Legal Legend: Interview with a League-playing law professor!

It's not every day you run up against a law professor in solo queue, but we found one! Tom Griffith is a professor of Law at the University of Southern California Law School and has been involved in gaming for nearly his entire life. I spoke to him about his lifelong passion for games of all kinds -- and how they can connect to studying and practicing law.

Can you tell us a bit about the origins and development of your gaming career?

As a young child and a teenager my favorite free time activities were games and sports. Like many LOL players, I am a lifetime gamer but, unlike the typical player, I have been playing games for over 60 years. I played Monopoly as a young child, played in a Dungeons and Dragons event hosted by Gary Gygax and, while a law student, took breaks from my studies to play Defender and Galaxian.

After graduating from Brown University and receiving a Master of Arts in Teaching degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, I taught high school social studies for 7 years where I coached the Women’s Basketball and Volleyball teams. I incorporated a business simulation game in my Economics class. During these years I played Bridge, board games and lots of sports. I also played Dungeons and Dragons.

After seven years, I left high school teaching to attend Harvard Law School, where I still found time for an occasional D&D game or trip to the arcade.

After law school I practiced law in Boston for two years—very low gaming years—before leaving the firm for the University of Southern California Law School where I remain today.

Over my thirty years as a law professor I have continued to play a variety of games including Magic (one trip to the Pro Tour), D&D and a variety of board and miniatures games. And like most gamers, I have had video game systems from Mattel’s Intellivision to the PS4. My wife is a moderate gamer and we play console RPGs like Fallout or Dragon Age.

For me, being a law professor is the best job in the world—I love teaching. And it is fun to talk with the occasional student about gaming.

How did you get into League of Legends?

I was unaware of LOL until I saw a poster advertising the Season Two World Championship at USC’s Galen Center, which is located only a couple of blocks from my office.

On the first day of the LOL world championship, I was amazed at the thousands of gamers lined up outside the Galen Center. I was even more astonished to learn that they were lined up not to play, but just to watch the game. So I downloaded the game, played the tutorials and many AI games and then entered Normal games. Despite lacking the quick reflexes of youth, I greatly enjoyed the game. The goals and structure of the game were simple, but there was tremendous strategic depth and variety. I particularly liked the team concept and the differentiated roles.

In addition to the game itself I was impressed by the LOL community. The quality of community-produced artwork, music and cosplay produced are remarkable as is the enthusiasm of LOL fans at live events. I also appreciated Riot Games's effort to encourage the participation of women by featuring female LOL players in their community showcases and elsewhere.

What kept you playing all kinds of games for so long? Do you feel like you got something out of your gaming habit besides simply entertainment?

The key reason is fun, but successful gaming develops analytical skills. For games like D&D and LOL the ability to work with others also is important.

I also like the social aspect of gaming. I would much prefer to spend an evening playing games with friends than going out to dinner and chatting. It is more active and challenging.

I am also interested in the cultural aspect of gaming. It is important, for example, for games to avoid racist and sexist stereotypes. I have been pleased to note the incorporation of same-sex relationships in games like Elder Scrolls: Skyrim and Dragon Age: Inquisition.

Any words of advice for student-gamers looking to balance the two (or maybe find opportunities for their studies to benefit from their gaming habit)?

It is important to limit your gaming time both as a student and as a legal professional. During the school year I typically play one game of LOL each night after I have finished my class preparation and other work. One attractive feature of LOL is the ability to finish a game in about 30 minutes. And unlike some online RPGs, there is no need to log many hours of play in order to keep up with your friends. Law study and practice can be stressful but while you are battling on the Rift, you can put that stress aside.

Do you ever come across any particular player/role archetypes (mid laners, tanks, that annoying guy who pings way too often) and think, 'that person would be well suited to a career in law'?

The LOL players who would make the best lawyers are those who take the lead in communicating effectively with their teammates. Some of the same skills that are important in legal work also are relevant to League play. These include picking a style which fits your skill set, researching successful strategies and identifying and correcting your mistakes.

In both legal work and LOL, teamwork is critical. And both LOL players and attorneys need to have wards placed against unexpected developments. Finally, even in a large city the legal community is small and maintaining a reputation for honesty and reliability is critical. League players who rage at teammates or who go AFK are unlikely to be successful attorneys.

Know of any other community members doing rad things IRL? Let us know in the comments below!

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