Sports law: “very sophisticated lawyering is required”
Lecturer on Law Peter Carfagna ’79 has been a practicing sports law attorney for nearly 30 years. Senior counsel at Calfee, Halter & Griswold in Cleveland and an owner of two minor league baseball teams, Carfagna has built the sports law program at HLS into a series of courses and clinical externship opportunities for students. During January term, he taught Representing the Professional Athlete. We recently spoke with him about some of the trends in his field.
What are some of the big changes you’ve witnessed?
Just an explosion of sports law course offerings both at the undergrad and at the law and business school levels. A proliferation of literature on the subject, and a passion and devotion to it as a field of study. That would be one of the biggest changes: the emphasis on students knowing early on that they can and will get into this field. … Representing athletes and teams in negotiations has become a very, very specialized, high-price, high-risk, high-reward, corporate, commercial area of practice where you need to know a lot about contract law but also intellectual property rights. So, I would say one of the biggest changes would be the understanding of publicity rights or intellectual property rights, social media rights, interactive multimedia rights—all the way across the spectrum—and who can monetize them.
Can you offer a sense of the complexity of sports law practice?
Very sophisticated, complicated, commercial lawyering is required. The fact that they are athletes is almost incidental to how careful the lawyering has to be in order to represent these high-net-worth clients. Every word, every clause for these guys can be a six- to seven-figure swing, depending on how it’s drafted. Those who call it frivolous have never done it or experienced it. It requires expertise in so many different areas, including counseling athletes on the four stages of their career, from amateurism to professionalism to their mature years to their retirement years. That requires a full range of skill sets, which means knowing your client intimately so you get him or her the right resources to celebrate the success on the field and on the court so they don’t have to worry about post-career success. That involves counseling on post-career planning early on, which none of them want to talk about. What’s it going to be like when you can’t play anymore? Is it broadcasting? Is it coaching? If you’re really good in this area, you’re really doing career planning through the four stages of an athlete’s career.
3L Ashwin Krishnan’s legal playbook
Harvard News Office
When he was a student at Harvard College, Ashwin Krishnan ’10 wrote about sports for the Crimson. This year, as a 3L at Harvard Law School, he found himself writing about sports again—this time not about a team but for a team.
As part of his clinical work in sports law this January, Krishnan drafted briefs for the Florida Marlins baseball franchise, compiling information on why arbitration-eligible players merited the salaries the team proposed.
Krishnan is a founder and editor-in-chief of the new Harvard Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law, which debuts this spring, and president of the Committee on Sports and Entertainment Law.
The general counsel of the Marlins, Derek Jackson ’99, participated in the committee’s 2009 symposium on how the economic downturn is affecting the sports industry, and later tapped Krishnan for the clinical position. Last year, Krishnan worked for Michael Zarren ’04, the Boston Celtics’ associate counsel, mainly on contracts with sponsors and on legal research. He also participated in a moot court competition at Tulane involving an antitrust case, American Needle v. NFL, and served as a teaching assistant for Peter Carfagna ’79.
Krishnan hopes to one day work as an attorney for a sports team or league. While he knows there’s plenty of competition for jobs in the sports business, he feels his immersion in sports law at HLS will keep him ahead of the field.
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