One of the attractions for me when applying to the firm was the potential for secondment during my training contract, and I have been lucky enough to be the first ever six month secondee in the legal team at Everton Football Club.
When on secondment in an area of business you have a passion for (in this case, luckily for me, football) you can take a real interest in the application of the law to the daily goings on of the business. You can also begin the secondment with some basic knowledge of the legal challenges you think that business faces.
However, nothing prepared me for the breadth of potential legal issues facing a football club due to the unique nature of the football industry, both on and off the pitch. For example, whilst most businesses regard their employees as central and vital, there cannot be many types of business reliant on the success of 11 employees for 90 minutes and where those employees can be bought and sold!
One of the benefits of secondment is that no two days are the same and the type of work you are exposed to varies widely. So far, I have been involved with commercial matters such as brand enforcement, drafting sponsorship/partnership agreements and commercial image rights agreements. I have also been involved in regulatory issues, such as FIFA and Premier League regulations, player compensation and Youth Academy matters. You need to gain the confidence to transition between these extremely different areas of commercial law and regulation and it is a steep learning curve.
Being directly within the business whilst on secondment also allows you to see how the input of the legal team contributes to the success of the wider club. You can see how having intimate knowledge of the area of business you work in, along with legal expertise, can contribute to how commercial contracts are formed, and in turn contribute to money to buy and train future players for (hopefully) success on the field. For example, in regards to corporate hospitality, football clubs have a unique function in only having a small window on match day before and after kick off to serve customers. Commercial contracts regarding food, entertainment, cleaning and serving staff all have to reflect this and normal ‘hospitality’ type contracts would not be fit for purpose.
When on secondment you also see the interaction of different departments and differing laws and regulations first hand. You can see how a fairly straightforward sponsorship agreement with an alcohol company may encounter difficulties when playing in certain EU countries where the advertisement of alcohol is not allowed. This affects what players and staff can wear and how the club promotes the alcohol brand. Therefore, contracts must be tailored towards this and it is up to the legal department to ensure all the bases are covered.
Secondment is also a balancing act of differing interests but this contributes to me becoming a more ‘well-rounded’ lawyer. For example, perhaps a player will want to wear a certain brand of clothing for a photo shoot which is not the same as the club’s sponsor/manufacturer. You need to research Premier League rules, player’s contracts, image contracts, sponsorship contracts and how they all interact. You must learn to balance both these legal and regulatory issues along with commercial interests, commercial ‘awareness’ and plain old common sense.
Secondment, in any area of business, allows you to experience law from the client’s end of things. If you become experienced in how a client receives advice and wants answers to be presented, this can only assist you as a solicitor on returning to private practice.
There are, of course, elements of private practice and being ‘back at HQ’ that you miss. For one, I now value more than ever the contribution of legal secretaries and paralegals to creating documents and assisting with projects as legal secretaries do not exist in-house. Also, simple things, like paginating documents or having access to certain law specific systems, are available at the firm but not at a football club.
There is added pressure in-house as you are (literally) the face of the firm within that business and, while wanting to show off your own ability, that will also reflect on the firm. Individuals in-house may also see ‘solicitor’ in your job title or email and are unaware that you are training and how a training contract works. You may, therefore, have work land on your desk that is beyond your level, but it is a skill in itself knowing your limits and when to seek assistance.
There is also the legal training support structure and experience of a 2 year training contract within the firm that a football club or most businesses do not have or require. However, everyone at Everton has been extremely helpful in assisting with my transition into the club and the commercial team back at the firm have always been on hand to help with any questions.
A bit like Romelu Lukaku, I feel I have experienced and contributed a great deal during my ‘loan’ period at Everton and exceeded my expectations on joining the club. I have much more to experience during the secondment but I hope to apply the club’s motto ‘Nil Satis Nisi Optimum’ on my return to the firm and in any future employment in the area of sports/football law.
This post was edited by Conor Hannon. For more information, email email@example.com.