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The Necessity Of Law School And The Art Of Negotiation

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.

By Darren Heitner

Darren Heitner created Sports Agent Blog as a New Year's Resolution on December 31, 2005. Originally titled, "I Want To Be A Sports Agent," the website was founded with the intention of causing Heitner to learn more about the profession that he wanted to join, meet reputable individuals in the space and force himself to stay on top of the latest news and trends.

Heitner now runs Heitner Legal, P.L.L.C., which is a law firm with many practice areas, including sports law and contract law. Heitner has represented numerous athletes and sports agents as legal counsel. He has also served as an Adjunct Professor at Indiana University Bloomington from 2011-2014, where he created and taught a course titled, Sport Agency Management, which included subjects ranging from NCAA regulations to athlete agent certification and the rules governing the profession. Heitner serves as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, where he teaches a Sports Law class that includes case law surrounding athlete agents and the NCAA rules.

12 replies on “The Necessity Of Law School And The Art Of Negotiation”

Great post. As an attorney, I am amazed at how few lawyers ever bother to study the art of negotiation. It should be required for any litigator.

Nice post. I also have never heard of refraining from using the word “but” from negotiations, but it does make a very interesting point. At first glance I understood the value of the opinion as suggested…to not show disregard for your counterparts arguments.

However, I think this rule of thumb may be more advantageous as a defensive tool in negotiations. In the midst of negotiation, when a counterpart uses a “but” argument, that seems to be a reasonable opportunity to question why he/she is completely disregarding your own argument. If done tastefully, it may cause your counterpart to re-evaluate your position, and consider it with an increased accuracy.

Law school is absolutely necessary to become a sports agent in my opinion. Contract negotiation and problems are too tricky and specific to tackle without a thorough legal background.

I recently took a negotiation class in law school. One point that I feel would add to the list Warkentien gave SI is you should do enough research before the negotiation to know what your best alternative to a negotiated agreement (BATNA) is. Stated otherwise, know what other options are available for your client and decide what your walk away point is. If the other side cannot come to terms that are more favorable than your BATNA, you should walk away from the negotiations and go with your alternative.

Your article is certainly on point. Unless you can obtain an undergraduate degree that encompasses developing all of the skills you highlighted, getting a graduate degree is key in gaining the critical thinking and negotiation skills needed. Most agents I have met have confirmed this to me as well. I’m also partial to the JD b/c I have one too, however, if you went to my law school, Penn Law, you’d have to take an assortment of classes at the law school as well as Wharton business, which both schools encourage. While you could rely on one concentration/school to provide training, taking classes from both adds a tremendous benefit. The point is, getting the JD or the MBA isn’t enough. If you’re going to do grad school, do it right and try to find the classes that will truly enahnce your career as an agent.

Definitely. And it is hard to find practical classes at law schools. Most likely you will not be permitted to take any of them as a 1L. Actively search for them in your 2L and 3L years. You won’t feel as if you threw away money at the end of three years at law school (at least not AS much money).

I know at the law school that I attend, Florida Coastal, they have a specific program for sports law that you can begin taking when you are a 2L. That is the main reason I decided to come here.

I’m not sure why you perceive law school as the only place you can take a negotiations class. I got an MBA at Tuck, and we had multiple negotiations classes. It’s not as if you can’t negotiate in business. In fact, I am going to go so far as to invoke the adage that businesspeople are more end-goal oriented (while lawyers are more process-oriented) and you could definitely get a better result for a client this way.

Lastly, the basics of contract law are not lost on anyone that’s smart enough to master the GMAT. I’m just saying…just because you didn’t go whole-hog for a JD, doesn’t mean you haven’t learned a thing or two about contracts and how contract law works.

I don’t perceive law school as the ONLY place one can take a negotiations class, but I definitely was not offered that option as an undergrad. Certainly, there is lots of value in obtaining an MBA, which is why I assume the NFLPA mandates that certified advisors have a law degree OR a masters degree. What you fail to realize is that ALL lawyers are businesspeople; they are not only process oriented.

I will also disagree that anyone who can master the GMAT can master Contract Law. Maybe the basics, if you mean offer, acceptance, and consideration, but I could probably teach that to a 10-year-old if you give me a day to do so.

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