are attractive to lawyers. Lawyers generally are competitive, hence the attraction to poker. The finer details you mention are factors, but its the overall competitive nature that is the major impetus that attracts lawyers to poker. Lawyers are also learned, opinionated AND narcissistic, so that attracts lawyers to blogging.

I would say that there is probably a disproportionate amount of lawyers with poker blogs, but not a disproportionate amount of lawyers among poker players generally. Those are two very different concepts.

2:46 AM  
Blogger StB said...

I missed Trip's original post but it got me to thinking. I wonder if there are more lawyers or people from the securities industry (brokers, traders, etc.) in poker? Some investment firms use poker to test how people deal with risk and how they analyze situations.

Seems most of the blog crew is involved in tech or law.

2:52 AM  
Blogger The Litvak said...

Couldn't it just be that the ratio of writing and analyzing to doing is greater for us lawyers than for other professions?

3:04 AM  
Blogger Julius_Goat said...

I don't think we have the stats to know just how many of us are (like me) wandering hobos.

3:07 AM  
Blogger smokkee said...

how do you save a drowning lawyer?

3:50 AM  
Blogger smokkee said...

oh man...i hit the motherload

3:53 AM  
Blogger Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

Mookie, I am in. 3 months worth of Mookie buyins to whichever one of the two of us wins the Mookie first during 2008 from the loser. Done!

3:55 AM  
Blogger HighOnPoker said...

What happens when you feed a lawyer Viagra? He gets taller.

A guy walks into a bar and says loudly, "All lawyers are assholes!" A guy at the bar looks over and angrily replies, "Hey! I take exception to that!" The first guy asks, "Why? Are you a lawyer?" The second guy replies, "No, I'm an asshole!"

Okay, can we move on now?

4:25 AM  
Blogger VinNay said...

Ok, I see the parallels, but I have a question for you Hoy. And this is meant as a serious question, not a joke. What happens if you lose a bunch of cases in a row, or get the bum deal of a bunch contracts, etc. Is there super Hoy Lawyering Tilt? I suspect that there isn't.

If not, why is that? Is there something you do differently while lawyering than while playing cards?

Is it because lawyering is much less of a game of hidden information, so the variance is low? If that's the case, I might question some of your assumptions on the parallels.

Or, maybe you do go the fuck off on people at work or on opposing councils....

4:39 AM  
Blogger Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

Vinnay, a good question. If I ever do a bunch of bad contracts in a row I will let you know the results.

In the end, the reason this doesn't happen is that kicking ass as a corporate lawyer is about 90% within my control. In poker, however, in particular in something like a blonkament, it is probably closer to 50% the luck of the cards. So I never do a bad job in a string of contracts since I can control that myself for the most part, and as a result I've never had the chance to experience Hoy Lawyer Tilt. Though I wouldn't want to experience it, if it did exist....

5:29 AM  
Blogger Mondogarage said...

I suspect the parallels between poker and lawyering are far more readily observed when compared to trial litigation, if for no other reason than the variance that jury trials bring to the equation.

I know of at least two lawyers in my firm who have played the WSOP (one went out to Johnny Chan on a river 3-outer), though neither blogs. But there are at least as many non-lawyers at my firm (myself included), who either blog, play pokerz, or both.

5:48 AM  
Blogger TripJax said...

This is why i wrote the post. I wanted a lawyer poker blogger to follow-up with details on why and spark further thoughts. I feared it had gone away, but you brought it back. I appreciate that.

My friends who are attorneys are some of the most interesting folks to hang out with and just shoot the shit with. Always a story to tell. All you have to do is spend an hour with Jordan - or read some of his lawyery posts - to be hooked. I realize there are some toad lawyers out there, but as far as I'm concerned I've been around some coolios. It seems of those coolios, many have made there way to poker. I don't think that is by mistake.

Most of us all have learned something in our profession along the way. If we can take just a portion of what we've learned and use it to exploit others in a poker game, we are just doing what nature calls. Be it a lawyer, financial advisor, car salesman or whatever.

Thanks Hoy.

9:41 AM  
Blogger NumbBono said...

lawyurs are awsume. they r so much better at pokher becuze they are the smartest peeple arownd, and can trikk juryz and gudges that ar stoopid.

Or you can take the better route and be a corporate lawyer.

But what do I know, I'm just a dumb IT director.

(surely you expected this response, or at least a few similar ones)

2:11 PM  
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11:37 AM  

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