No matter how many times I address the issue, I continue to get at least one question a day through email (and sometimes on this site), asking whether law school is necessary or even preferable for someone who is looking to break into the sports agent industry. Another related question is whether an MBA, Masters in Sports Management, or J.D. is the best degree to obtain if one is interested in breaking through the huge barrier of entry. I am reluctant to give an answer to that question, because I can only speak from my own experience. My bias is towards a path of law, where you will have the opportunity to get your first taste of industry-specific knowledge when you take your introductory course in Contracts. Then, in Legal Drafting, you will actually learn how to draw up those contracts. If you take a more specific drafting class, like Analysis and Drafting of Intellectual Property, you will learn specific terms, clauses, and paragraphs that are native to endorsement and marketing deals. If your school offers a class on Negotiation & Mediation, you will learn how to negotiate cooperatively and how to utilize specific claiming and creating strategies, which are invaluable in negotiations (and really the main reason why a client should pay you, in the first place, to negotiate his deals). Additionally, some schools offer very specific industry-related classes like a Sports Law Seminar, which will teach you more of the statutory and precedent based rules guiding our profession.
Wow, that was a long paragraph. But after almost 2 1/2 years of law school, I can now confidently say that I will graduate with a better understanding of the best practices in representing talent, and that I will have an edge over my counterparts who never put in the 3 years to attain a J.D. I did not write that statement with the intention of denigrating anyone’s intellectual capacity, and there are plenty of amazing sports agents who have had tremendous success in scrupulously representing their clients. However, I do believe that there is a lot to gain by going to law school, especially in the realm of learning how to effectively negotiate (which really cannot be learned by just reading a book).
There are a lot more sports agents (A LOT MORE) than there are General Managers in their respective sports. While not every agent has had the proper education necessary to effectively negotiate on behalf of his client, you better believe that every GM knows every trick in the book, whether it be from formal education or years and years of experience. Mark Warkentien, VP of Basketball Operations for the Denver Nuggets, is one of those expert negotiators. During Summer, he spent a week at Harvard Law School in order to enlarge his arsenal of negotiation tools, and shared some of his wisdom with Ian Thomsen of SI. Some important points he talks about are:
- The need to know what your counterpart is going to say before you sit down at the negotiating table.
- Find points of agreement before starting the negotiation.
- Make your counterpart justify his interests and positions.
- Face-to-face negotiations beat phone/email/fax conversations.
- Showing emotion often does not help you in progressing your position.
- Be flexible in negotiations.
- Don’t talk down to your counterpart.
- Never use the word “but”.
I have learned all of those bullet points, minus the very last one. However, it is definitely an interested point, and one that I may take into consideration when altering my own negotiating style. This is how Warkentien describes Harvard Law School’s justification for scrapping the word “but” from negotiations:
“When you say, ‘I hear what you’re telling me, but …’ what you’re really saying is, ‘Go to hell.’ That word — ‘but’ — comes across as if everything the other guy has just said doesn’t matter.”
As a side note, I will be speaking at Barry University School of Law exactly a week from today. If you are in Orlando, please join the discussion next Monday at 12 p.m. Contact Thomas M. Schoendorf for more information.