Lawyers Winning in Sports Management


Lawyers Winning in Sports Management

A law degree can open many doors outside the traditional practice of law and this includes management roles within an organization. A specific example is sports management.

Professional sports managers must be excellent problem solvers, and be able to understand sports management, human resources, contracts, and business administration. Their responsibilities are wide ranging with involvement in almost all operations of the team, including budgets and planning, marketing, public relations, contract negotiations, and player and coach personnel decisions. Practising law and a law school education provides the requisite skills for this type of work.

It is not surprising to see that a number of professional sports managers have a legal education. Two examples of successful sports managers with a legal background are General Manager Howie Roseman of the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFL and General Manager Bob Myers of the Golden State Warriors in the NBA.

In the NHL, there, too, are general managers with law degrees. For example, Julien BriseBois practised sports law in a large firm and later served as Director of Legal Affairs for the Montreal Canadiens before joining the Tampa Bay Lightning as Assistant General Manager and eventually becoming General Manager in 2018.

Locally, the Vancouver Canucks have a long history of managers with law degrees. The late Pat Quinn joined the Canucks in 1987. Although he never practised law, he used his legal knowledge in various executive positions held with the Canucks (president and general manager) and with other NHL teams. Pat Quinn also hired two former hockey players with law degrees, including Brian Burke who attended Harvard Law School and then went onto become a player agent before taking on management roles with the Vancouver Canucks, the NHL, and other NHL teams; and George McPhee who, after retirement from his professional playing career, attended Rutgers’s University Law School before taking on management roles with the Vancouver Canucks and other NHL teams.

Mike Gillis followed in the tradition of Canucks management with law degrees. The former professional hockey player attended Queen’s University Law School and was a player agent before taking the general manager role with the Canucks.

Most recently, Chris Gear, a practising lawyer with the Canucks, joined the Canucks management team. He currently serves the dual role as Chief Legal Officer and Assistant General Manager. Rather than pursuing a master’s degree in sports management, Chris opted for a law degree because it would equip him better for a career in sports management.

The road to sports management did not come right after Chris’ graduation from law school. He worked at Blakes for several years where he was able to acquire experience in the areas of commercial law, intellectual property, insurance, and employment law. This experience also provided with him with valuable skills in negotiations. Chris eventually joined the in-house legal team for the 2010 Olympics. This allowed Chris to make the move to the Vancouver Canucks where he joined the Canucks as General Counsel, which then led to taking on a management role.

In his day-to-day role as Assistant General Manager, Chris uses his legal skills on a regular basis such as with player contracts even though there is standard language arising from collective agreements. Over the course of the term of player contracts, complex issues relating to athletes wanting to capitalize on their likeness, sponsorship agreements, trademarking, and player conduct also requires him to routinely utilize his legal training. Chris notes that, when dealing with other NHL management and internal matters, having legal training and experience practising law provides him with valuable negotiation skills and an ability to effectively deal with the management of ongoing commercial and personnel matters. Without his legal background, Chris would not be as effective in his management role.

While a legal background is not a requirement for a successful career in sports management, it is one example where the skills of a lawyer are transferrable and directly relevant to different roles in an organization.