Sports

Sports

Tim Lowles

Squire Patton Boggs (UK) LLP

University: University of East Anglia
Degree: Law

Sports law involves the legal issues at play in the worlds of both amateur and professional sport. Although perhaps now a distinct area of law, it draws in particular on employment, contract, competition, commercial and intellectual property, public and tort law.


Tim knew from a very early stage that he was keen on the law and at one point thought that the Bar might be calling his name: “At the beginning, I was more interested in the barrister route. However, I didn’t particularly enjoy studying law at university, but really enjoyed the LPC. My sense was that if you liked the case law and academic aspect of the undergraduate degree, then the Bar could be more for you; whereas the LPC is much more akin to the day-to-day life of a solicitor.” In fact, the one thing that he wished he’d known about being a lawyer was “that you don’t have to do a law degree! That’s something that I might have explored more fully – other than that, I have no regrets about my career.”

Tim went on to train at a smaller firm in Norwich, Steeles, staying on for another four years PQE. “Being at a smaller firm has definite advantages,” he recalls, “in that you get more direct exposure to clients and more responsibility for matters that you might not get in a bigger firm. It provided a very good foundation.” He then moved to Collyer Bristow, leaving there in 2014 to join Squire Patton Boggs.

Game of two halves

Now a director in the firm’s litigation practice group, Tim has built on his expertise in sports law. He explains the two distinct sides that are a feature of the work: “First, there is general legal work that is required for our sports clients, be they individuals, clubs or organisations, such as contractual drafting or disputes, employment matters or property work. Many firms do that kind of work. Second, and the much more specialised element, relates to regulatory and disciplinary sports matters. That sort of work is only dealt with by a handful of UK firms, including ours.” He goes on to offer some examples of both types: “At the moment, we’re dealing with a couple of matters in relation to the sale of a football club, which falls into the High Court litigation category but which are essentially contractual disputes for a sports client. Conversely, on the regulatory side, I may deal with a challenge by a football club against a red card given unfairly to a player, a specific disciplinary matter dealt with under the FA’s Regulation, or a lengthy investigation into allegations of corruption involving officials within a sport.”

From the beginning of his career, Tim has worked in the reputation management sphere, including for one of the most headline-grabbing media cases in recent years. “When I was at Steeles, we had done a lot of work for Formula One which led to us acting for then FIA President Max Moseley in relation to his privacy claim against the News of the World,” explains Tim. “That was a real career highlight – but again, it was more privacy related than anything specific to sport; it’s just that he was a high-profile sports figure. In fact, he’s probably remembered more for the privacy claims than any of the amazing work he’s done then or since to do with road safety!”

Romance v reality

Tim reflects on the true nature of sports law, keen to dispel the myth that it’s all impossibly glamorous: “Working with clubs or governing bodies throws up myriad issues, which are normally pretty interesting – although at the end of the day, they’re commercial bodies. So for every sexy legal issue to do with the transfer of a famous player, there is also a dispute with the caterer that has to be resolved or, for a governing body, how it deals with its responsibilities to the various stakeholders within its sport. Certainly, the media will be keener to cover the former, which is probably how this field gets its reputation!”

But that variety – from high-profile players to everyday legal matters – is one of the many things that keeps Tim interested: “I have always really enjoyed the work and the variety plays a big part in that – you never really know what issue you’ll be dealing with next. Sometimes, it can be the larger cases that go on for a long time; the excitement comes in the initial stages, when you’re having heated discussions with the other side, but you must remain focused solely on what the client’s objectives are. I was always going to be in contentious law though, as I think that’s what the law is all about – arguing the point.”

"If you’re applying to a firm that does any sort of sports work, you have to put your hand up and let it be known that you’re interested – don’t just wait for it to land on your desk"

Tim identifies the growth of the number of practitioners working in this area, commonly in house. This in turn “means that there has been a change in focus in what the genuine leaders in the industry are working on. While we still undertake commercial, employment/HR or transfer matters, most in-house teams will not have the time or specialist expertise to handle the contentious work, be that in the courts or arbitral tribunals, such as the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), or the investigatory work associated with some of the issues facing sports.”

Work on your form

There are ways in which you can learn more about sports law, if you think it might be the field for you. Tim suggests: “If it is something of interest, then you need to make sure that you are aware of some of the common legal issues and read up on some of the specific jurisprudence that exists in the CAS. If you’re applying to a firm that does any sort of sports work, you have to put your hand up and let it be known that you’re interested – don’t just wait for it to land on your desk.” He offers the example of writing blogs or articles, or volunteering in the sports sector as a way to stand out in the crowded undergraduate market.

He also thinks that future trainees should consider whether their prospective firms are offering a sufficiently decent work-life balance: “Firms recognise the need to offer more flexible and agile working, and while not every firm is doing so, many are. It’s about finding the right balance between what clients need with what the firm should offer its employees.”

He also urges students to discover which firms are leaders in this field if they’ve got their heart set on life as a sports lawyer: “Many firms say that they do sports law, but there aren’t really more than a handful of firms that genuinely do a large amount of the more specialist work. One good indicator is whether the firm offers a seat in it – it’s worth asking that question. Equally though, don’t put all your eggs in one basket – this is a very small area. Sometimes when we interview would-be trainees, and they say they want to be a sports lawyer, it can serve to put off an interviewer. Rather, keep an open mind and make sure your firm knows that you have an open mind – you might do a seat in tax and love it! There are lots of variables in what makes an interesting career, and the people you work with are a massive part of it.”

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