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Advocating Improved Agent Ethical Standards

This past weekend, I secluded myself during the days and got to reading quite a few law review articles that I had put to the side to read for some time now.  One of them was Stacey B. Evans’, Sports agents: ethical representatives or overly aggressive adversaries?, which  was published this year in the Villanova Sports & Entertainment Law Journal.  The article starts off with a quote from Paul D. Staudohar’s 2006 piece titled, So You Want to Be a Sports Agent.

“Of particular importance in individual negotiations between agents and clubs are three aspects of bargaining. The first is bargaining in which the agent is seeking as large an economic reward for the player’s services as possible. The more the agent receives for the player the less is left over for the club. In contrast is a second aspect of bargaining in which the negotiators engage in joint problem solving to come up with solutions that benefit both sides. A third aspect of individual contract negotiation is structuring the bargaining environment or ambiance so as to smooth the path toward agreement.”

I agree 100% with this statement in the introduction:

Though there are many important agenting skills, knowing how to effectively negotiate is perhaps the most important skill that a sports agent can possess.

A main premise of the paper is that athletes need to pay much more attention to the educational backgrounds of their agents and less attention to short term dollar figures.  The author claims that attorneys trained in contracts, negotiation, anti-trust, and agency law are best suited to be strong advocates for their athlete clients, and that attorney agents are also bound to a stringent set of ethical rules.  After going through law school, it is hard for me to disagree.  The author writes,

There are several values to attending law school prior to becoming an agent. These attributes including the chance to develop a “trained eye to catch small but important contract details that might not be in the best interests of your client.” More specifically, an agent with legal training as a transactional attorney may benefit pro athletes with “property sales and purchases, investment oversight, formulation of trust, wills, and LLCs, prenuptials, and other needs that high-income earners may have.”

Upon passing the Florida Bar, I would like to offer many of these services.  From my legal training thus far, though, I know that my eye is trained to read every word of every contract to find inconsistencies or instances where my client might not be protected or benefited from the language on paper.  And then there is this important point,

Attorneys have strict codes of professional conduct. A professional athlete may have greater redress against an attorney-agent in a malpractice action than against a non-attorney-agent. Thus, for the time being, athletes can better protect themselves by hiring attorney agents, so that they can seek redress if something goes wrong in their negotiations.

While attorney agents may not like this accountability, athletes should surely take notice.  The author even goes as far to argue that attorney regulations are not enough to regulate the sports agent profession, and that even more strict sports-focused regulations are needed to restrict attorney and non-attorney agents from acting unethically.

The author goes through an at length description of two different types of agents – Ron Shapiro, who has successfully negotiated many baseball contracts (including Cal Ripken’s and Joe Mauer’s) by focusing on establishing long-term relationships, bringing teams together, and using a cooperative style, and Drew Rosenhaus, who uses a take-no-prisoners negotiation style and tears teams apart.  Not surprisingly, the author favors Shapiro’s approach.

It can’t hurt that is referenced multiple times in the article.  Specifically, we are mentioned in footnotes 120, 144, 296.  Footnote 120 referred to our coverage of Leigh Steinberg’s lawsuit vs. David Dunn.  Footnotes 144 and 296 are related to the author’s coverage of conflicts of interest. In these footnotes, the author highlights our coverage of Dunn’s possible conflict of interest in representing Kellen Clemens while also representing Mark Sanchez.

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.

3 replies on “Advocating Improved Agent Ethical Standards”

Darren – any chance you could post the citation to the Evans law review article?

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