What does a sports lawyer do?
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 that 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, intercollegiate, Olympic and international, professional or recreational sports. The sports industry is vast in scope; has millions of athletes (but fewer 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 health care law) is actually a discrete area of law or merely the application of many areas of law to a unique industry.
What skills do I need to be a sports lawyer?
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 important to introduce you to the range of topics a sports law attorney might handle. Beyond that, you should consider taking antitrust, labor and intellectual property 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, intercollegiate 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).
What kinds of jobs are available for sports lawyers?
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. Many sports attorneys work at large law firms that provide legal services to sports industry clients. In addition, some sports lawyers work for sports governing bodies, such as the NCAA or the United States Olympic Committee. Some work for educational institutions in their athletic departments. Finally, some sports attorneys work independently as sports agents.
What courses should I take?
- Collective Bargaining Seminar
- Dispute Resolution Workshop
- Interviewing, Negotiating, and Counseling
- Mediation Skills
- Federal Income Tax
- Labor Law
- Trusts and Estates
- Transactional Skills Workshop
- Sports Law
- Patents, Trademarks and Technology
- Copyright and the Arts
- any of the offerings titled IP Current Developments
- Patents, Trademark and Copyright Law Seminar
- Current Issues in Sports Law
- Professional Sports Workshop
What co-curricular and volunteer activities should I consider?
Students interested in exploring a career in sports law should join the law school’s Entertainment, Arts, and Sports Law Association and participate in activities sponsored by UB’s Center for Sport and the Law. You should also join the Sports Lawyers Association and attend its local networking events. In addition, seek externships or volunteer opportunities with institutions that sponsor sports teams, such as colleges and universities or athletic governing bodies. You might also work as an extern at a law firm that handles sports matters.