When Michael S. Young looked to connect online with fellow attorneys last summer, he used one search term and one search term only.
“We’re probably one of the first, if not the only, team that originated through LinkedIn,” said Young, an associate at Cornfield and Feldman LLP.
A swimmer in high school and college, Young discovered rugby while studying abroad in Ireland.
An all-star team from the United Kingdom was playing in New Zealand, and the 11-hour time difference meant the game came on in Ireland at about 7 a.m., while Young was going to class.
He passed his school’s cafeteria, where more than 50 people were crowding around TVs preparing to watch the game.
Though he went on to class, the atmosphere surrounding the sport intrigued him. Soon after, he found a team and started playing.
“The camaraderie drew me in,” he said. “Here you are, beating on each other for the duration of a game, and then afterward, the host team will always invite the other side out for a beer or dinner and have a social event.”
An interest in the sport’s social tradition led Young to pitch the idea of a rugby club for Chicago lawyers to friend Brian C. Young, a 30-year-old associate at Morse, Bolduc & Dinos LLC.
Fittingly, the two talked about the idea at a bar.
“I said, ‘If you want to make the push, I will help you do that,’” said Brian Young, who picked up the sport following his collegiate lacrosse career.
The response was strong. There was, it turned out, a contingent of Chicago’s legal community interested in joining a social-centric rugby club for lawyers.
With that, the Chicago Lawyers Rugby Football Club was born.
The group of 20 to 25 players practices at 6 p.m. Thursday nights at Oz Park in Lincoln Park.
Michael Young, 30, organizes games against other local clubs — they currently have matches set for April 25, May 9 and May 30.
“It’s one night a week,” said Stanley F. Orszula, a partner at Quarles & Brady LLP. “Considering how busy my practice is, I really couldn’t do more than one night a week.”
Orszula is one of the club’s many players who played the sport in what seems like a former life. For him, it was as an undergrad at Boston College. After graduation, he was interested in joining a new club but never found the right one.
When Young contacted him on LinkedIn, he hadn’t played in 20 years.
“I never thought I would be playing rugby again, quite frankly,” Orszula said.
At 42, he’s the team’s oldest player. He is 16 years older than the team’s coach, Benjamin R. Jacobs, a first-year student at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law and one of five law students involved.
Jacobs, like Orszula, was contacted by Young via LinkedIn. He played at the University of Puget Sound and has since played on teams in Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C., and Chicago.
With the demands of law school, Jacobs declined Young’s invitation to play, deciding to coach instead.
“I didn’t want anything to get in the way of my actual law school career,” Jacobs said. “It’s nice to have a social dynamic that allows people to be as engaged or disengaged as they’d like to be.”
For members of the CLRFC, the social component is an appeal of both the sport and the club.
“There’s a saying that soccer is a gentlemen’s sport played by barbarians, and rugby is a barbarian sport played by gentlemen. And there’s some truth to that,” said Daniel W. Thomann, an associate at Maria Baldini-Potermin & Associates P.C.
“You bond with someone with whom you just went through a tiring ordeal.”
The game — which took its current form in 19th century England and helped pave the way for American football — is a sport typically played in spring and autumn on a field known as a pitch. It features an oblong ball similar to, though larger than, a football.
Its pace is more similar to soccer than football, combining running with the ball, backward underhand passes, kicking and tackling above the waist.
“Law and law school can both be stressful,” Jacobs said. “Rugby is nothing if not a great outlet for stress.”
Though they emphasize safety, injuries are a part of the sport. Thomann fractured his right arm in the team’s first game last fall. Young’s worst injury was a broken finger.
“Rugby is a great game that takes a lot of heart, a little bit of skill and a little bit of barbaric attitude,” Brian Young said.
Pressed for a pie chart, he estimated the game’s requirements at 40 percent heart, 40 percent barbaric attitude and 20 percent skill.
“Maybe that’s just because I haven’t been playing as long as some other sports,” he said. “At our level, there is no experience needed as long as you bring the heart and the attitude.”
Thomann did. A 37-year-old whose wife gave birth to their first child in May, he calls being on the field “rejuvenating” and “energizing.”
“It clicked,” Thomann said about his first game. “It felt better to be out there doing that than I could remember feeling in a long time.”
The team played its first game at Riis Park on the city’s Northwest Side in October, a month that featured the city’s third-earliest snow on record.
“We had a ragtag team,” Brian Young said. “We didn’t have jerseys. No one matched. … And it just poured snow.”
The conditions were not made for rugby. The players were.
“Every factor that could come against us having a good game came out, but we had a blast,” Brian Young said. “Everyone loved it.”
The group is looking for women who want to start a female team for the club since USA Rugby — with which the CLRFC is registered — does not allow co-ed contact teams.
It’s one of the few restrictions on a team designed for inclusion, as Thomann realized one day when a few members gathered at a bar to watch rugby while signing the club’s incorporation papers.
As the match rolled on, conversation turned to the law.
“It just sort of hit me what a unique group this is,” Thomann said. “If I’m out with just a rugby club, I’m not going to have those types of conversations. But if I’m out with lawyers, we’re not going to watch rugby together.”
For club members, that is the true meaning of being linked in.