An Intriguing Career
We all love watching our favorite sports and rooting for our favorite players. However, ever wondered what goes on in the inside, what kind of restrictions are our favorite players bound with, what are the obligations of the concerned commissions and the likes? Well, if all this stuff interests you, then you might want to consider this as a career option!
in conversation with:
An independent sports lawyer focused on dispute resolution work within the sports industry.
He advises football players, intermediaries, and clubs from across the globe. He also works on doping-related matters, and provide general legal advice and assistance to athletes engaged in other sports.
What is Sports law and how it works?
Lawyers who practice sports law typically advise athletes, clubs, federations, leagues, etc. on legal matters pertaining to the sports industry. Several professionals also opt to work as a part of the legal team of a club, organization, federation, or a governing body.
It overlaps substantially with contract law, competition or antitrust law, and tort law. Issues like defamation and privacy rights are also integral aspects of sports law. Let’s dig in a little deeper!
Kind of work one can expect
Generally speaking, when it comes to dispute resolution, sports lawyers can expect to work inter alia on matters related to employment (sports governing bodies usually have specialized tribunals to deal with such disputes), intellectual property rights, and competition law. There are also certain issues that are specific to the sports industry such as doping, match-fixing, financial fair play (eg. Manchester City case), matters involving DSD athletes.
It is fairly common for lawyers to focus on a specific sport or work on a particular area of sports law such as doping or employment-related matters.
Currently, I am primarily focused on the football industry, and my job includes advising players, athletes, intermediaries on various transfer and employment-related matters usually having an international dimension, which often involves drafting various legal instruments. I also represent parties before FIFA, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), national football associations and occasionally local courts in the event of disputes.
Are you the right fit?
While there is no single mould for a student to fit in, it’s always better to know what might be expected out of you in a concerned career path in order to make an informed decision.
While having some level of interest and involvement in sports may be considered to be a prerequisite, it would be pertinent to note that becoming a sports industry professional is vastly different from being a participant or a fan.
I would strongly advice students who are desirous of choosing sports law as a career to actively look for internships within the industry while still being in law school. There are several conferences and seminars (or webinars) which are organised quite frequently. One could also consider attending some of these events to gain more knowledge and exposure.
2. Choosing this career right after graduation
For students with no prior work experience, I would suggest that they at least attempt to become familiar with the industry and try to figure out what kind of work they might be expected to do in the future. Speaking to various industry professionals could help in this regard.
Pursuing a master’s degree
While there are a number of lawyers who are doing extremely well without having obtained a master’s, I believe that pursuing a master’s degree could potentially open up an array of opportunities for aspiring sports lawyers. For professionals who are looking to work abroad, pursuing higher education at a reputed university could certainly help them get closer to their goal.
My experience of studying at ISDE which subsequently led to a job opportunity at a sports law firm in Spain has helped me build a fairly vast network in Europe. I also got acquainted with some brilliant professionals during the course, some of whom I collaborate with on a regular basis.
2. Building your profile
I always advice students to obtain some work experience and develop basic legal skills before opting to specialize in a particular field of law. In my opinion, before deciding to pursue a master’s degree in sports law, one should look to gain 1-2 years of industry experience and 2-3 years of overall experience.
One may get selected for a course without having much work experience, but some prior experience can be extremely helpful while attempting to secure an internship or a job after the completion of the master’s program.
The Competition and The Prospects
The sports industry has grown a fair bit over the past few years, both in India and abroad. Consequently, there are more opportunities available to young lawyers as compared to ten years back.
Having said that, sports law still remains a niche, and choosing to become a sports lawyer does involve a certain amount of risk. Moreover, the salary for recent graduates or professionals with limited experience generally tends to be less as compared to several other fields of law.
One could try to secure a job at a specialized sports law firm. Although the number of such boutique sports law firms is on the rise both in India and abroad, the number of vacancies at such firms tends to be limited.
There is also the option of working as an independent sports lawyer, provided that the person has the requisite experience in the field and possesses exceptional networking skills.
Apart from that, one could also look for openings at various clubs, leagues, associations, or governing bodies like FIFA, UEFA, or the ICC.
2. Need for sports lawyers
Sports law has existed as a specialized field in the US and most European countries for a number of years. In my experience, things are picking up at a fair pace in India as well, and there is a growing demand for specialized sports lawyers.
Non-legal professionals working in the industry are starting to realize the importance of working with lawyers who are familiar with sports specific regulations, jurisprudence and have the experience of appearing before specialized committees, tribunals, and arbitral bodies. For instance, several football clubs, intermediaries, and players have approached me in the past couple of years and asked me to assist them with their legal issues.
It requires plenty of time, commitment and patience to carve out a successful career in sports law. It could be considered to be a relatively risky career path for reasons I’ve already mentioned, but at the same time could turn out to be highly rewarding.
Therefore, keep working hard, be prepared to take some risks, and try to work on your networking skills.