Darren Heitner is the Founder of HEITNER LEGAL and Founder/Chief Editor of Sports Agent Blog, a leading niche industry publication. He focuses on sports, entertainment, and intellectual property litigation and transactional work, and is the author of two editions of How to Play the Game: What Every Sports Attorney Needs to Know, published by the American Bar Association. He has been a guest on Outside the Lineson ESPN and has been a regular contributor to ESPN, Forbes, and other publications where he is able to comment on sports-related issues. Darren is also a contributing writer of An Athlete’s Guide to Agents, 5th Edition, and has authored many sports, entertainment and intellectual property-related Law Journal articles. Darren earned his Bachelor of Arts and Juris Doctor degree from the University of Florida.
Over the years, I’ve read multiple posts and articles written by Heitner. He has without a doubt informed, taught, and inspired many of those who aspire to work in sports as an attorney. Darren Heitner is one of the most respected in the sports agent/sports law profession. After keeping up with all that he has done over the years, it is clear that he will provide great insight to all aspiring and current sports attorneys. Below is the interview:
TASL: Could you explain your journey as far as getting into the sports law world and how you went about working your way into this type of legal profession?
Heitner: I never thought I would practice law. In fact, I started law school in 2007 at the University of Florida Levin College of Law with the belief that I would benefit from my studies in the pursuit of my ultimate dream – to be a sports agent and run my own sports agency. I had formed an agency immediately prior to beginning my law school studies and intended to put all my energy into growing the agency’s brand as well as its list of clientele. I focused on that for four years, including all three years of law school, forfeiting excellent opportunities to clerk at major law firms during the summer in favor of staying true to my goal of putting all my effort into the agency. That goal started to change after I sat for the Florida Bar examination. I returned home to Broward County and was presented with a unique opportunity to work at a small law firm that desperately desired to build a Sports Law division. They provided me the liberty to continue to work on my own sports agency as long as it did not interfere with my billing. If I was able to capture the minimum billable hours required (which I did with ease), I was then permitted to work on my agency as well as building a book of clientele for the firm. Ultimately, I decided that I preferred practicing law over attempting to grow a sports agency from scratch. I turned many of my competitors into clients, with them having a real appreciation for my knowledge and drive, and ability to represent their best interests. In turn, many of them have put their faith in me to also serve as counsel to their athlete clients, with full knowledge that I have no interest to compete against them as an agent.
TASL: What advice would you give aspiring sports lawyers that are in law school now and looking to find a job in the sports law world? What should they be doing now and what steps would you recommend they take both immediately and in the future?
Heitner: I engage in this type of conversation with law students all the time. If you are searching for a “Sports Law job,” then you are doing it wrong. There are very few law firms that have a legit Sports Law division. Instead, many law firms have their particular expertise (i.e. Family Law, Intellectual Property or Criminal Law) and then become a go-to referral whenever Sports Law matters arise. I suggest to law school students that they figure out what disciplines interest them, figure out whether location is important in a job search and make sure to research potential employers to see if personalities match or clash. Become an experienced practitioner, first and foremost. And always be building your brand. Do whatever you can to network with those in the sports industry while also showing off your expertise in a particular part of the small sports business world. Writing has benefitted me tremendously and it could serve as a Launchpad for others as well.
TASL: Where do you see the sports law industry going in the future? Is it a growing field or do you think it has leveled out? Are athletes, teams, and other sports actors in need of one particular type of law expertise over another (i.e. antitrust law, labor law, intellectual property law, etc.)?
Heitner: I focused on intellectual property when I was in law school and have seen a boom in the number of IP issues that athletes are focused on in my roughly ten years of practice. I do not see IP protection and enforcement being curbed anytime soon, and the space probably has a lot of growth left with regard to athletes and entertainers. As a whole, the Sports Law industry is pretty small. The team and league work is primarily relegated to big law firms like Proskauer. The player and agent work is spread across a handful of practitioners, outside of the agencies that have their own internal counsel that handle the bulk of the matters that confront the agents and their clients. I think there is always growth and potential for entry when there are people who provide something that is not currently being offered and are able to differentiate themselves from the competition.
TASL: The role of “Sports Agent” is one of the most sought-after positions in the sports business world—would you say that it is a profession worth pursuing given the saturated market of sports agents, regulations and hurdles required by the NFLPA, and the nature of the profession (i.e., financial demands of the job, stigma surrounding agents, competition)?
Heitner: The sports agent profession is worth it to pursue to the extent that those pursuing a position in the crowded space are aware of the high barriers of entry and costs, the small likelihood of success, the low margins, the sleepless nights, the client stealing and the non-stop travel. You must really be passionate about being a sports agent and be willing to sacrifice quite a lot in order to have success. I also believe that you must dedicate yourself to the profession and not split time between it and other practice areas if you truly wish to carve out a meaningful position for yourself in the industry. Sports agency is perceived to be a glamorous profession, but in reality it is far from the case. Truly study the profession, speak to people currently in the space (both at the top and those struggling to make it), soak up as much information about being a sports agent and try to get some practical experience before jumping head first into the deep end.
TASL: Last question, if you could give one piece of advice to those that aspire to find a career in sports law and have an impact in sports law like you have had, what would it be?
Heitner: You simply cannot fear rejection nor be dissuaded by others. Keep your head down, strive to be the absolute best and allow the job to consume you while also never forgetting to enjoy your life.
To read more about Darren Heitner and his takes on sports law, follow him on twitter @DarrenHeitner or check out his websites, Heitner Legal (http://heitnerlegal.com) and Sports Agent Blog (http://sportsagentblog.com).
Thank you for reading and God Bless!
– Interview and Information compiled by Dale Hutcherson; questions answered by Darren Heitner.