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Serendipity: One Lawyer’s Route to Sports Law

Our guest blogger this week is Bobby Hacker. In addition to coaching the Santa Monica Women’s Rugby Club, Bobby Hacker is the Vice President of Business and Legal Affairs for FOX Sports.

There are all sorts of lawyers, besides good ones and bad ones, that is. There are litigators and transactional lawyers. Each of those sets has many sub-sets. I started out as a business litigator, transitioned into being a real estate litigator and then found myself as an in-house network sports attorney. So, how did that happen?

Whenever I speak at law schools it seems that one of the most often-asked questions concerns the very question raised above, namely, how to get a lawyer job in the sports industry. As un-scientific as this may sound, I always offer the same answer: serendipity. Admittedly, that may not be particularly satisfying, but, dare I say, it is what it is. My own situation presents a case in point. After several interviews and several rejections, one in-house attorney gave me a job working as an outside production counsel and, voila, I was an entertainment attorney. A few years later when a position opened up in the FOX Broadcasting legal department, I had enough experience to land a job, and (here’s the real serendipity), six weeks later the person handling the business affairs for sports left the company and I took over.

If one looks at the pool of jobs for lawyers in the sports industry it won’t take long to realize that the particular sub-set in question is relatively small. You have four broadcast networks along with cable outlets and a couple of satellite enterprises. Add to that a growing internet presence, most of which is wed to a network or cable company. If you, dare I say, do the math, you will find that the available pool is pretty shallow. Outside of the media options, you are left with pro sports teams and minor league teams, which include those that are and are not affiliated with a professional club. In short, the entire world of legal jobs in sports is relatively small.

Not being one who enjoys dashing someone’s hopes, I have offered all of the information above to put into perspective why it tends to be difficult to get a legal job in the sports industry. That said, would I recommend seeking out a career in this industry? Absolutely! From my personal experience, practice in this area offers the practitioner so much more than the drafting, review and negotiating contracts. Of course, there is always going to be a significant amount of that work, which in and of itself provides some very exciting adventures (something happens when you see contract values in the billions), but the scope of legal knowledge and practice disciplines about which one must be aware really keeps the mind working. Besides the general concerns in representing a client in the negotiation of a contract, (and never lose sight of the fact the company for which you work as an in-house attorney may pay you, but they are the client), one must also think about so many other issues. For example, are there any union issues involved between the parties; in assessing the risks, what sort of insurance will be required; and, what available remedies may exist?

The obvious follow-up question should sound something like, “what happens if I can’t get a job in the sports industry?” Well, the answer I have may be disheartening to some, but I am unwavering in it: spend a couple of years as a litigator. The reasoning is quite simple: in litigation you see what has happened after a business deal, for example, has unraveled, and once you start working in the transactional world it provides a perspective that allows the practitioner to know what terms might be inserted in order to protect the client from suffering the same fate as the litigants. In the litigation world, once you have waded through all of the procedural hoops, you often times make the realization that had the parties drafted a particular concept into the contract between them, the nobody would have needed to spend so much time hoop jumping!