Over the past three years, I have had the privilege of teaching multiple CLEs around the state to hundreds of attorneys about lessons that lawyers can take from the Apple TV+ series, Ted Lasso. The show provides such a great entry point for discussing lessons regarding empathy and mental health for lawyers.
The third (and seemingly final) season of Ted Lasso came out earlier this summer, and I am back to share more lessons for attorneys from our friends at AFC Richmond.
CAUTION: There are mild spoilers for season 3 below, so now is the time to avert your eyes if you plan to watch it.
Each season of Ted Lasso has a clear thematic message that usually ends up being well-timed based on the mood of the country. Season 1 — which came out in the middle of the Covid lockdowns, riots and a bitter election — was about empathy. Season 2 — which came out in the aftermath of Covid — was about mental health in the workplace.
The theme of season 3 was about making choices for your own happiness, even when it may be detrimental to your work. This theme, once again, reflects a national trend in the legal profession where we are seeing attorneys (particularly younger attorneys) demanding a work-life balance, fewer hours and more work-from-home options, while law firms (as well as investment banks and accounting/consulting firms) are starting to make adjustments.
Throughout the season, we see each of the main characters struggling with work-life issues. Ted is trying to decide whether to stay in London to coach the team or return home to Kansas to be with his son. Roy breaks up with Keeley so she can focus on building her new PR business. Keeley brings on a friend to work for her company and then has to fire that same friend because she was a terrible employee. Nate quits his job with rival team West Ham United because his boss was not someone he was proud to work with. Sam becomes engaged in a political issue that costs him soccer fans and also causes someone to vandalize his new restaurant. And Coach Beard chooses to leave his stable, long-term professional relationship with Ted to stay in London to continue his romantic relationship with his girlfriend, Jane. In each of these instances, the character makes a choice to prioritize the life side of the work-life balance.
The biggest of these season-long plotlines is Ted’s ultimate decision to leave AFC Richmond. Throughout the three seasons, we see Ted struggling with being away from his son (who lives in Kansas, while Ted is in London). The breaking point for him arrives in episode 5 of the season, where Ted learns that his son, Henry, had a bullying incident at school, where Henry was — shockingly — the bully. Ted blames himself for not being there on a daily basis to raise his son.
For those of us who are parents, this lesson may hit hard. There are times as lawyers where we have to miss parts of our children’s lives because we have a trial, closing or other client emergency. My 7-year-old son regularly guilts me about how I missed his first grade Thanksgiving musical due to a deposition and did not see his performance of the hit song “Any Turkey Can Tango” as a result. But beyond big life events, it takes a toll even when we commit smaller omissions like taking a call during a kid’s basketball game or working after getting home instead of spending time playing with the kids. I am certainly guilty of both of those.
Ted eventually chooses to return to Kansas and rejects an offer to stay and be the highest-paid coach in the Premier League. Many of you know attorneys who switched law firms that offered the carrot of more pay but with the stick of more hours and less time with their families. Ted rejected that bargain, but I wonder how many of our colleagues who took similar bargains would do things differently with the benefit of hindsight?
Beyond the story you saw on television, the behind-the-scenes story of Ted Lasso also provides a fascinating illustration of prioritizing life over work. Jason Sudeikis (who is the creator, writer and star of the show) initially conceived the show as a three-season arc. Then Ted Lasso became a huge, surprise hit. Rather than abandoning his three-season plan in the face of success, Sudeikis ended the show as planned (likely turning down millions of dollars) so he could spend time with his two young children while he and his wife are going through a divorce (that should sound familiar for viewers of the show).
The lesson from the show is not limited to “spending more time with your children” — it also focuses on doing what makes you most fulfilled. Whether it’s going out on your own, getting away from a difficult boss, moving into a role that makes you more fulfilled or whatever your challenge may be, Ted Lasso teaches us to at least make the choice.
Finally, Ted Lasso is famous for its quotes of wisdom. The first two seasons gave us quotes that entered the zeitgeist (“Be a goldfish” and “Believe in believe”). Season 3 was chock-full of more pearls of wisdom, including the following:
- I hope either all or none of us are judged by the actions or our weakest moments, but rather by the strength we show when and if we are ever given a second chance.
- In parenting, sometimes you lose and sometimes you win. Most of the time you just tie. All we can do is keep playing.
- Human beings are never going to be perfect, Roy. The best we can do is keep asking for help and accepting it when you can. And if you keep on doing that, you’ll always be moving towards better.
- If you really want to piss off the people who did this, forgive them. Don’t fight back. Fight forward.
- [Bonus Quote] You guys are more distracted than a bunch of cats playing laser tag.
Heath Cheek is a complex commercial litigation partner at Bell Nunnally. He can be reached at email@example.com.