Emma Mason

Squire Patton Boggs (UK) LLP

University: University of Glasgow
Degree: Chemistry

Sports law involves the legal issues at play in the worlds of both amateur and professional sport. It overlaps employment, contract, competition and tort law. Defamation, intellectual property and privacy are also integral to sports law.

Emma Mason’s journey to life as a lawyer began in the demanding world of international sport – badminton, to be precise. She describes how she converted what she loved about being a professional athlete into a legal career: “I played badminton for Scotland until I retired in 2011, a year after appearing at the Commonwealth Games. I was also the chair of the Athletes’ Commission for the Badminton World Federation (BWF), which is the sport’s regulatory and governing body at a global level. I had been elected by my peers for a four-year term to represent them on the BWF Council, the highest decision-making body within the BWF. At a similar time, I came to the conclusion that chemistry (which I was studying at the time) wasn’t something that I wanted to pursue as a career; although I enjoyed the analytical side of it, I felt that working underground in a lab didn’t suit my personality! I loved representing the athletes and making a difference within the industry. During a period of injury and illness, I thought about how I could take the experiences that I’d had in sport and my passion for representing people and make use of them in a new career. It was then that I came across law.”

It was a solicitor’s, rather than a barrister’s, life that attracted Emma: “As an athlete, I had worked for myself for the best part of eight years; the pressure of supporting yourself financially can be a real challenge, particularly when funding and sponsorship monies are almost solely dependent on performance and meeting performance targets, and I was looking for more certainty and structure in my career. Having said that, I do really enjoy public speaking and representing people, but there are still opportunities to do both as a solicitor.”

A training contract at Squire Patton Boggs beckoned, in what Emma felt was a particularly good match between firm and trainee. “I don’t think I could have found a firm that was more supportive of my background and passions,” she suggests. “For example, I still hold a number of positions in international sports politics and the firm is very supportive of that. It’s also great that trainees here spend time in six seats, which means that they get a greater range of experience than if they were at most other law firms, which tend to offer the traditional four seats. There is also plenty of opportunity for secondment; I went to a Premier League football club for eight months, which was fantastic and couldn’t have been a better choice or fit for me.”

Game of two halves

Now qualified as a disputes and regulatory lawyer within the firm’s sports & entertainment group, Emma enjoys a mix of contentious and non-contentious work. She describes some of the matters that this entails: “I might be involved with arbitration or dispute resolution proceedings within a sport’s governing body – many governing bodies have their own dispute resolution rules – or an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne. The majority of our clients tend to be international federations, national governing bodies, Premier League and EFL clubs, as well as players and/or their agents.”

That variety is what keeps things interesting: “The days are never the same. I was working on a really fascinating case yesterday – even though it was a Sunday – whereas on Friday I was less busy, so I wrote an article and worked on business development. I might be out at a client meeting, in the office working on technical arguments, writing something for our sports blog, Sports Shorts, or public speaking. The good thing about sports law is that everyone is incredibly passionate about the industry.”

As you might imagine for someone with a love of sport, two secondments to football clubs have been career highlights for Emma – the first as a trainee to a Premier League club and the second as a qualified lawyer to an EFL club. She says: “I absolutely loved the experience of working for a football club. Another football-related highlight was when I was a trainee in our corporate team, acting on the sale of my dad’s favourite football team. I couldn’t talk about it until the deal went through, but the moment it went public, I told him straightaway!”

“You must be able to communicate – especially within sport, as your typical client will likely be an exceptionally busy person who is passionate about their business and working within the all-encompassing sport bubble”

Having had prior experience of an industry keen to embrace digital technologies and new media, Emma would like to see the legal industry as a whole adopt a more innovative approach: “I feel that the profession doesn’t yet use new technologies to maximise its efficiency. I’m aware that the profession has many important procedures and protections for clients that shouldn’t be compromised. However, if we don’t modernise, at least on the administration side, we may risk losing clients who are, after all, constantly looking for ways in which technology can improve their business. We need to make sure that we communicate with them on their level.”

In terms of a shifting landscape, Emma also notes the significant increase in regulation and legalisation of sport and a commensurate appetite from regulators to enforce their rules. “Over the past 20 years, sport has become much more commercial and professional, and it’s not just footballers who can earn a good living,” she observes. “As more money is involved, sponsors and investors, including the public, demand higher standards and greater accountability. This has, to a certain extent, been catalysed by failures within some high-profile institutions, including recent corruption scandals, which in some ways has been good in that it has forced change. Our clients must ensure that they comply with everything.”

Hone your skills

Over and above the absolutely essential need for solid legal expertise, Emma thinks that there are a couple of other key skills you need to succeed in this field: “You must be able to communicate – especially within sport, as your typical client will likely be an exceptionally busy person who is passionate about their business and working within the all-encompassing sport bubble. If you can’t communicate with them or understand their business and the pressures they’re under, you won’t have the same connection that you could have.” And it goes without saying that it helps to be passionate about sport: “You don’t have to have been a professional sportsperson – I don’t want to put anyone off! You just need to have sufficient interest so that your clients feel that you have a mutual understanding about what’s important. You also need to know that this isn’t a job, it’s a lifestyle. I went from one all-consuming lifestyle to another, and it works for me, but some may be unprepared for that.”

Finally, Emma urges those considering a legal career to have a good, hard think about what they want from it: “This is a long career and you have to choose a job and firm that aligns with your own personal brand and what matters to you. I had a training contract offer at a magic circle firm, which I chose not to accept because I knew that it wasn’t the right environment for me. Don’t be swayed by money or reputation; that is likely to come back to haunt you further down the line.”

Part of the process of figuring out what is right for you is gaining experience: “Take every opportunity that you come across, especially in the early years – soak it all up. Have faith in yourself – don’t be afraid to put yourself forward for things. In my badminton days, you had to fight hard to earn your position in the top squad, so everyone – trainees included – should push themselves forward.”

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