Interview with Nick De Marco QC - "Mr Football" - Episode 75
Published 11 February 2019 | Authored by: Sean Cottrell
In this episode Nick De Marco QC, Blackstone Chambers, describes his unusual and inspiring journey into law and how he become one of the world's leading sports lawyers.
In this interview Nick provides insights into how he has grown his sports practice and particularly his football practice. He provides insights into his favourite and most unusual cases as well and providing his perspective on how the sports law has changed during his career.
We thoroughly enjoyed the interview and took a lot away from it. We hope you do the same.
The host is Sean Cottrell (@spcott), founder and CEO of LawInSport.
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(Some of the language of the interview has edited in the transcript for the benefit of ease of reading)
Sean: [00:05:22] Can you give some background to how you got into law in the first place because you had a rather different route?
Nick: [00:05:24] I left school when I was 16/17 [years-old] before A-levels. I didn't do A-levels, and [therefore] I didn't go to university obviously. And I did a number of odd jobs and I ended up being a film technician and cleaning film was the first job we did. And then eventually worked my way up to be a film and video editor and did that. I started working freelance quite early, but it was a precarious living back in those days, but fun. It wasn't really until I was about to approach my 30th birthday, which is a big landmark, that I thought I better do something with my life and get some qualifications. I'd been also a trade union activist and quite political, and I used to spend a lot of time trying to persuade people of things; so, a friend of mine said, Well, why don't you be a lawyer?’ Still having that kind of youthful approach to things I said:
“I'd been in my mid-thirties by the time I qualify it…that's like hundreds of years away... what's the point.”
He said “well it's better than being in your mid-thirties with no qualifications” which was an obvious thing but not the way I used to think when I was younger. So I then went to study law, did an access course at Birkbeck College, who I still now sometimes teach for and I was lucky enough as a mature student to get taken on at UCL in London, studied law there. I was lucky enough to get a first class degree.
Sean: [00:07:12] Maybe there was also some hard work in there.
Nick: [00:07:14] It's hard work too, but if I tried to do that when I was younger I probably would have never been able to. I think it helped that by that stage I knew I wanted to do, and that was to try and be a lawyer. Eventually I ended up getting a pupilage here at Blackstone Chambers which is very fortunate and I've been here ever since.
Sean: [00:07:36] How did you find that process? How did you find that culturally? [to change careers]
Nick: [00:08:04] There's some real ups and downs and looking back at it with a little more self-confidence now than I might have had before. You're never as good as you think you are and you’re never as bad as you think you are. I remember when I started at university thinking there was no way I could do it. In my first year I was probably in the bottom third of the class. Everyone else had been doing A-levels had been sort of trained to do exams, so although I thought I was smart, I wasn't good at that side of things. I wasn't academic. Then in my second year I suddenly took off. I was very fortunate with mooting, started winning lots of prizes in advocacy, and ended up getting first class results and thinking, ‘Oh I'm brilliant. I’m the best student.’ Then I did my pupilage and suddenly I felt stupid again compared to people who'd all gone through the same path and being the best in their university and suddenly your are in an even more competitive area.
Sean: [00:09:15] What was the mental shift going from being rock bottom to being top of your class? Was it the mooting that gave you confidence?
Nick: [00:09:17] It was, more than anything else the mooting helped me because what I liked most of the moot, thinking back about it now, they were sort of on contractual appeal points, back in those days that we used to argue about; you would be set a problem and then you would think, ‘Well how do I persuade the person so I can win the competition?’. Then I would study it because it was for a goal, I wanted to win this competition. I'd really study it hard and I would think of every possible argument and every question they might ask me. That approach to law, which is the approach we take as barristers often in preparing for a case, made it much more interesting and exciting for me.
Sean: [00:10:05] That is fascinating. So when you got into Blackstone Chambers, known for being the leading sports chambers in the world, how did you get into sports law when you were here? Did you have to go and it seek out or were you fortunate?
Nick: [00:10:37] Well first of all I had not heard of sports law when I started. I did my pupilage in 2001, so it did exist then but it didn’t have anything like the profile it has now. It certainly wasn't a subject I came across in university and it wasn't one of the reasons I applied to Blackstone Chambers. It wasn't what I wanted to do it wasn't on my horizon at all.
Sean: What did you want to do?
Nick: [00:11:05] I wanted to be a human rights lawyer. Public Law and all that sort of thing. Which was a good reason to choose Blackstone because it was and still is one of the highest profile chambers in that area.
I remember the clerks saying to me either during pupilage or when I got taken on, that when you are here in chambers you've got to do a bit of everything. You've got to do commercial work, employment work, public law, which is with human rights, and so on. I remember saying to them, thinking I know everything now because I'm in my mid-thirties being taken on and I'm not just out of university, “I know what I want to do it's human rights and public law. You don't need to tell me to do everything. I know exactly what I want to do.” They said “look, let's just try it. Just do everything.”
Within about a year I found I much preferred commercial law and employment law. I preferred the battle that the combat if you like, because there's more advocacy, there's more cross-examination, there's more tactics often. Also, you are less dealing with regulation than with human rights law and more with people and disputes. So counterintuitively, I found I preferred those areas. But you asked me about sports law, and the reason I got into that at first was luck; a lot that you get in life is luck. But it's also about making luck.
I was fortunate to pick up a bit of a case which was for Swindon Town FC, back in the day against Neil “Razor” Ruddock who was a former England and Liverpool player, and Queen's Park Rangers player by the way. He was near the end of his career. He was injured. He wasn't playing, and his salary, because of the contract Swindon had arranged, was about a third of the turnover, not the profit, but the turnover of the club and the club was nearly in administration. So they just stopped paying his wages, which obviously you can't do. It's not lawful but that's what they did. He brought a claim against them. There was probably no defence to the claim. In the meantime, they got an FA Cup match against Oxford, and received hundred thousand pounds as they were show the BBC. He brought a freezing injunction against the club which some were much more grand and senior than me did. Then they [the club] said well someone very cheap—I was in my first year—needs to go along to a Bristol employment tribunal to deal with the underlying case. I went along and felt very frustrated that it was an unwinnable case. There was nothing I could do. So I was lucky that the chairman of the club was there, the player was there and the agent was there. I managed to get everybody speaking and worked out a commercial deal that solved the problem, settled the case and settled the injunction that meant that the player could leave the club but his wages would be paid over a period of time that the club could manage. That was a good example of something that it's not strictly legal. It was quite a commercial approach, but it gave the solution to the client that they needed and it meant that solicitor, then next time he had a football case, sent it to me and I enjoyed it. The next time I had a sniff of such a case I work twice as hard and it all started from there really.
Sean: [00:14:40] Well you mentioned something there interesting. I [often] say we need more non-legal solutions to legal problems. And that's what that was here.
As you were navigating your career in a chambers renowned for sports law work with very high profile barristers, that must of presented its own challenges? The Bar super competitive yet you have to work collegially, to a degree, with your colleagues in Chambers, but everyone's also gunning for their own business. How did you navigate that, because you know you need to get experience from your seniors and also have to pay your own way? How did you work within your with your colleagues in chambers? The reason I ask this is should there be many people listening wondering you know they might be in a similar position; how can they do the same?
Nick: [00:15:35] I mean there are a lot of lovely people in Chambers who I've worked with. Ian Mill QC, Michael Beloff QC, Adam Lewis QC and Jane Mulcahy QC in particular. Those four, I’ve done bits of work with them through the years that's helped, and the clerks have helped me because I said I really want to do this work. But as much as anything it's also been you decide you want to do the work. With me I went out and tried to get it myself. One of the things I did, not so much in a calculated way, it was partly just out of interest, the club I support QPR was in financial dire straits. It had no money at all it was in League One. I'm going back to 2004-2005 now, so quite a long time ago. I just started picking up some of this sort of football work. I'd in fact been instructed by QPR in a paid case, and I suddenly thought ‘I support this club, I go every week, why don't I see if I can help them on the legal side?’. So I wrote to them, and when I met them and they said yes they need the help. Suddenly I was advising on how you deal with managers’ contracts or caterers’ contracts or sponsors…everything. I wasn't getting paid for it, all a little stressful, but the learning curve was great. And of course you also meet people as well, and you start to network and know people. It meant that the next time I had a another football case I was better able to deal with it and eventually I became a director of the club for a small period and that learning curve in particular, about how the industry works and meeting— meeting agents, meeting players and so on, I found very useful in building up my own practice and my own reputation.
Sean: [00:17:31] I think the point you make is that it gave you a better understanding of not only the industry, but it was motivations [of people] within the industry. One of the things I see is that sometimes people gain a superficially understanding of it [the industry] but don't really get what managers’ motivations are, what the players’ motivations are, or the agents, etc. So it can lead them to the wrong conclusion. I was always curious about how that how I came about but I never really asked you. So thank you for that.
One of your strengths is your ability to write and communicate well. Obviously you’d expect a QC to be very good at chairing discussions. You've spoken at many of our events and the Football Law conference last year but one of the things, and I think I've said this to you before, is that you have got an uncanny ability to write well. You're a very good communicator and maybe that's from the politics [background]. Can you talk about how that has helped your career? Because in someways you are a bit like Daniel Geey, Jake Cohen and others—who love being on social media, writing blogs, enjoy writing [generally]. What they produce is very good because they enjoy it. I know that you enjoy writing as well, can you just talk about that? It seems it has been an important contributor, maybe I'm wrong in saying that, to your career development.
Nick: [00:19:18] Once you decide that you want to be a sports lawyer, let's say in my case, one of the ways you do it is by trying to raise your profile by writing about cases or sports law and so on. Quite early on I was trying to do that probably not as prolifically as people do it now because, when I started, we used to do a bulletin that was on paper and we'd send it out to clients. It's all completely changed now in just 10 years or so. But yes, I do think it is helpful writing and certainly the football book that we brought out in this last year which was by far the biggest project I have been involved in writing and took up a lot of time and it meant to a certain extent sacrificing work and fees to work on it. But it was really worth it not only because hopefully it raises everybody's profile who was involved in it but one of the great things about writing is you also have to learn. It is the same with teaching. When you're displaying your opinions on something you do not want to get it wrong. You've got to get it right, you've got to understand the problem or the case or the cases if you're writing a chapter about something; then it's very useful.
I mean, I kind of wrote the book that I thought would be useful for myself because then I get a call about a case, and I'm not joking, I do turn to my book often [and go to it for reference]. You want to be able to have that kind of writing that's actually useful to people.
Sean: [00:21:08] I agree with you. That's one of the reasons that I have my, [albeit] limited, knowledge of things in sports law, is because all the excellent writers and authors like yourself who've written for us or submitted articles. It upskills you because if we are to going to publish it [an article] we have to understand it internally. You have to explain it to the editorial board members or to others and it really helps you.
One of the things I was curious about is —I’m not sure if you’re happy to talk about this, but I’m going to ask you anyway—is that one of the characteristics of sports work that you've identified is that there's other more profitable areas [in law] that you could be doing, given your skillset and the chambers you're in. How did you balance that, particularly when you were starting out? The world has change somewhat in sport. There's much more money in sport than there was years ago. How did you balance career development and income source [and now is that] relative to people now? You [probably] to do a bit of a pro bono work or a bit of very low cost. How did you how did you manage that because I think that's a difficult one for a lot people to manage in sports law.
Nick: [00:22:23] It is and at first certainly I managed it simply by the fact that sports work was only a small part of my work. My bread and butter was from employment work and to a certain extent commercial work. So, I could afford to do a few sports cases now and then without getting paid so much or sometimes doing it pro bono; a lot of other people still do that and it's one of the ways to get into it. You have to know when to transition out of that as well though because now all my work is sports work and I make a living out of it. And I probably make as good of a living as most other people at my level in chambers because a lot of it is commercial work and to get to that stage you need to be able to charge for the work you do. I can still come across silks in other sets of chambers who probably have a much higher hourly rate than I do in commercial, very experienced who will be able to compete with me on fees where they will offer to work for half or less than I will in a big sports case because they really want the exposure of doing the sports case and they can do that because they're doing the other work that pays.
I can't do that because I earn my living from doing sports law work. So you need to be able to transition, but at first I think that the main tip is you need to be able to earn your living; that may mean for 99 percent of people, certainly it was the case for me, it meant doing other areas of law that sustain a practice that give the wider areas. There's always work [with non-sports law] and then doing the sports cases when you can.
Sean: [00:24:24] That's very good advice, you could give the same advice for solicitors. It is a very sensible approach and I appreciate your honesty with that because it's one of the that sometimes prevents people from being as honest as they should be about the volume of work they are doing in the space which can cause distortion particularly for younger, or say less experienced, people coming into the market. One of the things I want to ask you about is some of your cases, your favourite cases but before we do that one thing I'm just curious about asking: How have you seen the market develop over the times when you came into now?
Nick: [00:25:15] Well, there's certainly been a huge growth in sports law work since my involvement [began] and it follow the economic development of sport. The growth in particular of football and broadcasting money in the Premier League; the more money there is in sport, the more seriously people take conflicts, the more space there is for lawyers and for lawyers to get paid. And it's now not unusual for me to be instructed in a case for a lower league club or even I have for a few non-league clubs, a conference club in a dispute that's worth a relatively sizeable amount of money. That would have been almost unheard of 15 years ago. And also you've seen the change at the top end whereby for instance Premier League football clubs, the number of the big ones, now have internal in-house legal departments that are as big as a small boutique sports law firm or bigger. And that also creates pressures in the market as well, but the market is much more sophisticated now. It is much more developed. There is much more work. But I would always also warn people that there are or there were and there remain more lawyers who want that work than there is that work.
People should not have an illusion that because there's so much money in the Premier League clubs are falling over each other trying to look for lawyers. It's the other way around really to be frank about it, but the work is there and if you can establish a niche reputation in a particular area it's very helpful.
I talk about football a lot. I do work in most other sports and I enjoy doing work in most other sports. The reason I have prioritized football is firstly it's the sport I love the most and enjoy watching, so it helps personally. But secondly, [I talk about football] because if you're going to be a sort of full-time sports lawyer and have it as nearly all of your practice, you need a sport that's big enough to sustain a practice and has the money to do so. And really football's the only sport that can do that on an international level in my view.
Sean: [00:27:43] Yes. In America they’ve got major league sports. It's interesting though because one of the points that can be overlooked is a highly competitive market. You've got the smartest people in the world generally who are passionate about a particular topic who are willing to [accept] half their fees to get the work because there's something they're doing in addition to what their main thing is they get so much enjoyment for it. That's a hugely competitive market. One of the consistent things I'm picking out from [interviewing] people is their pure interest, that genuine interest and people saying, ‘Well at the time there wasn't much work in it. I just sort of followed it.’ And I think it's one of the crucial things that often is not really acknowledged, [but rather] the lawyers that have actually helped develop a sport or a team or a club or a player for that matter. So would you agree then that [for someone listening who] if football is not their thing, they should still see what they see what they can do and try and help their sport develop?
Nick: [00:28:58] Absolutely. And you don't have to [spend] 100 percent [of your time as a] sports lawyer. There are very few people that [spend 100 percent of their time on sports law] and you don't have to be to enjoy doing sports law. There are a lot of people who have fantastic practices as employment lawyers or commercial lawyers or criminal lawyers who do a bit of sport sometimes. There are people who are just experts in horse racing for example and they know that sport and they love it and that's great.
Sean: [00:29:26] Absolutely. So what's your favourite cases because you would have some funny ones I'm pretty confident. What are your top two favourite cases in this or your most unusual?
Nick: [00:29:47] Well my two favourite cases are also the two cases that are were both for my football club although I've acted for many other clubs in interesting cases. And for QPR, the club I support, there were two cases in particular that are my favourite because they were so stressful but they were also so important in terms of the result that while you couldn't help being so involved, the first one was way back in about 2011-2012 when QPR for the first time looked like it was going to get promoted back to the Premier League for the first time in 20 odd years. So we were all very happy and suddenly an FA charge came about third-party ownership [of an] Argentinian player [who was] one of the best players for the QPR side that year. And there was an enormous press interest in the case.
Everyone was speculating that would lead to a points deduction. It was the first third-party ownership case after the Tevez case. So it was a very high profile case and because of my historic links with the club, the owners phoned me up and asked me to act for the club in that case and I then found that Adam Lewis QC, from my chambers, was on the other side and thought I better get a QC involved because I was a middle junior back in those days. I got Ian Mill [QC] involved as well. But that case ended up, it was an incredible case because it ended up having the decision announced on the last day of the season when QPR had its last home match when they had—and QPR were going to win the league if there was no points deduction—so they had the trophy at the ground ready to present but they didn't know whether they'd be presenting or not. And we had to rush from the decision to the ground and I remember the police had [said] if the club had a points deduction not to announce it at the ground because they were worried about a riot. When the result was announced and QPR got off without a points deduction—we had a fine against us but we essentially disproved the main charge—when that result was announced, there was a bigger cheer that went up Uxbridge Road in Shepherd's Bush than there was during the rather boring match against Leeds where we lost because we'd already got automatic promotion. It's rare that a legal case gets cheers from football fans. So it was a very stressful and very interesting case because I had to have a gaggle of Argentinian football agents as witnesses and handling them wasn't always the easiest thing. There were some great characters in the case but ultimately the result meant that the club could have promotion so that has to be one of them. The second [favourite case] was as a result of the second promotion of the same club QPR. It got fined or rather charged under financial fair play rules of the Football League and that case only just settled last summer and as far as I know is the longest running and highest fined case in English football. It went on for about four or five years in an arbitration. We could never write about it. We could never speak of it. It is all confidential arbitration. A few things have come out and I'm only allowed to say what has come out but initially when the club lost at the first hearing which is now about a couple of years ago it was looking at a fine that would have been over 40 million pounds. It would have been the biggest fine in world sport history and would have been in danger of putting the football club out of business and we appealed that and eventually the case settled. It's a confidential settlement so I can't talk about it. But as you've seen the club has been able to operate and has emerged from that.
So one can take from that what one does but that was a case where we acted again for QPR and also for Leicester and Bournemouth, two Premier League clubs challenging the very basis and legality of the Financial Fair Play rules. So it was incredibly interesting legally, but again it was the implications of the case that made it a very memorable one for me.
Sean: [00:34:38] It's just a shame you settled. Not for the club, but I think some of the things that would've come out [had it not resulted in confidential arbitration] would have been great. However, now we will never know.
Nick: [00:34:46] By the way Sean, that's the problem with most of my work. It's behind closed doors. I can't talk about it. I can't report it. I can't even put it on my CV.
Sean: [00:34:57] Not that we planned to talk about this but on that point then what is your opinion on public disclosure? Because, for example UEFA, and the amendment now in the WADA code that [says] there should be public hearings.
Nick: I did see the CAS Mutu [and Pechstein] as well in the decision of the courts in relation to that and the European Court of Human Rights, in fact,which said in those types of cases - now remember they're particularly talking about disciplinary cases. So in doping cases, for example, where the consequence of the decision may be that the athlete cannot work either for a year or two years or perhaps forever in a lifetime ban. Though I think the principle must also apply to football clubs where the consequence of the decision is, for example, a club doesn't get promoted or gets a huge fine that affects its ability to play football. What the European Court of Human Rights said was in those types of cases, even if there is an arbitration clause, because of the consequence of the athlete or the club, I think it must apply to those who want a public hearing ought to have a public hearing. And as you say UEFA has now started to change and allow some of that. I think there will be pressure on the English FA and a lot of national sports bodies and other international ones to do the same thing. So, yes, I do think particularly in what we call regulatory disciplinary sports hearings ought to be as transparent as possible. There are sometimes good reasons for confidentiality. The athletes themselves might want [to be] innocent until proven guilty, keep the fact of a doping charge out of public [domain] until it's determined, but it's very important for sport in regulatory cases [to have] transparency that decisions are published and that people can see that people are treated equally. And then it is a level playing field.
Sean: [00:37:14] That's an interesting point you make. One of the things that came up with the recent Football Leaks stuff was about settlement agreements and it seemed to me—maybe it’s a naïve view on my part, I'm not sure—but the mechanism, one of the problems with membership associations is they have to get their members to agree to the regulations. Part of getting them to agree is that they have a mechanism which is a settlement arrangement. So for this very reason there might be very contentious stuff in which they don't want the decision to come out or it's going to get very expensive in litigation to go through, so they have to have a mechanism.
Nick: [00:37:52] The Football League's a very good example, Sean, because it's not a proper independent regulator. It is simply an organization of all of its members and all the members are all the clubs. The League One, League Two clubs, and the Championship clubs often have different economic interests. And the majority vote will determine the rules of the Football League and the decisions of the Football League. And there are real problems with that approach. It's almost a cartel-type approach in many respects. There's a good argument for greater independent regulation of sport and certainly with FFP and in football that that was one of the problems that arose. Some competitors may be trying to hold back other clubs from investing. You've also got a lot of controversy now about the broadcasting deals that the Football League has entered into and whether that's in the interests of all the clubs and so on.
Sean: [00:38:55] Super interesting. I'm conscious of time, but I’ve got some other things I wanted to ask you about.
Can you give an indication now of what your week looks like? How do you structure your week? And then if you could, give some advice for people aspiring to emulate your career.
Nick: [00:39:35] Well as I say now I do 98 percent of my work in sports. It’s very rare I don't do any sport but that is a recent thing. It's taken many years to get to that stage and I think in the bar there's only two of us who do that much sports work which the other one being Adam Lewis in this chambers who was the trailblazer for that. That work itself is divided between what I generally call commercial work and regulatory work. The commercial work is disputes over sponsorship contracts or football player transfers or agents’ fees or the buying and selling of a club or anything like that. And that actually makes up more than 60 percent of my work. Nearly all of that is in arbitration. It's nearly all confidential. And then the remaining part is regulatory work which are the disciplinary [cases], the players who get in trouble with doping. Well I recently did the Ben Stokes case for the cricket board arising out of the fight in Bristol or [another case for] a club breaking financial fair play and that's perhaps more likely to have a high profile. And that's probably about 40 percent of my work. In the last week, to answer your question, I've acted for two Premier League clubs: one in a sponsorship dispute and one a dispute with a former employee. I have acted for two Championship clubs both again in commercial arbitrations, one in CAS and one in the FA arbitration. I've also been acting for one of the world's most famous boxers in two cases—again, it’s in confidential arbitration so I can’t even say his name. [I have] advised in a rugby match. I acted in very high value tennis agency dispute, advised a number of football agents, work for a Premier League player in respect to his image rights and then finally —and this is the only one I can talk about because all of those are the confidential arbitrations—I am acting for Wayne Hennessey, the Crystal Palace goalkeeper in relation to his FA charge [which is] a regulatory matter about a gesture that he made at a Christmas party. So that's a typical week's work. One of the things you find with sports work compared to work a lot of my colleagues do is it is very high volume. There are lots of cases, but you are unlikely to be doing a case for six weeks in one court. They're usually hearings of a day or two, so you're having to do a high volume.
Sean: [00:42:24] So how does that change your approach? How do you tackle that then? Because I struggle with being overstretched in a bunch of areas, juggling multiple tasks in totally different areas.
Nick: [00:42:36] You're probably good [at that] because you're probably more suited I find. Some of us are more suited. I'm more suited for it. If I was doing an eight-week trial I would not be the best person on the team because I would get bored. So yes, it's challenging because you have to jump from one thing to another but if you're interested in it, it keeps you alive. You prefer doing that. One of the ways you cope is that you forget the last case you've done almost a week later and even the names of the parties because you can't fill your mind with all that stuff all the time so you have to let it go and then you have to remind yourself by looking up the documents.
Sean: [00:43:17] What are three top tips be for aspiring sports lawyers?
Nick: [00:43:38] Well the first one sounds really trite but be a good lawyer. Seriously. That's more important than anything else. Be a good lawyer. And when I say be a good lawyer I mean as much as possible in a wide range of things, but in something that's useful for sport. Don't just try and be a good sports lawyer. Be a good commercial lawyer, be a good employment lawyer, be a good regulatory lawyer. If you can be good at all three, then even better because then you can bring something to it. The worst thing you can do— I'm not knocking people who do this, but imagine you went to an interview and said, ‘I want to be a sports lawyer because I really love sport.’ Well imagine that you're the person giving the interview. Surely they think, ‘Well, any fan could come and tell us that.’ But why would we give them a job as a lawyer? What do you bring in? Be a good lawyer is the number one tip. Related to that is the point I made before about being able to put bread on your table. So if you are a lawyer being able to work in an area that brings you income and gives you the time to invest in sports as well, [then do that]. The second is obviously to get involved in LawInSport and other organizations of similar types like Basil which I am also involved in and network, write articles, go to conferences, and do all that stuff. You need to do that in sport more than you need to do it in many other areas. You need a high profile, but do remember that you don't generally get work by having a high profile. There are lots of people out there who are brilliant and writing articles or they may even appear on TV, but it doesn't mean they get work because most of the work you get is by word of mouth in the industry because you've done a good job for someone and then they want you to do it again or they tell a friend or an agent or whatever. So the third tip would be if you get a chance to do a sports law case do your real best at it. Do a really good case for the client so that the next time someone asks [the client for a recommended lawyer] says, ‘Oh I had her in my last case and she was really good. Go to her.’ That's more valuable than any amount of marketing ultimately.
Sean: [00:46:14] This is really interesting because as humans we have this ability to ignore some of the obvious simple things, and there's a lovely chap Luca from Coda Sport who, set up a few football websites, [build a network] and now he is setting up their Football agency. He was a journalist before and he said [to] do a great job of what you're doing and most successful people I've met have said the same thing.
That is your brand. Do an outstanding job even if it's not something you enjoy. Do an outstanding job because people will talk about it. And that's more powerful. One of our friends, Tom Burrows, who's on an incredible career trajectory, [is a] former cricket player, etc. [now Head of Strategy at DAZN] and I used to give so much advice on people on how to market themselves because that's what I’m good at. You can write articles and build your profile, but he made me stop and reflect because Tom hadn't really done that much PR in the sense of he had written some really high quality articles, but only a few and yet everyone was trying to hire him and it was just purely for word of mouth.
Nick: [00:47:25] That is absolutely right, Sean. Most of the work I get from football are from people who are not solicitors. It’s often the lay clients or it might be in-house [clients], but they might be club chief executives, they might be football agents and I bet you hardly any of them have ever read any article I've ever written and wouldn't be interested in it.
Sean: [00:47:45] But here's the one thing I would say on that. There's a bunch of people I know I’m very pleased to say like boxing coaches who use LawInSport articles and others which is great. Sometimes particularly if it's in an underserved market also one of the key factors is this big agency who said they review LawInSport articles before they instruct people sometimes just to see who's doing what in the market. If you do produce work of high quality, have written or you do contribute and say something sensible on television and you don't overreach. That does get picked up and it may not be that you get direct instruction but maybe people note it somewhere.
Nick: [00:48:31] And I strongly advise people to do all of that stuff. I'd say 80-90 percent of the work you get is not a result of that but it’s a result of word of mouth. But you have to have the work in the first place to get the word of mouth and one of the ways you get it in the first place is doing all of those things. Also, you want to try and get the other 20 percent of work. So it is invaluable. I wouldn't spend so much of my time always doing it unless I could see the value.
Sean: [00:48:56] Absolutely. I guess it's the balance. The key here is getting the balance right and I think the other point you made about making sure you can earn a living from it is important. Kevin Carpenter [Captivate Legal and Sports Solutions] raised this point about three years ago and said that some people are actually harming the sports market because they're not actually charging for work that they should be charging for. And so therefore people get a distorted perception of what they could get in the wider market. Finally, one of the things that we love about you in the sports law community is you're one of sports law’s characters because you're not one-dimensional for a start and you're unashamedly interested in a number of areas in particular. One is photography [and you’re] into painting as well. I love this. I think for a lot of folks it's not what you'd expect from a sports lawyer but I like it for that reason. I'm sure other people would not ask you this, but how did your interest in photography start?
Nick: [00:50:01] First of all, I was interested in photography long before I was interested in sports law or law [in general] and long before I was a lawyer and probably my dream would have been to work in a creative field when I was younger. But it's harder and I probably wouldn't have been earning a tenth as much as I do now, but the creative side and art generally has always been something that interests me and inspires me. I actually find that it's a really good thing to do if you're a lawyer to do something like that. It doesn't have to be photography. It doesn't have to be drawing. It might be cooking. You know I love cooking as well. It could be anything, but so much of our work as lawyers particularly as barristers involved in disputes is essentially destructive by which I mean we are hired to defend or bring a claim.
There is some creative work [in law], but a lot of what we're doing is knocking the other side down, finding holes in their argument and to have something outside of that where you're being creative, where you're not concentrating on beating somebody else but on trying to make something nice or trying to make something beautiful or trying to convey a feeling through art or something of that sort is I don’t want to say good for the soul because I’ll sound ridiculous, but I think it's good for you to do something like that and it might even be one of my top tips for someone who wants to be a sports lawyer. Make sure you enjoy what you do and make sure you enjoy what you do outside of doing sports law as well. Because if you're just so focused on one thing in life it can it can sometimes get you down and you can lose the wood from the trees and so on.
Sean: [00:52:11] I think that’s really solid advice. That’s a really good point. I’ve never thought of it like that. But I must admit occasionally I get a bit dejected with sport because all the stuff we focus on is anti-doping, disputes and match fixing issues, safeguarding stuff, some of it's quite heavy to deal with. And you go, ‘Wow.’ Maybe it’s one the reasons I like to do podcasts. Sometimes we focus on some important issues like the Hakeem case. We had Brendan Schwab [World Players Association] on the other day. Sometimes you’re doing that, but sometimes we’re doing this, [discussing how] you develop your career and other impacts. A really good point. Thanks, Nick. I actually really enjoy your work.
Nick: [00:53:04] Thank you, I enjoy yours, Sean.
Sean: [00:53:08] It cost me a lot of money [for him to say that] if you knew his hourly rate. Brilliant. Thanks. Thank you very much.
Well that's all we have time for this show. I hope you enjoyed the interview and remember you can follow us at @LawInSport on Twitter. You can follow me at @spcott. You can subscribe to our weekly email on LawInSport.com. You can find out about the latest jobs, the latest events we've got coming up. And obviously lots of articles, peer reviewed articles I should say features and other information on the latest issues and developments from the world of sport. Other than that I hope you have a great day. And thanks for tuning in.
A special thank you to Andrew Owens for helping transcribe this interview.
Andrew Owens is a third-year law student at the University of Notre Dame. He also received his undergraduate degree at Notre Dame in 2013. Andrew is passionate about sports law and explored the field at Notre Dame with courses and an externship in the university's athletic department. Prior to law school, he was a sports journalist, covering intercollegiate athletics and Major League Baseball. He is especially interested in the intersection of business and sports law.
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