Leading Sports Law Attorneys Discuss Their Careers with Columbia Law School Students

Jeffrey L. Kessler '77 and Other Panelists Counsel Students to Seek Out Opportunities to Meet Practitioners in the Field

New York, March 11, 2013—Students who want to break into the exciting, fast-paced world of sports law should seek out mentors and engage with practitioners as often as they can, a panel of some of the industry’s leading lawyers said at a recent event hosted by Columbia Law School’s Entertainment, Arts, and Sports Law Society.

Representatives from the NBA, the Brooklyn Nets, and private practice counseled students that the best way to prepare for a career in sports law is to become a well-rounded attorney with a varied skill set, a network of industry contacts, and an attitude and willingness to capitalize on opportunities as they become available.
Jeff Gewirtz
“There is no such thing as [being a sports lawyer],” said Jeff Gewirtz, executive vice president of legal affairs and chief legal officer of the Brooklyn Nets and Barclays Center, who, like other panelists, pointed out that sports lawyers handle a wide range of matters.
Gewirtz was joined on the panel by Richard W. Buchanan, executive vice president, general counsel, and chief compliance officer of the National Basketball Association; Robert E. Freeman, a partner at Proskauer Rose LLP with extensive experience in the area of sports and arts-related sponsorship, naming rights, licensing, endorsement, and talent-related agreements; and Jeffrey L. Kessler ’77, a partner at Winston & Strawn LLP and co-chair of the firm’s sports practice, who has litigated some of the most famous sports-antitrust cases in history. Robert Kheel, a lecturer-in-law at Columbia Law School, served as moderator.
 “I got here by being very good at something that wasn’t sports and being able to offer those skills in sports,” said Kessler ’77, who is also a lecturer at the Law School. “I started out as an antitrust lawyer doing antitrust cases [having nothing to do with] sports . . . that expertise got me introduced by pure luck to [sports law].”
Richard W. Buchanan
Buchanan agreed, telling students that the NBA will not consider hiring anyone without at least four years of experience. The in-house sports industry, he explained, is not focused on, or equipped to, train young associates.
The panelists said it was critical for students interested in working in sports law to maintain and foster contacts and to actively seek out mentors and opportunities to engage with sports law practitioners by attending conferences and reading industry publications.
“You never know when that opportunity is going to come, and you have to be all buttoned up when it hits you,” Buchanan said.
Despite the competitive nature of the field, the panelists said they were confident Columbia Law School students could join their ranks in the future. Kessler and Buchanan said they believe there will be increased opportunities to work abroad on sports related legal issues, as professional leagues expand their international presence.
The event was organized by EASLS’ Sports Law Chair Tamara Smallman ’14 and attorney Mario Ancic '13 LL.M., a former internationally ranked Croatian tennis player who retired early from athletics due to persistent injuries.

 From left: Richard Evans '15, Elie Tawil '15, Robert E. Freeman, Mario Ancic '13 LL.M., Richard W. Buchanan, Tamara Smallman '14,

Jeffrey L. Kessler '77, Jeff Gewirtz, and Robert Kheel