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Why Pick A Non-Attorney Agent Over An Attorney-Agent?

Why would a professional athlete ever choose a sports agent who is not an attorney over an attorney-agent who has gone through three years of law school and passed at least one state Bar Exam?  It is because being a successful sports agent in today’s sport landscape requires much more than just a knowledge of the law (particularly contract law) and superb negotiation skills.  Good agents/agencies provide marketing capacity, press opportunities, social media expertise, and most of all, contacts that will help their clients succeed in their field and outside of the sport they excel in.  But if you can have all of the above along with someone who is well versed in the law, why would you go with a non-attorney agent?

This is sure to spark some conversation.  Let’s hear it.

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.

9 replies on “Why Pick A Non-Attorney Agent Over An Attorney-Agent?”

From a players perspective I dont think it is nearly as important to players to have an agent that went to law school as most think. The majority of players in the league are going to get cut at some point and the most important thing an agent needs to have is the contacts and relationships with nfl personnel people to get them a workout or job somewhere else. Being able to negotiate a contract comes after finding that player a team. There are so many people out there that went to law school and want to be agents but dont have the necessary contacts that some who didnt go to law school have.

Solid point, Derek. I am an attorney, and I do agree with you — contact is key. The only difference I could point out btw the agent and the attorney besides the obvious –more knowledge of the law– is that attorneys are held to a higher ethical standard.

Derek is right. The “attorney” aspect is highly overrated. It’s not like pro athletes are negotiating contracts from scratch; they all sign standardized contracts. The only real time the attorney aspect comes into play is when the player is in trouble, but I’ve almost never heard of an attorney-agent actually representing a client in a criminal or civil matter. The law training can’t hurt, but it seems mostly moot.

Attorneys can just as easily have contacts in the league as anyone else. It’s true that most agents/marketers etc. are only as valuable as their contact list. But there’s a lot more to the business when your agent can truly be full-service. The efficiency of a full-service agent – one who can keep things like real estate purchases, setting up charity foundations, starting for-profit corporations (during the career and after retirement), appealing fines, defending the player and filing grievances, in house – is very difficult to match by a non-attorney agent.

Additionally, attorneys are held to a much higher ethical standard of conduct, which should be very important to players and their families (whether it is or not is another issue).

I won’t pretend that attorneys are inherently better at negotiating contracts (whether these are contracts between players and teams or between athletes and endorsers), but it’s a pretty safe assumption that attorneys-agents are at least specially trained in negotiation, for whatever that is worth.

The people I know selected agents based on relationships. Even if they were referred through someone, they’ve established a relationship or rapport with agent and trust that the individual has their best intentions at heart. The agent may have the same values, culture, upbringing, vision, passion and/or the individual can relate to the agent (ex athlete, counselor, coach, etc). It’s not all about if you are JD.

A JD is great!
Being certified as an Athlete Agent in the State your pontential client is in is necessary!
Being an Agent that has self discipline and high ethical standards is priceless!

lol..Joe brings up some key points

I am former pro soccer player who is a licensed US Players Agent and Tulane Sports Law student (3L). In my experience, although a formal legal education closes the circle of skills required to excel in the profession, a varied of professional contacts within the relevant industry is essential.

The need to retain a lawyer for (generally) standardized contracts, endorsements, etc…is arguably outweighed by the need to “first” get into a small door that is constantly knocked on by millions of people each year.

Today, the individual sports agent is an endangered species, with the bulk of marquee clients represented by a handful of sports agents operating in a varied of corporate forms and markets. Competition in those markets tends to show that the modern athlete can seek out comprehensive representation. Thus, go to law school, develop industry contacts, and become proficient in a range of ancillary disciplines.

Most importantly remember – money don’t sleep.

The bottom line is a client should get all the services that were mentioned above. If an agent is not an attorney then he/she can partner with one, or subcontract out all of the legal work. If the agent is an attorney and doesn’t have experience in marketing etc. then that work can be handled by another person in the firm or by hiring a marketing consultant. However if there is a choice between hiring a non-attorney agent and an agent who is an attorney with both having the same abilities with which to offer all of the other services, than it would be quite foolish to hire someone with less education, especially the law. And as we all know, professional athletes do have a propensity for having brushes with the law.

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