Breaking into sports law is a test of both patience and resoluteness. Despite being an emerging sector it is still a niche area of law meaning it can sometimes be difficult to know where to begin.
As a lot of sports law professionals will tell you, there is no set formula to follow to get your foot in the door. Regardless of what stage in your career you’re at it is helpful to know exactly makes a talented and successful sports lawyer. The peculiarities of sports law mean it’s more than simply turning up for work on time and knowing your case law off by heart.
I spoke to a range of sports law professionals about their experiences in sports law and the skills they feel are important to stand out in the legal sector. Whether you’re in the field of practice or research there’s no doubt that you’ll find what they have to say useful.
Jake is an attorney based in Boston, Massachusetts and serves as an executive contributor for the Law in Sport editorial board. His work on law and business issues in sport can be found in publications such as ESPN and the Wall Street Journal. His primary focus in on European based football but has an expertise in a wide range of different sports. Much of Jake’s work focuses on the close relationship between law and finances in sport.
In addition to his key interest in law, Jake was also a student-athlete. After taking a sports business course led by Professor Warren Zola while at Boston College, it was clear that there was an opportunity to marry his legal interests with his sporting interests.
Perhaps the most interesting area Jake has worked on is his experience with Harvard Business School’s ‘The Business of Entertainment, Media and Sports’ course – more widely known as the course in which Sir Alex Ferguson sits on the teaching staff. Additionally Jake has worked on articles that cover the world of fantasy sports and their regulatory positions. It is an area of law that is popular within the North American market and is experiencing a real growth in both the UK and Europe. His work here demonstrates the need for sports professionals to stay ahead of the curve and explore emerging markets within the sector. Both Sir Alex Ferguson at Harvard and fantasy sports are leading areas in sports law and business.
Jake highlights a strong work ethic is needed to succeed but also a genuine passion for what you do. He highlights the constant new developments within sports law as a reason why professionals need to embrace the concept of being a lifelong student. Without enthusiasm and passion it may be difficult for professionals to embrace this culture.
Of course this should not undermine the fact a good sports lawyer must find his niche. As is the case with many other areas of law Jake stresses the important of carving out your own set of expertise within a specific area of sports law while maintaining a good working knowledge of the rest of the sector.
Mark is a prominent figure in the academic and research side of sports law at Northumbria University. His experience in getting into sports law started, like many others, with a love of the law and a penchant for rugby. Yet unlike others he was fortunate enough to meet the late Edward Grayson. Edward Grayson, a barrister, was one of the pioneering figures in sports law and was responsible for establishing a legal framework within sport. He founded the British Association for Sport and the Law (‘BASL’) and wrote the first sports law textbook. Mark’s encounter with Edward Grayson meant he realised he could combine his two loves.
Much of Mark’s work involves anticipating legal issues before they occur. His PhD covered the topic of injuries and consent in sport which later became a topical legal issue brought upon the courts in R v Barnes. Once again it’s an excellent example of professionals needing to stay ahead of the curve.
One of the more novel cases Mark has seen in his time is the case of a baseball fan taking his team to court because he was hit by a flying hotdog. The unfortunate fan was sitting a few rows from the front when the mascot began throwing hot-dogs into the crowd. One detached retina later and the team found themselves in the courtroom. Despite the comical nature of the case, Mark points out that these intricacies are what make sports law so interesting. Had a rogue baseball hit the supporter then he would have been able to make a claim due to well-grounded exceptions in occupiers’ liability that such risks are unavoidable yet since the object in question was a hot-dog the risk was probably avoidable therefore there is no exception.
In Mark’s opinion the ability to analyse complex documents and present your solutions in a way that is accessible to all parties is a fundamental skill that all sports lawyers need. While those in the sports law community may understand exactly what your solution to a problem is, it doesn’t necessarily mean those being represented do. An inability to help them understand the position may mean they won’t be so keen on retaining your services in the future.
Daniel is a lawyer at FieldFisher and is a regular commentator and blogger on football law. His expertise has been called upon by a range of news sources such as Sky News, CNN and the BBC. Sports law is arguably in his blood – his father a lawyer while his mother a tennis player.
Daniel’s work in sports law has centred on broadcasting rights in football. He worked with Mark James during his Masters degree on this topic which also took into account areas of competition law. By chance he received work involving the restructuring of a football club’s finances which led to him having to present the details of how the Premier League’s broadcasting distribution operates. This opportunity in the regulatory side of sports law allowed Daniel to expand his work and knowledge in sports law.
The Murphy v QC Leisure is the one case which Daniel feels stands out for him on a personal level having written extensively on it and it being related closely to broadcasting rights and laws. Clearly Daniel has identified his niche in the sector and has become the go-to legal expert on all things relating to football broadcasting rights.
Crucially Daniel warns against simply merging law and sport together simply because you’ve got an interest in both. A love of tennis and a half decent academic record won’t necessarily set you up for a successful career in sports law. Most importantly he highlights the need for patience. When applying for training contracts and undertaking them it is key to use this as a way of building solid foundations in a practice area – be it property, corporate, regulatory or whatever it may be. This can then be used as a springboard into the law of sport and allows you to forge a solid reputation for yourself.
Ultimately every sports law needs to maintain their enthusiasm because knock-backs are inevitable. Don’t take it to hart and use it as a catalyst for bigger things.
Kevin is an associate at Hill Dickinson. He has been heavily involved in a range of areas in sports law such as regulatory issues, match-fixing and commercial problems. He has a solid reputation in understanding the complexities of match-fixing and has a number of articles published on the matter. Kevin has worked closely with FIFA and Interpol on the issue of match-fixing. Additionally he serves as a non-executive Director for the British Volleyball Federation.
He was introduced into the sports law world thanks to a colleague he met while undertaking a vacation scheme, underlining the importance of contacts in this field. Kevin emphasises this point considerably. Networking is important in all walks of careers but the tight-knit community of sports law means it is vital. Kevin himself regularly attends sports law conferences and events and highlights that established members of the community are important points of contact for anyone looking for their break.
Interestingly Kevin remarks that personal and sometimes financial sacrifice is needed to be successful in this industry. Old fashioned hard-work does not go amiss and sometimes you need to let it eat into personal time. Naturally there should always be a limit but Kevin always feels he needs to be the hardest worker in the room. It’s an excellent mentality to have.
John is currently a lawyer at Blake Morgan LLP. His expertise lies in FIFA regulations and he is also a registered agent with the FA. His work in football has meant he has been involved in cases that have reached the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
John says the most interesting cases he has worked on are the protection of minors in football. We have seen from the recent case involving FC Barcelona that FIFA has strict regulations in place and isn’t hesitant to penalise clubs who break them. John is fortunate in that he gets to experience how these regulations not only affect football but also the children and families involved. It is an often forgotten part of sports law that the players who are transferred amongst clubs like commodities are in fact human. They have feelings and they have families. The repercussions of a transfer don’t just occur on the field.
The skill of efficiency is something John believes in. Efficient working allows for clear and unambiguous advice to given which can’t be understated when complex issues are at hand. John also feels that teamwork is vital in the sports law world. Making use of everyone around you, be it secretaries, paralegals or fellow solicitors, is important in making headway.
- Interview with leading sports law Michael McCann – Jake Cohen
- Daniel Geey interview
- Kevin Carpenter interview
 R v Barnes  EWCA Crim 3246