I have been chatting with some future law students about how to become a sports lawyer. It is the dream of many young men and women, stoked by the legends of Jerry Maguire and stories of real-life super-agents like Scott Boras. Sports is so pervasive in American society. We see agents all the time speaking up for their clients and negotiating multimillion-dollar contracts. That is what they want to do when they grow up.
Usually, students find their way to my law school office the first week of school in September wanting to know where they should sign up to become an agent. My first question is admittedly off-putting: Are you a world-class athlete? Many of the most successful sports agents played the game, although few were superstars. They began as sports agents by representing their friends. For example, Drew Mearns began by representing distance runners he met while running, like 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 the skills you learn in law school will help a motivated lawyer break into the business. 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 Ken Dryden. In a fairly short time, these talented men became super-agents in their fields.
In order to become a sports agent, does it matter what law school you attend? There are over 200 law schools in the country, and they all provide a solid legal education. It would be preferable to select a school that offers a course in sports law and best if it is taught by a regular member of the faculty and not by an adjunct professor. A tenured faculty member will be at school to mentor law students as well as to provide continuity. A sports lawyer will also need to be fluent in labor and antitrust law as well as developing skills in negotiation and drafting contracts. Many schools have active sports and entertainment law societies that bring folks from the field to school, a good opportunity to network. Students interested in becoming sports lawyers should also join the Sports Lawyers Association. (There is a reduced membership rate for law students.)
Sports law is a varied field ranging far beyond the four major team sports. Unless you have been sleeping this past week, you must appreciate the importance of college sports. A realistic assessment of the multi-billion dollar sports enterprise would also include under the sports umbrella practice involving apparel manufacturers -- in particular sneakers -- sports-related travel, the media, and the internet. All involve sports lawyers.
A sports lawyer is an attorney who represents clients in the sports industry, and the work of a sports lawyer mirrors that of all other lawyers. It may be fun to have a client who can supply front-row seats at a sporting event, but 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, all a law student needs to do is ace all of his or her courses and interview like a star.
My advice to law students who come to law school intent on becoming Scott Boras, Jr., is to remember the advice of Branch Rickey, a University of Michigan lawyer who became the greatest general manager 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 being a great law student and be persistent in achieving your aspirations without being obsessive or obnoxious. See the ball; hit the ball and run like lightning.