So you came to Notre Dame Law School to be a sports lawyer? If you want to figure out how to land a job in this highly coveted career path (or any career path for that matter), find a job posting for your dream job and work backwards.
As it so happens, I have such a job posting to show you today because the Chicago Cubs are hiring. Spoiler alert: firm experience is not required.
Specifically, the Chicago Cubs are looking to hire a “Counsel” with 3-5 years experience. I have copied the job posting in this blog post in order to memorialize it long after the above link expires and the job is filled. If you would like a job like this one in 3-5 years, read the posting and start taking steps now to be a qualified candidate they would look for 3-5 years into your legal career.
After all, it is never too early to plan your long-term career trajectory!
I am going to go through the job posting and break it down for you.
Please note that the advice I give in this blog post is limited to this specific role. Other sports law jobs may want completely different candidates with backgrounds quite opposite from this one.
With that in mind, here is the description of the role the Cubs are looking to fill:
What stands out most to me in this post, is “drafting and negotiating agreements” and “handling a wide variety of corporate and commercial matters.” My takeaway from reading this is that the person who gets the job will be doing a wide variety of things but above all, the successful applicant for this position will have contracts experience.
So far from reading the posting, if I wanted to put myself in the position to be qualified for this job down the line, I would focus more on transactional work and less on litigation.
Here are the job responsibilities that the Counsel will perform from the job posting:
The responsibilities are not incredibly specific but the most specific responsibilities listed, as in the “role” section, focus on contract law, namely that the new Counsel will “draft and review contracts with vendors, landlords, and other partners.” We also see a mention of tax law. Still, the theme I am picking up on is transactional law experience, specifically in reviewing contracts.
The most relevant part of any job posting is the “qualifications section” because you can see what the employer is looking for and thus how you need to tailor your resume to be successful.
This posting has separated the qualifications section into two separate sections: “required qualifications” and “desired qualifications.” The “required qualifications” meaning that the Cubs will not even consider you unless you meet them are:
Again, this section is a bit vague but we do know that the successful applicant is not a new law school graduate because at least two years of experience are required. We also know that if the applicant has not passed the Illinois bar, they would need to take it.
As I am reading this section, “negotiation experience” and “compliance” jump out at me. As a prospective job applicant, I am underlining those words as something I need to address specifically on my resume if I have experience in those areas. Note that this is not the job posting’s first reference to “compliance.” That also appeared under “responsibilities” so
if I have compliance experience, I am going to make sure it jumps off the page.
The “desired qualifications” are the most specific part of this job posting and as such, warrant significant attention:
Fist of all, the Cubs want someone from a “top-tier” law school. It is not clear exactly what that means but I am confident that Notre Dame qualifies.
Second, we see that the Cubs will consider you if you have 2 years of experience for this job but what they really want is 3-5 years of experience and they want it at a law firm or in-house environment. If they Cubs want 3-5 years of experience, they are going to get it because tons of people will apply for this job. So if you want to be qualified for this type of job, you should plan on starting your career somewhere besides a typical sports law job for at least a few years and work hard there to get the type of experience you need to be qualified for this type of position a few years in the future.
That said, if I really wanted this job, I would apply if I only had two years of experience. You have nothing to lose and you miss 100% of the goals you don’t make. The Cubs could call you in for an interview, end up offering the position to someone with the 3-5 years of experience, but then have you in mind for a future opportunity in a few years.
Some may read this blog post and feel frustrated. You might love to prepare for this kind of job but not have a firm job lined up and feel that it is impossible to get any kind of in-house experience right out of law school. I encourage you to withhold from scoffing at the notion that you can go in-house in your first job after law school because you can.
You can work in-house at a non-profit through the Bank of America or Shaffer fellowships or in-house pretty much anywhere you like, including a private company, through Notre Dame’s bridge to practice program.
One of our wonderful Chicago program placements is Levy Restaurants, the leader in Sports and Entertainment dining, catering such renowned sports venues at Wrigley Field in Chicago, STAPLES Center and Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, Ford Field in Detroit and Churchill Downs in Louisville. If you want a sports law position, externing with Levy or another great sports law placement should be your top priority but I bring it up because Levy would almost certainly take on the right candidate through bridge to practice. That means that right after graduation, Notre Dame would pay you to work for Levy Restaurant Group for a few months. It is difficult to imagine an in-house experience right out of law school more related to the qualifications described in the Cubs’ job posting.
Reading this posting, I get the message that you do not have to have a moment of law firm experience to get interviewed for this job. Take a look at Jason Sethen, NDLS ’15, and current Bank of America Foundation Fellow at the Chicago Low Income Housing Trust Fund.
As a BOAF fellow, Jason is the Trust Fund’s sole attorney and the first attorney working only for the Trust Fund. He works to provide annual rental subsidies to owners of buildings and developments in Chicago to enable low-income tenants to live in those buildings.
Jason would be a very strong applicant for this job in a few years because he specializes in one of the key areas referenced in the desired qualifications “Real estate acquisitions and leasing,” he drafts and reviews contracts with landlords, which was also specifically referenced as a responsibility in the job posting, he has negotiated with multiple stakeholders, which is repeatedly emphasized as desirable, dealt with compliance issues, and as the sole attorney working for the Trust Fund, he has exhibited one of the “required qualifications,” namely the “ability to work well under pressure, take ownership of projects, prioritize effectively and keep track of multiple projects/deadline.”
Jason is in a tremendously unique position in that as the Trust Fund’s sole attorney, he is basically doing partner level work, regularly interacting with various law firm partners throughout the City of Chicago and with city officials, negotiating on the Trust Fund’s behalf, and doing a wide variety of work needed to keep the Trust Fund in good legal standing. It is hard to imagine any attorney with Jason’s level of experience that is doing the same varied and high-level work that he is yet he has not worked in a law firm ever.
Note that the posting also states a preference for a trial court clerkship at either the state or federal level. Interestingly, the posting specifically calls for trial court clerkships and not the often thought of as more prestigious appellate clerkships.
You can also work for a trial judge in Cook County through the Bridge to Practice program, which would be a great placement to launch you into strong candidacy for this type of job posting. Don’t sleep on state trial court clerkships.
If you do have a firm job lined up, specialize in relevant areas that will make you attractive to an organization like the Cubs.
If I was heading to a firm after graduation and planning my firm career so that I would be qualified for this position within 3-5 years, I would do my best to get contract, compliance, and ERISA experience. This is where we see that specialization makes all of the difference in the world. An attorney who has focused on real estate transactions, employee benefits, or ERISA (Employee Retirement Income Security Act, a statute that establishes minimum standards for pension plans in private industry and provides for extensive rules on the federal income tax effects of transactions associated with employee benefit plans) will have a big advantage when applying for this job.
The Cubs are not looking for the candidate working at the most prestigious firm. They want a candidate who has experience in one or more of these three specific areas because those are the areas where the team has legal needs. Pick one or two and become an expert on those issues. Don’t let yourself get assigned to random projects all of them without planning your career trajectory at the firm.
You do have some ability to control your destiny at a law firm. If you want to become an ERISA expert, seek out the partners specializing in ERISA and offer to do work for them. Do great work for them and they will keep coming back to you.
The successful applicant has to meet the qualifications stated in the job posting but realistically they need to know someone working for the Cubs or know someone who knows someone. How do you put yourself in that position?
Above is the final paragraph of the job posting. This should not discourage you. It means you should start networking now, years and years before your dream job posting goes up. Once you have built contacts and cultivated relationships, it is perfectly appropriate to reach out to your Cubs’ contacts to ask for advice about applying for the job. It is not appropriate to reach out to members of the Cubs’ organization with no prior relationship. So build those relationships now.
Meet sports law contacts now, while you are in law school. Join SCELF, attend the talks, and email the speakers afterwards to ask if they have time for a phone call for you to learn more about their work. Look up Notre Dame alumni working in the sports law field on LinkedIN and My Notre Dame. Look them up on google. Have coffee with them, schedule phone calls, and make contacting sports law lawyers a regular, scheduled part of your week.
Extern with Levy Restaurants. Their General Counsel knows just about every major sports team’s General Counsel in the country.
Talk to the CDO about the details of accomplishing all of this. We can help you write your outreach emails to sports law contacts, give you ideas for what to talk about in your meetings, and talk you through the finer points of following up.
You can get your dream job in sports law. But it isn’t going to fall into your lap or follow a linear career path. There is no sports law OCI.
Read job postings like this one and many others. See what the common threads are. What qualifications do they consistently ask for?
And I cannot emphasize this enough. Meet people working in sports law. If you just pressed send on your application for this position, wouldn’t you feel infinitely more confident that your application would get read if you could email your contact in the Cubs or your contact who knows someone in the Cubs to let them know that you applied? Then put yourself in the position where you will be able to do that.
And if you ever get an interview for a position like this, make sure you know the team, which means watching lots of baseball!