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How to Become a Sports Lawyer

Roger I Abrams

How to Become a Sports Lawyer
Dmytro Aksonov via iStock

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Sports are pervasive in American society. We see agents speaking up for their clients and negotiating multimillion-dollar contracts. Becoming a sports agent is the dream of many young men and women, stoked by the legend of Jerry Maguire and stories of real-life super-agents like Scott Boras. I have chatted with many aspiring sports lawyers about how to break into the field.

The sports industry is a multibillion-dollar enterprise that covers more than the four major American team sports. It includes professional, collegiate, Olympic, and amateur sports. This industry certainly includes the businesses that support the sports industry, including apparel manufacturers (in particular, sneakers), sports-related travel companies, the media, and the Internet. And the entire sports industry needs sports lawyers.

Sports Law Involves Diverse Practice Areas

The opportunities for a sports lawyer are just as diverse as the industry itself. The first image one conjures of a sports lawyer’s client is one who can supply front-row seats at a sporting event. But given the breadth of the industry, there are many different types of clients out there. Sports law can involve litigation, transactional, and regulatory work. Similarly, sports lawyers work in practice areas as diverse as antitrust law, contract law, employment and labor law, and intellectual property law. In that way, the work of a sports lawyer mirrors that of all other lawyers.

Develop Your Brand While Searching for Your Dream Job

But don’t fret—you don’t have to represent the Knicks to get courtside seats next to a celebrity. Most sports lawyers work at large law firms that supply legal services to sports entities. Most sports teams, for example, do not handle their litigation in-house. To get those jobs, an aspiring lawyer needs to have a stellar academic record and then be able to interview like a star. Even if you do not land your dream job immediately, developing your sports law brand and enjoying the journey will go a long way.

And no matter how much I impress that upon aspiring sports lawyers, it often comes back to the same question: “Where do I sign up to become an agent?” I have fielded that same question from 1L students on their first week of school and from mid-career lawyers who desire a career switch. As any reputable law professor would do, I answer with an admittedly disconcerting question: “Are you a world-class athlete?”

Many of the most successful sports agents played the game, although few were true superstars. They began as sports agents by representing their friends. For example, Drew Mearns began by representing distance runners he met while running, such as Seb Coe, Alberto Salazar, and Bill Rodgers. (It also helped that he graduated from Yale Law School.) While sports agents need not be attorneys, there is no question that having a law degree—especially one from a law school with a robust sports law program—will help a motivated lawyer break into the business.

Sports Lawyers Associations Offer Opportunities

There are also ample opportunities for young lawyers to rub shoulders with the elite of the sports world. A great place to start is the Sports Lawyers Association. Membership exposes lawyers to legal developments in sports law, relevant career opportunities, conferences, and publications. Reduced membership rates are available for law students, new lawyers, and certain lawyers in academia. Many bar associations also have groups focusing on sports law, such as the American Bar Association’s Forum on Entertainment and Sports Industries.

As is often the case in life, it also helps to be fortunate in your friends. The late Mark McCormick began by representing his golfing buddy, Arnie Palmer. The late Art Kaminsky represented his Cornell classmate, Hockey Hall of Fame goalie Ken Dryden. In a fairly short time, these talented men became super agents in their fields.

My advice to lawyers who are intent on becoming Scott Boras Jr. is to remember the advice of Branch Rickey, a University of Michigan lawyer who became the greatest front-office executive in baseball history. He knew the importance of being in the right place at the right time. Success, however, was not simply a matter of fortuity. He reminded us that “luck is the residue of design.” Work hard at becoming a great lawyer and be persistent in achieving your aspirations without being too obsessive or obnoxious. See the ball, hit the ball, and run like lightning.