SLA Member Submission:
As an aspiring sports attorney currently practicing work comp defense, I’ve been reaching out and connecting with sports law industry leaders over the past year—each conversation providing valuable insight and knowledge. I’m always incredibly thankful and appreciative whenever someone takes time out of their busy schedule to speak with me or respond to an email. While it’s been a difficult and uncertain time around the world, I think it’s helpful to hear from others that may be going through the same experiences and struggles—which brings me to the crux of this post.
A few weeks ago, I sent out a brief questionnaire to the sports attorneys I’ve been able to connect with. The questionnaire centered around the impact of COVID-19 in both their professional and personal lives. In total, five attorneys chose to participate, three of which decided to remain anonymous.
The two named participants are Katie Hoffman, Associate General Counsel for NASCAR and Lucinda McRoberts, Chief Administrative Officer & General Counsel for USA Swimming. I’ve known Katie since 2015, when I interned for her department with the Kansas City Chiefs. I connected with Lucinda last year through a mutual connection we have in Kansas City. Both Katie and Lucinda are great people and have always been incredibly gracious with their time—I thank them for their participation. Additionally, I want to thank the other three unnamed sports attorneys who participated. The unnamed attorneys work in different sports at either the league or team level. I know we’ll all get through this together and I hope this post helps in some small way!
Katie Hoffman – “Yes – we are fortunate to have a company that took time before it really became an issue to test and make sure that everyone could be up and running if we needed to quarantine. The biggest adjustment is honestly communication – you don’t realize how many conversations you have in “passing” that actually convey some important stuff – keeping everyone in the loop has been a challenge.”
Lucinda McRoberts – “I haven’t been in the office since March 3, and USA Swimming’s offices closed to all employees on March 13. Fortunately, there is plenty of work to do, and USA Swimming has permitted employees to work from home 1-2 days per week for the past couple of years, so everyone is adept at it.”
Sports Attorney #1 – “Yes. The biggest adjustment has been finding a routine that ensures I remain as close to productive working at home as possible as I am when I am in the office.”
Sports Attorney #2 – “Working from home has been pretty easy so far, but only because I have a co-parent who has agreed to keep my kids and help them do their schoolwork. I don’t know how parents are doing this with little ones. Several of my conference calls include screaming toddlers and I feel awful for those parents trying to juggle work and homeschooling/daycare. It makes me realize that schools are a social institution that not only educates but cares for our children and without teachers/schools our country would fall apart.”
Sports Attorney #3 – “Yes, biggest adjustment has been reading everything on the computer. My printer at home stinks – and I’m still in the dark ages so I like to review drafts in hard copy – but, it was time for me to transition and save the trees!”
KH – “Trying to myself stay calm while also working to reassure those that I help advise. I don’t know what the future holds. No one really knows when we’ll be full swing, but people look to us for answers and solutions so balancing that with the unknown is difficult.”
LM – “Most notably is the postponement of the 2020 Olympic Games, but equally important is how we support our 3000 local clubs. When pools can re-open, we want to make sure we have viable clubs to serve our member athletes.”
SA #1 – “I would not necessarily say they are challenges, just adjustments. For example, I now regularly connect with team members via Microsoft Teams when I otherwise would have simply walked to their desk.”
SA #2 – “The uncertainty of when the season will restart and the effect it has on the people we employ (their fears, financial struggles- that is what is keeping me up at night). Also, the contractual issues with sponsors and not having a product to deliver at this point is a real challenge.”
SA #3 – “The virus is affecting literally every part of our business, and each department is in crisis management mode. While we have organized crisis management teams and regular meetings to keep up with assignments and the latest developments, one of the benefits of being ‘in-house’ is what you learn is happening (or not happening) when you aren’t in a meeting or it’s not an identified agenda item…by walking around, hallway conversations, seeing someone that wasn’t in the meeting but has something that affects the team, etc. I feel good about what we’re doing, but am concerned about what we aren’t or what I don’t know about.”
KH – “I don’t feel any different – we’re an important part of the team and the role shifts through the year and year to year – this is just another shift.”
LM – “The value of sport as a community pillar and platform is only magnified in its absence.”
SA #1 – “Having a mastery of boilerplate contract provisions (e.g., default and remedies, force majeure, insurance, indemnification, limitation of liability, etc.) and being as clear/concise in those provisions is as critical as ever.”
SA #2 – “Not really, other than I feel really lucky to be in this industry because other industries are doing so much worse.”
SA #3 – “I wouldn’t say my ‘outlook’ has changed on either, but I do believe the way we all look at sports and manage our business has fundamentally changed. The push toward digital and importance of online content/fan engagement just accelerated exponentially. The way we operate in terms of how we bring comfort to and deliver a safe and healthy experience for our athletes, employees and fans when they attend our events will be different. Of course, delivering these changes in a way that also meets the needs and delivers against the expectations of our sponsors is the key.”
KH – “My team. We have such a great time working together and we have fun together – I miss our “family time” which is basically just 15 minutes usually once during the week (sometimes more in really stressful times) when we just gather in the center of the paralegals desks and talk about unimportant stuff. I don’t think people realize how important that “down time” is to a good work environment.”
LM – “There were a lot of great events on the calendar, including the SLA Annual Conference, that I am disappointed to miss.”
SA #1 – “The person-to-person interaction with my fellow team members, and the comradery that our brick-and- mortar work environment cultivates.”
SA #2 – “The collegial atmosphere of my office. I really miss my co-workers and I promise to never again complain about being too busy at my office!”
SA #3 – “Traveling”
KH – “Being free to go to the beach! And, not being worried 24 hours a day for my parents and my grandmother (all 3 well within the target demographic).”
LM – “Skiing, especially with this season’s snow.”
SA #1 – “Attending sporting events, concerts/shows, movies, and certainly going out to culinary/drink establishments.”
SA #2 – “ Being able to dine out and that people are afraid to get too close to each other- which I believe has affected their moods and I see that when walking down the street or on a trail for exercise - people are nervous and it comes out as being standoffish (rightly so!).”
SA #3 – “Traveling”
KH – “Pay attention to how industries are responding. This will hopefully not last long, but the effects and how people/organizations prepare for future events will change. After 9/11, Force Majeure clauses became a necessity in nearly all agreements because of the cancellation of events by government mandate. It will be interesting to see how this event shapes future agreements.”
LM – “By this point, I think we all realize this is bigger than sport, so do what you can to keep yourself and others healthy.”
SA #1 – “Hang in there! We will get through this and ultimately learn a great deal from this that will make us all better lawyers in the future.”
SA #2 – “Not really- other than we will get through this! Now more than ever each org has to display our team spirit and support each other.”
SA #3 – “Stay home, stay safe, wash your hands. ??”
Thanks again to everyone who participated! I’m always looking to make new sports law connections so don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions or would like to connect.
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