Interview with Sports & Entertainment Attorney Darren Heitner

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.

Learning Opportunity: Tulane Law Pro Football Negotiation Competition

I recently had the opportunity to participate in a premier event among law students in sports law at Tulane University—the Tulane Pro Football Negotiation Competition. It was a great “hands-on” experience where students who are interested in breaking into the sports industry using their law degree negotiate contracts between NFL Players and NFL Teams. The competition not only included a hands-on experience, but it also provided a networking opportunity that one would be hard-pressed to find anywhere else with an “all-star list of judges” who work within the National Football League or with agencies that represent players.

To start off, I’ll give you some background on Tulane and its relationship with sports law. Tulane Law is obviously a great law school, but it is also one of the most (if not, the most) recognized and sought after law schools in the country when it comes to preparing for a legal career in sports. Not only does Tulane attract students from all over the country whose main goal is to have a career within professional sports, but the university also has a great head of their sports law department in Professor Gabe Feldman (interview with him to follow shortly).

My law school has not sent a team to this competition before to my knowledge, and after hearing about it from a friend at Tulane law, I knew I had to partake.  A couple of my friends in the Memphis Sports & Entertainment Law Society and I formed our negotiation team to represent the University of Memphis Law School. There were 29 teams that competed from across the country.  Tulane Law sends each team competition materials including situations with real players and teams that are coming up on a renegotiation of their contracts. Situations/Cases included Malcolm Butler/New England Patriots, DeAndre Hopkins/Houston Texans, and Kawann Short/Carolina Panthers—all of whom are coming up on either contract extensions or free agency. The later rounds included Martellus Bennett/New England Patriots and a few others. I list these situations just to give you an idea of the types of players/teams that are being worked with.

In preparation, we did research on statistics of other players holding the same positions, the salary caps of each team, and the payout to players that are similar in comparison—this research was all to find a good starting point for negotiations.  It is also useful, but not required, to understand the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Each team had certain objectives that needed to be fulfilled in order to score points (i.e. certain amount of Guaranteed Money or saving a certain amount of space in the Salary Cap). Teams were also judged based on negotiation tactics and whether or not the two sides could come to a deal.

The competition consists of three days of activities from a “kickoff” dinner/networking event with a speaker (this year the speaker was Marc Trestman—former head coach of the Chicago Bears) to the actual competition and other social events so that you can meet other law students and the judges of the competition.

All of the research and negotiations truly provided an experience unlike any other offered in the country—virtually a real-life, hands-on experience. From the judges being agents and front office guys who work with NFL teams and contracts in their careers to the networking with other students who are also trying to do the same with their lives, this competition has it all. Not to mention, New Orleans is a great city to explore in your down time.

I highly recommend the Tulane Pro Football Negotiation Competition to all who are looking to gain some experience and network with professionals in the field. If your law school has a team, join it. If not, take initiative and get a team going yourself… I can almost guarantee there will be someone in your law school who will be glad to go spend a week in NOLA and negotiate NFL contracts—I mean really, what could be better?

Just to note, winners of the 2017 competition included: Villanova Law (Champion), and Denver Law (Runner-Up).

 

I hope this post inspires you to participate in the event next year or in the years to come. If you have any questions regarding my experience or the competition, please feel free to send me an email or comment.

Also, for more information and sports law news, give Tulane Sports Law (@TulaneSportsLaw) and Gabe Feldman (@SportsLawGuy) a follow on Twitter.

Thank you for reading and God Bless!

– Dale Hutcherson