Good sport for in-house lawyers. By Matheu Swallow.
9 January 1998
Working in-house enables lawyers to concentrate on all aspects of sports law
Perhaps the only lawyers who can claim to be purely sports lawyers are those practising in-house. There is a growing trend to carry out work in-house, particularly within sports governing bodies.
The staple diet of an in-house sports lawyer can include sponsorship and licensing deals, negotiating selection agreements, contractual matters, employment law, corporate and regulatory matters and many aspects of European Law.
A wide range of knowledge is required. The in-house sports lawyer's remit generally extends far beyond just legal and technical expertise. Extra-curricular activities include serving as a sounding board for the marketing department, some parliamentary lobbying, advising internal committees and general commercial administration.
There are, of course, cost advantages to outsourcing a certain amount of work, but Andy Gray, a lawyer at the Amateur Swimming Association, says one of the most important roles of the in-house lawyer is to provide an immediate response to sensitive issues, particular when the media becomes involved. Gray has spent a lot of time involved with doping control and child protection.
The increased professionalism of sport is one reason for the move to use in-house solicitors. Bruce Mellstrom, a lawyer at the British Olympic Association, points out that the do-it-yourself trend is not litigious reactionism - quite the opposite, it is to prevent the floodgates of litigation opening.
Murray Mattheson, appointed as director of legal and special projects to the Scottish Football Association last February, says that the key objective must be to understand the business. He has achieved this by following the Scottish football team to many of its international games over the past 17 years.
International Management Group (IMG) has a team of six lawyers, headed by Brian Clark. Clark says the trend toward using in-house lawyers is simply a reflection of the increased awareness and complexity of governing bodies' rights.
Sports work at IMG is almost exclusively contract-based, with all litigation and property work being outsourced.
The team acts as a corporate safety net to ensure it is getting the rights it is paying for in a deal worked out by its executives; that there is a practical method in place for realising those rights; and to make sure no one can ambush the group in order to get something for nothing.
Overall, the job of the in-house sports lawyer is an enviable one. As well as offering their expertise in the wider fields of management and administration, and seeing deals worked through from start to finish, they can also enjoy gentle mornings catching up on their favourite sports via the back pages of the newspapers.
The opportunities in sports law do not always exist inside the legal profession.
A year ago Justin Paige (below right) of Lewis Silkin and newly-qualified Freshfields solicitor Andy Evans (below left) walked out of their respective firms and set up sports management group World in Motion.
Now with 60 clients - including England international cricketer Robert Croft - Paige says the company is doing "not quite as well cash flow-wise" as he would like but is doing better than expected in attracting clients and business development.
The pair set up the company because they wanted a more hands-on role in the sporting world instead of the more "office-based" work of a legal firm.
Paige says that while many law firms claim they do sports law, this may simply be completing a property transaction for a club like Manchester United.
"To me that isn't sports law," says Paige.
World in Motion does not offer a legal service. Its two founders go to Simmons & Simmons if they have a major legal query but Paige believes their training as lawyers has helped. Being conversant in the often archaic and complicated language of contracts helps them to represent clients' interests better.
However, Paige believes stepping outside of a law firm brings its own problems, with many lawyers "not cut out as individuals to take on a business".
But, for World in Motion, while the business lessons are still being learnt, life on the sidelines of the law is proving good.