Making Law Enhance a Personal Passion—and a Career

As the executive director of a global sports association, I am unsure if I am able to report on an alternative career for a lawyer. Unless we go inactive, we remain lawyers, and I do not know if I have ever stopped practicing law, even though legal counsel is not the primary function of my current position. Nonetheless, I am happy to share with you my take on how green my side of the grass is.

Law school, for me, was a pursuit of my passion to remain involved in the sports and entertainment industries. I spent my undergraduate years as a theater minor and a national-championship-winning personal watercraft racer (aka Jet-Skis). This is where I developed my passion for sports and entertainment  I spent those same years as a political science major, which is probably where I developed my penchant for meddling in the business of the things I professed to love most.

To be a lawyer, you need to pass a bar exam somewhere. I dropped out of the BarBri prep course and didn’t take the first exam after graduation, because I had an opportunity to manage some NFL players. I handled their endorsement contracts, publicity, and personal appearance agreements. These were things I did for myself as a watercraft racer, and as I was not yet a lawyer when I took the work, I did not know yet if this was an alternative career for a lawyer. I had experience and a couple of college degrees as my skill set  Business degrees, or marketing, probably would have supported my experience, professionalism, and enthusiasm enough to get the same positions. However, the connections for the position did come from law school.

A couple of unemployed players later, I was back at BarBri in January for a shot at the February bar exam. Literally, I was driving to check into the hotel, the night before the exam, when I received a call from a musical act that included four of the five original surviving members of WAR. They needed management, and I accepted the position over the course of the initial phone call. Same situation: no law license, but I did have experience, reputation, and a work ethic. Again, the connection for the job was from law school. I debated cancelling the bar exam but had already spent the money and the hotel room was not refundable. I made no plans to retake the exam if I failed, but received the news that I had passed while I was managing the band. So, now, a law license becomes part of the story, and, I suppose, anything after this becomes an alternative to a law career.

I hung a shingle while I continued to race and manage musicians. It was, coincidentally, not soon after I was armed with a law license in my manager’s holster, that I encountered my first crook of a music promoter. This jerk had no intention of paying my group their balance due before the performance. I rattled off the typical exam answer laundry list of breach of contract trouble that my adversary was facing, but it meant nothing to him, and it took alternative types of threats to come to a “settlement.” So, managing was clearly an alternative to practicing law, in that no function of the practice which could not be handled by an unlicensed music manager was going to have any value in providing a remedy for this type of conflict. I cannot stress enough the futility of using threats of litigation against a person who makes a career out of deceitful business practices.

From this point on, I think that I never took the practice of law out of any of my business management services. Successful management of musicians requires strong business skills, smart legal awareness, and a sense of what makes a band work. The stronger you are in any two of these skills, the more you can compensate for any weakness in the third. The more that I had the legal issues buttoned down, the more the band would be successful and our events would meet, or exceed, our expectations.  Quality contract drafting, as well as proactive risk management, are practices of law. This is where I delivered my best value to my musician clients.

While continuing with entertainment work, I was offered the position of chief executive of the world’s sanctioning and governing body for personal watercraft racing. The administrative office was in a financial crisis, and needed new enthusiasm to engage in the long haul of restoring funding to the sport, as well as its premier event—an annual world championship that was due to happen in five weeks. I accepted the position of executive director, and went to work creating new contracts which would entice investors to return to the sport. The drafting of these contracts was not exclusively the practice of law, but ensuring enforcement took legal and contract experience.

The key problem facing the sport, and its upcoming world championship, was that the sanctioning organization had not completed a binding contract with the event producer, and the event producer did not want to perform in the sport’s current financial climate.  One of the major obstacles to guaranteeing that the event would be in the black was a media production contract which gave a third party complete broadcast and DVD rights, along with a large production budget, with very little return for the sanctioning body. When I combed through this contract, I noticed it was signed by the event producer, who only had the authority to bestow these rights under a fully executed contract with the sanctioning body where I was now employed. By notifying the third party of the absence of an agreement, I was able to remove the sanctioning organization’s obligation under the contract, and sign an alternative contract which was much more profitable for the organization. This, alone, removed a substantial cost from the event production and gave me the flexibility to deal on other agreements that no longer needed to be as rigid financially. A smart and attentive business major probably would have caught this, but, being able to navigate through the legal issues to aggressively notice the third party would not have likely came from a non-lawyer.

Personal watercraft racing, like many extreme motorsports, is a sport filled with very real risks of injury or death. I manage the sanctioning organization by putting assumption of the risk at the very foundation of participants’ involvement with the sport.  Understanding the risk and the relationship between risk and business is the product of being well-read in tort law and being able to navigate through a legal opinion’s comments on how assumption of the risk doctrines are evolving in jurisprudence.  These are functions of law practice.

In the end, what I would like to share, having been invited to give my opinion on alternative legal careers, is that I am unsure if business management is not a function of law practice. While I am not a litigator, a majority of the business operations I perform are tailored to reduce risk and avoid litigation. This could be my perspective because I am an attorney instead of, say, an MBA.  However, I maintain that I am performing as much legal practice as I am business management. The California Bar Association surely says that I have a legal relationship with the organization, unless I switch to inactive status. I believe one remains a lawyer if one is using legal analysis as the core method of performing his, or her, tasks of employment. Even more so if the lawyer is in a position of authority.

Dante himself could not portray a more fiery hell for me than working in a Big Law firm. However, this does not mean that I do not enjoy practicing law. I would suggest that anyone considering an alternative career choice first decide whether they are looking to avoid the practice altogether, or the practice within a specific environment.  Best of luck to all.

About the Author

is the executive director of the International Jet Sports Boating Association. A member of the California Bar, he also maintains a side practice offering legal consulting on sports, music, real estate, business, and general entertainment matters. 

Send this to a friend