How Chad Dudley Went from Professional Athlete to AttorneyMarch 18, 2020
From the Tennis Court to the Judicial Court
I spent over a decade training to be a professional tennis player. The discipline, training, and work ethic that I developed during that time made up the best preparation possible for my legal career. I never expected that I would become an attorney, but life never turns out quite as expected. Both my parents dreamed of going to law school, but it just never happened for them. I grew up in Hawaii, and I dreamed of playing professional tennis. I practiced nearly every day for several hours. After competing locally, I started to compete nationally. Traveling was expensive, and my family could not afford to pay for all of it. There was a group of competitive tennis players from Hawaii, and we were all in the same situation: we wanted to compete nationally, but the cost was too high. Eventually, a local personal injury attorney, who had a son who played tennis, stepped up and helped us with the costs. He was one of the first attorneys I remember meeting.
In high school, I climbed the national rankings for tennis and eventually got a scholarship to the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Florida, which had the top tennis training facility at the time. Today, it is better known as the IMG Academy. During that time, I played national, international, and low-level professional tennis tournaments. It was tough. There are so many great players out there, and I decided to look at using my tennis talents to get a scholarship to go to college.
I accepted a tennis scholarship from Louisiana State University, and it was an experience like no other. The tennis team was ranked top 10 in the country, and I worked harder than I had ever worked before. It was great playing on a team and playing for LSU. I will never forget it. When I obtained my marketing degree, Jerry Simmons, the tennis coach at LSU, was one of the people who encouraged me to go to law school.
As strange as it sounds, I really enjoyed law school. I loved every part of it. However, I did second-guess my decision when I got my first job in a law firm. I was hired as a law clerk for a large defense firm.
As a law clerk, I performed all the research for the lawyers — which is as important as you’d imagine — but our job was designed to be ineffective and cumbersome. At law school, we would perform research online. At the firm, they had this huge law library with all these old law books. Research that would take 15 minutes online at school could take hours in the library. It drove me crazy.
One day, I decided to take all the research assignments and go to the law school library so that I could crank out the research online. I turned in my work and later got called in by one of the partners. He asked me how I had done so much research in such a short amount of time. I told him I went online and asked him if I got anything wrong. He said everything looked good, but I need to slow down because we were billing the clients by the hour and it didn’t help if I got it done faster and more efficiently. At that point, I made the decision that, if possible, I would avoid ever billing a client by the hour.
From there, I switched to a personal injury firm. It was the first place where they told me, “It doesn’t matter how many hours you work; you just need to get the right result.” That was everything. It changed how I perceived the practice of law. We could help people and not just bill hours. I wasn’t tucked away in a library, and I got to meet the clients and see how our work helped them. I really enjoyed that. For many years, I got to work on some very cool cases. One of them was a toxic tort case where a company had exposed a neighborhood to all sorts of toxins. We represented nearly 4,000 people, and I was responsible for organizing all their information and communicating with them. To accomplish this, I taught myself database programming, and while I didn’t know it at the time, that skill had a big impact on my career.
From there, I went to work for another law firm that handled catastrophic injury cases. It was another great experience to learn how to represent clients who had been severely injured through no fault of their own. While I was there, I also learned about what it took to run a law firm.
Eventually, I was asked to join different law firm as the Chief Operating Officer and focus on the management of the firm.
It was a great opportunity and allowed me to use many of the skills that I had developed through my legal career. It also allowed me to use what I learned training to be a professional athlete and playing on a college team.
After several years in this position, the owners of the firm offered to sell the firm to Steve, James, and myself. It was a big commitment, but we decided to do it. From the very first day, we have focused on a few key things: 1) take care of our employees, 2) take care of our clients, 3) be great at what we do, 4) give back to the community, and 5) have fun. We take those values seriously. I am fortunate to have some amazing partners. I work with my best friends day-in and day-out. Our skills and personalities complement each other’s, and we love what we do. It has made this journey that much more fun and rewarding.
We have built a team of attorneys, legal assistants, and support personnel that feels the same way we do. Every day when I go to work, I look around and am so grateful to work with such amazing people and to work for such amazing clients. I didn’t make it on the professional tennis tour, but I can’t imagine that being as fulfilling or as fun as what I am doing right now.