Thursday, February 7, 2013

B.A.F.F.L.E.D. Spotlights

Michael McCann - Sports Lawyer, Dedicated Professor--

Just last week, I had the joy of chatting with Michael McCann. I came across his work some time ago, as my passion for sports law is no secret.  Neither is his.  Michael is a lawyer and legal analyst for Sports Illustrated.  He is frequently on NBATV, and always on top of the legal issues impacting some of our favorite pastimes.  In the midst of all this, he is a law professor, transitioning from the University of Vermont Law School, to the University of New Hampshire, where he will lead the launch of the Sports & Entertainment Law Institute.  

I told him I thought we were like kindred spirits, as we have approached niche fields of law in similar ways--through writing and finding atypical ways to be a part of what we love.  I've been so excited to share this interview with you goes:

1.  When did you know you wanted to be an attorney?  Did you always want to do sports law?
My older sisters are attorneys, so I was a bit motivated to consider it.  I was looking for job after college, then began working for District Attorney Tom Reilly.  I got interested and thought it would be rewarding.  There are so many unique fact patterns in doing the work.  

I went to University of Virginia for law school and they had recently started their Sports Law Journal.  Being a sports fan, it got me interested.  I took Donald Dell's class (sports agent of greats like Arthur Ashe and Michael Jordan). The topics were interesting and enjoyable.  Being a Celtics fan and recognizing they were pretty bad in the 1990s, I became knowledgable about the NBA draft.   Dick Vitale didn't like players making jump from high school.  I found it was actually a successful age group, and through research, found no correlation between age and getting into trouble or other issues.  I did research in opposition to the legue entry age limit, though it was later implemented. An NFL lawyer saw my research note on Westlaw, and asked me to join their legal team in the Maurice Clarett age eligibility case (Clarett v. NFL, 369 F.3d 124 (2nd Cir. 2004)).  I ultimately willed my way into the field.

2.  What spurred the creation of the Blue Chips program?
We started the Sports Law Institute at Vermont Law School as a hands on training-ground for students.  They do exercises, have to negotiate against and on behalf of the Patriots in a simulation.  It's important students see actual law and real time experiences. The focus on taking exams in law school v. actual practice is useful, but real world activites and experience are so important. A Blue Chips-like program will be at UNH.  The practical experiences fit things together.

3. Do you play any sports?
I played tennis growing up; played basketball.  I do some running, but nothing to the professional level.

4.  What inspires the work you do?
I really try to be thorough. I want to be as accurate, substantive, and objective as possible; analyze in a neutral light.  It's important to look at both sides.  From my teaching experience and helping students see both sides, I continue to find being timely is important.  It takes work to know what's going on, especially in this internet-driven world.  You have to stay on top of things.  People want information quickly. 

5.  What will set the UNH Institute apart from others?
Its greatest strength is the IP program.  It is a top ranked program with strong tradition; sports and entertainment is a great fit.  The Institute matches up with copyright, trademark, licensing--which is critical in sports equipment and fashion/apparel connected issues.

The new affiliation with UNH merging with the Franklin Pierce Law Center is a great opportunity. UNH has a strong background in business and a strong athletic program--being alma mater to 20 NFL players. I'm impressed by the students, many who have science and engineering backgrounds, which is popular in IP law.  We have a great future ahead.

6.  What else is going on in your life in addition to teaching and analyzing sports law?
I got married last year, so that's been great.  I'm continuing to work with Sports Illustrated, ensuring I stay on top of the biggest issues of the day.  Changing school is focal point of my professional life.  It's exciting, but challenging as well.  I'm looking forward to helping students obtain meaningful opportunities and find experience.  It's exciting to start something special.

7.  How do you want to be recognized in the industry?
I want to be regarded as a hard worker, timely and accurate. I want to be someone who can be relied on for timely and accurate analysis of sports and entertainment law issues.  The best brand is someone who helps students get internships, jobs, and real world skills.  My primary job is teacher.  My most important brand is what my students think of me.

8.  Which sport is your favorite to cover?
Probably the NBA.  I write about it the most.  It's an interesting league with charismatic people, great managers and owners.  There's a great narrative there.  But all the leagues have interesting legal issues.  Every sport has its fair share of really intriguing issues.

9. What advice would you give to law students as well as current attorneys looking to work in sports law?
You don't have to be wealthy, connected, or invested, just interested.  The internet allows for overcoming lack of contacts, just put yourself out there and show your interest  Work hard.   

10.  What was the moment or experience you feel you broke into the sports law industry?
I'd say it was 2 years out of law school, when I had the phenomenal opportunity to be part of a national case (Clarett).   Believing in the athelete and not agreeing with league rule--although ultimately losing--it was a great learning experience.   Also, there were some Sports Illustrated pieces I wrote about with David Epstein.  We did strong investigative research, uncovered some unreported, relevant information.  It was great to work with David.

11.  Do you ever counsel sport agents?  Consider becoming one?
I don't formally counsel.  I have friends in the industry and give informal advice, but not as a lawyer--not at this point in time.  I just enjoy teaching, I enjoy journalism.  Both are careers I love, so no desire to shift gears anytime soon.  I still do the blog.

12.  What other areas of law do you work in?
A little in related fields like employment, antitrust, criminal law, torts--mostly in the universe of sports and entertainment.  I've written about food labels/nutritional labeling earlier in my career.  

13.  Tell me 3 traits of a great sports lawyer
Preparation. Be completely prepared.  Do your best to see what the other side will argue, not taking things for granted or being overly optimistic.  Have a sense of media relations, especially if you're working for an athlete or team the media is interested in.  Learn communications. Journalism experience is critical, because there's so much to write about.  
Be creative.  Sports law is still an untapped field with many legal issues not resolved.  Being creative and writing can make all the difference in the world.  Don't be discouraged; the best attorneys think creatively and constructively.

This interview was quite a treat, and I hope you guys think so, too.  The dedication he has to his students and having a hand in ensuring future lawyers are well equipped is unmatched.  How lucky are the students at Vermont and UNH!?

To keep up with Michael and all he has going on, be sure to check out the Sports Law Blog and follow him on Twitter.

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