How to Become a Sports Lawyer and Working with Agents
A common question that is asked is; “What is the difference between sports lawyers and agents?”. In truth, there is a lot of overlap when it comes to representing a client in contract negotiations for example. Contract law is, after all, a major part of legal education and procedures. An important distinction is that agents are not limited solely to legal aspects of caring for a client. Nevertheless, a good or basic understanding of legal knowledge is important for agents. However, lawyers exist alongside agents for good reason.
This blog will explain the vital role that lawyers play and how agents create relationships with them to improve the services they can provide to their clients.
What is sports law and what is a sports lawyer?
Sports law is an umbrella term that covers a wide range of legal issues relating to athletes and sports organisations and companies. It is made up of lots of practice areas, which include (but is not limited to): Contract law, Intellectual property (IP), Image rights, Family law, Commercial law, Tax law, Personal injury and more. Sports Law brings together all of these areas of law under the context of a sporting environment such as a governing body, a team or an individual athlete. In the modern era of football, every top club will have at least one in-house lawyer that will deal with a variety of legal matters each day and particularly contracts. This has become a common trend as a result of the rising prevalence of image right complications and complexities.
In short, a Sports Lawyer or Sports Attorney is a licensed legal professional that represents athletes, teams, leagues, industry boards and other organisations and individuals in the sports industry such as, for the purpose of this blog, agents. They work on a variety of legal issues from a wide range of practice areas. You need to know a variety of areas of law to be a successful sports lawyer, however, a good understanding of contract law is perhaps of most importance, as it forms the basis for most of the main areas of law in this industry.
To become a sports lawyer, one must meet the specific formal and ongoing educational requirements of the country that they wish to practise in. Staying up to date on the current laws is essential to being a successful sports lawyer and competently representing a client.
Sports lawyers are licensed to practise law professionally, while sports agents manage a player’s career, which can include contract negotiations and personal assistance. In essence, the key difference is that a sports lawyer can provide their client with specific legal advice and assistance. Sports lawyers are the only professionals that can guide their clients on legal matters. There are, however, some qualified lawyers that also work as well-known sports agents, and represent their clients in both capacities.
How to become a sports lawyer
Generally, there is no formal single path to becoming a sports lawyer. A sports lawyer is simply an extension of a lawyer that comes to specialise in sports law. First and foremost, to venture into sports law, it is necessary to originally qualify as a general lawyer in the country that you wish to practise in. Depending on the country, there are often extensive and intellectually-challenging educational and professional prerequisites for individuals to qualify as practising lawyers. Once qualified as a lawyer, it is then possible to gain experience in the sports law field on various cases that can lead to specialisation in the industry and recognition as a sports lawyer.
Overall, there are not many full-time sports law specialists in the industry. Most lawyers work in another area of law such as contract law, commercial law, and family law while becoming involved in sports law cases simultaneously. However, working in different areas of law does have significant benefits and transferable skills that lawyers can then implement into dealing with sports legal matters.
One thing to be aware of when applying to legal roles and employment is that many large law firms may also have a sports law department. Applying to these firms could be a great strategy for those looking to gain valuable experience in the unique sector of law. It enhances the possibility of specialising in the field of sport as a lawyer, particularly if you demonstrate extensive knowledge and willingness to engage with the area. Once working for a firm, it is more likely that sports-focused cases will arise and present opportunities to transition into the full-time sports law profession.
The importance of sports lawyers for agents
In almost every opportunity an agent identifies for a client, there will be legal implications. When they sign for a new club or a contract extension, or in any endorsement deal, as well as other off-pitch services you provide such as financial management, investments and social media, there will almost always be a contractual agreement and clauses that must be adhered to. Having a general understanding of contractual law, sports law or any legal knowledge will inevitably help agents. Nonetheless, recognising where and when an expert opinion and guidance may be needed is vital for agents.
In a contractual negotiation, agents will often call upon a trusted lawyer who is a close contact of theirs to give a full proof read to ensure that it is legally sound. It is very common that lawyers return initial contract drafts with countless notes and pointers of clauses or elements that need to be reconsidered and addressed. If you had signed this contract without consulting the lawyer, you would have left your client in an unfavourable and undesired position. Bringing in a lawyer is always worth it if it protects the main purpose of the agent for benefitting a client and prioritising their best interests.
Creating a relationship with a lawyer
Agents ought to build strong and trusting relationships or connections with sports or contract law specialists over the years, enabling them to find the right help.
This is particularly important for agents that conduct their business internationally. In other words, agents that transfer clients between different markets and leagues cannot possibly have a comprehensive understanding of all of the intricate tax and employment laws in each country. Every country is different and hence, working with a local lawyer during these deals is absolutely necessary. For example, a recent deal for my team of a player to Poland meant we needed to ensure that every contract detail complied with and adhered to Polish tax and employment law and was the best possible clauses for our client. In such a case it is vital to thoroughly consult with an experienced Polish tax or employment lawyer as we did.
By doing this the agent can protect the client as well as themselves as it avoids any risk of mistakes and accusations from the client of doing your job badly. Some agents may think it isn’t worth speaking with a lawyer in some instances as it is expensive to outsource legal work. However, the consequences of not doing so and making a legal mistake can be far more costly so it is always recommended that agents bring in qualified lawyers during their deals to ensure legal soundness. This demonstrates professionalism.
Due diligence and research when connecting with a lawyer is imperative. There are various sports law firms operating in different countries and leagues with different specialties. Agents usually also speak to other agents or sports industry personnel as they will be able to advise on the best lawyers they may have come across in their own experiences. Both agents and lawyers must ensure that they present themselves in a professional and reputable manner and advertise themselves as someone other sports industry professionals would want to work with. The impression they give of their trustworthiness and personal values will influence the likelihood of lawyers and agents collaborating effectively in a long-lasting professional relationship.
This blog has shown that there is a lot of overlap between agents and lawyers and the skills of a lawyer are complementary to the capabilities as an agent. Becoming a sports lawyer becomes possible once an individual has obtained the necessary requirements and then opportunities to engage with sports-centred cases may arise from any situation and facilitates specialising in the sports legal sector. Agents will often work particularly closely with sports lawyers as they have many instances and proposals which require the services of a legal expert. Hopefully this blog has demonstrated how to go about working alongside lawyers or agents and how it can beneficially serve a common purpose and goal.
Don’t forget we are also running an online course providing the perfect preparation for how to pass the FIFA football agent exam on the 12th August. You can register for the course by clicking here. Alternatively, for readers based in Germany, we are also conducting an in-person event in Frankfurt on the 2nd September which you can register for by clicking here.