The Olympics is here, everyone wants to be involved, but everyone can just be involved because not everyone is a sportsman. However, lawyers have got leverage because lawyers are involved in everything so far the law regulates it. The specie of lawyers involved are Sports Lawyers.
As a sports lawyer, you might find yourself representing clients such as amateur and professional players; coaches, referees and officials; leagues; governing bodies of the sports industry; athletics administrators; educational institutions; and sports facility owners and operators. Even more broadly, your representation might extend to sports broadcasters; sports equipment manufacturers; sports medicine care providers; businesses that sponsor athletic events or athletes; and concessionaires who serve food and drink to fans at games.
Virtually every field of law regulates or is relevant to one or more aspects of youth, high school, college, Olympic and international, professional, or recreational sports. The sports industry is vast in scope; has millions of athletes (but less than 10,000 U.S. major league and top-level individual sport professional athletes) and spectators; and generates billions of dollars annually. In fact, it is debatable whether “sports law” (like cyber law or healthcare law) is actually a discrete area of law or merely the application of many areas of law to a unique industry.
The eclectic nature of the sports law field requires sports lawyers to have expertise in several areas of law to effectively represent their clients. Sports law courses are a relatively recent addition to the curriculum at most law schools. Yet several courses we took as law students, particularly Antitrust, Tort, and Intellectual Property law, provide us with enough general knowledge to represent clients in several sports-related matters and to teach sports law.
Counsel for professional leagues and clubs need a general understanding of Contract, Labor, Private Association, Antitrust, Tort, Tax, and Intellectual Property law. Those representing professional athletes must be familiar with labor and employment, contract, federal and state tax, and worker’s compensation law, as well as athlete-agent regulation.
A sports lawyer must have strong contract negotiation and drafting skills to represent professional sports industry clients. An understanding of the arbitration process is also important because most employment-related disputes between professional athletes and leagues or their respective clubs are resolved by mandatory arbitration. Representation of individuals, educational institutions, and governing bodies that are part of the youth, high school, college, or Olympic sports industries also requires broad knowledge of contract, private association, tort, and constitutional law (if the requisite “state action” exists) and of arbitration (for Olympic sports).
Although sports lawyers have varied backgrounds, most of them did not obtain full-time employment with sports organizations or have a stable of sports industry clients upon graduation from law school. Rather, they gained legal knowledge, skills, and experience representing clients in other industries that transferred into handling sports-related matters. Very few attorneys spend a majority of their time practicing sports law, but many lawyers perform professional services for one or more clients who are part of the sports industry.
Below are my top five suggestions to become a sports lawyer in no particular order.
1. Network, Network, Network
Anyone can become a sports lawyer but you MUST be passionate about it. A lot of people think they want to work in sports because it is glamorous but only few put in the time and effort. You have to meet others in the industry. Start meeting sports attorneys locally, talk with them, hold informational interviews. Learn what various sports lawyers do on a daily basis. Hold informational interview with legal counsels of professional teams prior to law school and end up leveraging that relationship to my summer internship.
2. Prepare and Produce Quality Work
If you are a law student, take a variety of courses as sports law covers a variety of disciplines. Some of the most beneficial classes in law school were Sports Law, Contracts, Alternative Dispute Resolution, Labor & Employment, Antitrust, and Corporate Counsel. Look for internships to get involved. Internships are a great opportunity to get sports work experience and learn under lawyers in the industry. When you score a legal position, produce excellent work beyond your supervisor’s expectations. Your reputation will follow you in the industry. It takes a lifetime to create a reputation and a minute to lose it.
3. Symposiums, Seminars, and Continuing Legal Education
Attend sports law symposiums, seminars, and Continuing Legal Education programs. The Sports Lawyers Association holds their annual conference in May and the American Bar Association Forum on Entertainment and Sports conference is in October. Relationships developed at these conferences are priceless and worth the money spent to attend. Additionally, check the local and state bar association for sports CLE programs.
It is beneficial to network with others in the industry since sports lawyers work with a variety of business people daily. Check with your local sports commission to learn what events are in your area. Through my local commission, I volunteered for Super Bowl XLIV and the McDonald’s All American High School Basketball Games. Both of these experiences were incredible. I learned a lot about the planning and set up of high profile sporting events and met even more contacts throughout the sports industry.
5. Know the Industry
Subscribe to blogs that inform about sports, such as the Sports Business Daily and read it, daily. Most people in the industry read this and expect you to be aware of current lawsuits, labor matters, and other developing stories. It is critical working in sports law to have a solid grasp of current sports legal issues. Also, watch ESPN. Isn’t that amazing, that watching ESPN furthers your career!? Love it. When you love what you do, you will never have to work a day in your life!
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