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Five Things You Need to Know to Become a Sports Agent or Sports Attorney

1. Sports Agents vs. Sports Attorneys

Sports agents and sports attorneys do not typically follow the same career paths, and there is a marked difference in what they do.

Sports attorneys practice sports law

Lawyers in the US must attend law school for three years, pass a bar exam, pass a moral character and background check, pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE), earn continuing legal education credits (MCLE), and possibly maintain malpractice insurance. A sports attorney is a licensed attorney who happens to practice in the areas of law that surround sports, specifically contracts, intellectual property, negotiations, litigation, and the like. Your clientele and the matters you work on for them determines whether you are a sports lawyer or an attorney specializing in other areas. Lawyers are bound by strict ethical and professional conduct, and risk disbarment or discipline for violating such rules and responsibilities.

Sports agents represent athletes' careers

Sports agents, on the other hand, do not necessarily need a formal education. They must, however, (1) be registered and post a bond with the state and/or college where they wish to recruit and represent professional athletes and (2) be registered with the players association(s) in team sports (specifically the MLBPA, MLSPA, NBPA, NHLPA, and NFLPA). Each of these players associations has specific requirements for sports agents. Some groups, like the NFLPA, require agents to have earned a master's degree, and others require agents to pass an exam about the collectively bargained agreement. As a rule, agents must pay a fee to apply for certification with an association and pay annual dues. There are other requirements, but checking the union website of the sport a prospective agent wants to focus on is the best first step. Regardless of whether someone is a lawyer, he or she must register and be a certified agent with the players association to negotiate contracts. In California, the Miller-Ayala Athlete Agents Act governs sports agents' ethical rules and responsibilities.

2. The Role of Relationships

Good relationships are critical to success in life, and the sports industry is no exception. Relationships—personal friendships or referrals—are likely to land you your first clients or your first job. Relationships will get you in the door and keep you connected with your clients. Genuine relationships will jump-start your career representing athletes. From there, consistency, ethical practices, and hard work will make you great at your job as a sports agent or sports attorney, whichever path you choose.

3. The Necessary Skills

Perhaps this should be the first point, but you need to know how to become a lawyer or sports agent before you can be one. What this means is that the skills you develop in law school and in the practice of law are those needed to best represent professional athletes. Negotiations, knowledge of the law, and an understanding of professional ethics all come from law school and experience practicing law. Street smarts and relationships are important and the best sports agents and lawyers use both, but you need to be a lawyer before you can specialize be considered an expert in a particular area. Remember, relationships may get you in the door and possibly help keep you there, but it is the knowledge you acquire that will secure your position among the greats.

4. Choose a Sport

Focus your practice. Pick one unionized team sport and stick with it. I recommend that you (1) know your sport and (2) know your union before becoming a sports agent or sports attorney. Countless stories describe agents who got into trouble ethically and financially by picking too many sports and trying to become a jack-of-all-trades. Becoming a lawyer is hard enough, being an agent is hard enough, getting clients is hard enough, why make it harder on yourself by failing to focus your practice? The best career advice I ever received was to focus on one area and become an expert in that area. Your clientele will trust you more and you will receive more referrals from your colleagues by honing in on one sport. Moreover, you're bound to succeed if you work in an area that you are passionate about (and happen to be an expert in). Simply put, you will care and you will know too much to fail at it.

5. Client Confidence

Get to know your client through the interview process. Assuming you've completed all of the above steps, the most important part begins. Through the four "R's" of recruiting, relationships, referrals, the fourth "R" is most important, retention. You as the lawyer or agent determine who you work with and why. Remember, your clientele reflects your personal ethics, as you serve as their spokesperson and their public representative. Therefore, interview your clients thoroughly, and get to know them personally and professionally before you agree to represent them. Your prospective clients should be doing the same with you before deciding to use you as their representative. In the end, relationships and referrals are so important in this business because it begins a foundation on which to work towards and maintain the retention of professional athletes as clients.