Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
Susan Ciallella guards a millionaire hockey goalie from being hurt by bad business deals. Alan Goldberger represents kids’ coaches sued by parents. Jordan Solomon prepares contracts for minor league baseball teams. They are among the handful of New Jersey lawyers working in the field of sports law, which seems to be expanding to match the huge role sports plays in the American psyche. It’s hard to define sometimes, but whatever it is, sports law is a nifty new niche. Put simply, if you are a transactional lawyer or litigator whose client is involved in sports, voil�, you’re a sports lawyer. Law firm management consultant Robert Denney of Wayne, Pa., for example, called sports law a “hot” practice area last month in his newsletter’s regular listing of “What’s Hot and What’s Not in the Legal Profession.” Helping to fuel the interest, Denney says, is the growing tendency of would-be professional athletes who are still in high school to retain agents, plus the general growth in the number of minor league sports teams. It can be a glamorous field, but most of sports lawyers’ clients are teams, leagues, the companies that sell to them and sue them, and the public bodies that regulate them. While a handful of lawyers negotiate contracts as agents to pro athletes, most of the players use non-lawyer agents for that task. And the vast majority of the full-service sports talent agencies, though they have lawyers on their staffs, are based in other states. The largest of these, International Management Group of Cleveland, whose clients include golfer Tiger Woods and tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams, can represent athletes who want to write a book, become a fashion model or design a golf course as well as negotiate player contracts and product endorsement deals. Still, New Jersey lawyers are in the game. Ciallella, of counsel to the Cherry Hill office of Philadelphia’s Cozen O’Connor, has represented New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur since 1997. Her 13-year-old son has met all of Brodeur’s teammates and she travels with the team often. Ciallella jokingly calls herself a “bodyguard” because her client and his teammates are “constantly hounded and approached” with business deals. She guards against misappropriation of Brodeur’s image and infringements on his licensing agreements. Cozen O’Connor’s cross-border estate planning specialists helped Brodeur, a Canadian, with financial issues and the firm’s intellectual property department helps with licensing agreements, says Ciallella, who met her client through her husband, a financial advisor. She thinks her work helps her client perform well on the ice. “I think that it is very important for the athlete to be able to delegate all his business dealings,” she says. “Frankly, Marty won’t be bothered like that during the season.” One of the largest sports law operations in New Jersey is Woodbridge’s Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer. Partner Brian Molloy is president of Pro Agents, Inc. a subsidiary of the firm, and partner David Pepe is vice president. “It’s a practice where you’ve got to pay your dues to reap your benefits,” says Molloy. “There are established agents in each sport and they are very territorial.” Pro Agents, which employs non-lawyer Billy Martin Jr., the son of the former New York Yankees manager, negotiates employment and product endorsement contracts but refers out client requests for financial services, Molloy says. Founded five years ago, the outfit focuses on baseball and has 60 clients. Non-lawyer agents have some advantages. Fierce competition prompts many agents to actively solicit clients, which poses ethical concerns for lawyers. “I feel hamstrung by our Rules of Professional Conduct,” says Voorhees lawyer Jerrold Colton, who represents athletes. “Non-lawyers aren’t bound by our ethical guidelines, and to some extent can gain an advantage.” LITIGIOUS FIELD Another aspect of sports law — one closer to home for lawyers — is litigation. Lawyers who represent high school and youth sports leagues in New Jersey are seeing more suits by players and their parents, often related to injuries or rulings that a player can’t participate in a sport because of grades or conduct. Specialization develops because it helps to have a knowledge of the playing rules and regulations and state immunity statutes, which are often central to the defense, says Goldberger, of Clifton’s Goldberger & Goldberger, who defends coaches in suits stemming from teenage sports injuries. Michael Herbert Sr. has seen an increase in litigation during the 20 years he has represented the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, the governing body that sets rules for high school sports. Herbert, a partner at Princeton’s Herbert, Van Ness, Cayci & Goodell, says the suits stem from the “professionalizing” of amateur sports, in which players with ambitions of going pro clash with the NJSIAA principles of giving a chance to those students with only modest athletic ability. “The NJSIAA has been very proactive in dealing with [unsportsmanlike conduct] but it has not stemmed the tide of litigation,” says Herbert. “Any time the NJSIAA rules an outstanding athlete cannot participate, the pressures are brought to bear.” Herbert is proud of the NJSIAA’s record of racial integration of the state’s high school sports leagues, which he says once had some separate leagues for students with large black and Hispanic enrollments. He admits his sports law practice is more enjoyable than his work in commercial litigation. “I like the idea of being involved in taking a lot of initiatives to expand opportunities for kids that might not otherwise have them,” he says. RED TAPE ON THE FIELD Lawyers seeking work as sports agents could see a further encroachment on their practice under a bill in the legislature that would require them to register with the state and to post bonds or obtain malpractice insurance. The Athlete Agents Regulation Act of 2002, A-1667, reported favorably out of the Assembly Regulated Professions and Independent Authorities Committee in March, is now before the Assembly Appropriations Committee. Assemblyman Neil Cohen, D-Union, who sponsored the bill along with Assemblyman Anthony Impreveduto, D-Bergen/Hudson, says the bill was prompted by the case of Bill Willoughby, a former professional basketball player from Englewood who was victimized by unscrupulous agents. Yet the bill might do more to protect colleges than safeguard athletes, says Solomon, a partner and sports lawyer at Fox & Fox in Livingston. Solomon says the bill would generate revenue for the state government but wouldn’t do enough to stop a bad apple among agents. Solomon is a corporate lawyer whose practice includes minor-league baseball teams and youth sports leagues. Advising his sports clients isn’t much different from his work with other business clients, he says. Solomon admits he’d like to be able to represent professional athletes but there’s too much competition because so many people are trying to do it. Would-be agents also must make significant up-front investments in travel and entertainment and wait a long time to be paid, which small law firms can’t do, Solomon says. While major league sports teams can afford to hire the most prestigious law firms, the growing number of minor league baseball teams tend to use smaller, local firms, says Solomon. “Minor league baseball teams have legal needs like everybody else — league issues, employee issues. If you’re a sports fan it would be more interesting than representing someone that makes widgets,” Solomon says.

This content has been archived. It is available through our partners, LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law.

To view this content, please continue to their sites.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Not a Bloomberg Law Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law are third party online distributors of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law customers are able to access and use ALM's content, including content from the National Law Journal, The American Lawyer, Legaltech News, The New York Law Journal, and Corporate Counsel, as well as other sources of legal information.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]

Reprints & Licensing
Mentioned in a Law.com story?

License our industry-leading legal content to extend your thought leadership and build your brand.


ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.