Mayer Brown Rowe & Maw (MBR&M) is the first international law firm to send laywers on a pro bono basis to arbitrate for athletes and sports bodies before the International Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) at the 2004 Athens Olympics. Three lawyers were sent to Athens to provide advice and take part in CAS arbitrations on a pro bono basis in order to settle disputes in record times of no longer than 24 hours.
London-based international arbitration lawyer Domenico Di Pietro went to Athens with two lawyers from MBR&M’s Chicago office to advise on sport disputes pending before the CAS. The CAS, an international tribunal, was established 20 years ago to decide sports cases independently of governing federations and national domestic legal systems.
Di Pietro says that it was important to offer specialist legal services on a pro bono basis because often athletes cannot afford to hire expert lawyers. “Usually local lawyers are employed as prosecution and defence – these have often been lawyers with no specific expertise,” he explained. “Unfortunately, many athletes cannot afford to employ lawyers from a highly specialised firm in the little time available and so the ability to obtain such representation can be problematic.”
MBR&M became involved in the pro bono initiative after sensing this need. The team, with combined sports law and arbitration expertise, spent three weeks in Athens with the aim of providing pro bono advice to anyone that needed the help. “We worked around the clock, advising sports federations and Olympic committees, and acted in a few cases, such as the Torri Edwards’ case – where we acted for US Track and Field – and Canadian rowers case where we teamed up with counsel for Chris Jarvis and David Calder,” Di Pietro said.
The group worked to resolve other issues rapidly, such as selection disputes over whether or not an athlete should be able to take part in an event. “A few hours before one hearing we asked for a postponement, and we got 30 minutes – it wouldn’t work without this fast turnaround,” said di Pietro.
The firm will look at sending lawyers to future winter and summer Games as the initiative was deemed such a success. Di Pietro says: “It was the Olympics for lawyers – the only chance I ever had of getting there. As a firm we wanted to give something back, as our practice areas have had a few good years. It was really rewarding. All the athletes and federations were so appreciative, especially as we bore all the costs.”