Professor Boland talks about employment in sports and gaming with the OCS Bulletin
Professor Robert Boland, J.D. is a nationally known sports law professor and practitioner
who served five years in a first-of-its-kind national role as Athletics Integrity
Officer at Penn State University.
What kinds of career opportunities can a student expect in the sports law area? What
The opportunities are really limitless both in sports law and in gaming law and compliance.
The J.D. is still perhaps the best preparation for a meaningful career on the business
side of sports, even with the rise of sports management masters or MBA programs globally.
I led two of those sports management programs, helping found the largest graduate
program in sports business at NYU and then as director of the oldest and most selective
at Ohio University (which has ranked #1 in the world 7 of the last 9 years). But
the ability to think critically, to analyze complex situations, and to apply a system
of solutions to those situations is exactly what we teach and learn in law school
in every course, every day. There is something valuable in legal training that connects
to leading on the business side of either intensely competitive fields like sports
or highly regulated fields like gaming.
If you look at the four major professional leagues (MLB, NBA, NFL & NHL), three of
the four commissioners are lawyers, specifically labor lawyers. If you look at the
Power Five college athletic conferences (SEC, Big Ten, ACC, Pac-12, Big-12), you have
two more lawyers with a media law background in commissionerships right now. The Big
Ten has had three lawyers in a row as commissioners. The most transformational leader
of the Southeastern Conference developed the practice of representing colleges before
the NCAA, and our own Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman is a transactional lawyer.
I often tell the story that I went to law school after it seemed everyone who had
a job that I wanted in sports had a law degree. When you think about the entire sports
ecosystem from intellectual property to media rights, to collective bargaining, to
player contracts, to the status and treatment of athletes, it is all based on legal
rights and legally- protected property interests.
The question a young lawyer has to address is, “am I focused on pursuing opportunities
in the business side of sports which may mean looking at more J.D. advantaged positions
or do I want to have a more traditional practice in a firm in an area that is sports-related
like labor, technology, tax or benefits or IP.”
Gaming law, which is a heavily regulated sector, offers more traditional law practice
opportunities for associates to join firms. Most of the firms doing gaming law are
located here in New Jersey or close by in New York or Philadelphia. The curriculum
we offer and continue to develop here at Seton Hall Law, with unique gaming law courses
and workshops, opens the door to these opportunities either while in school as an
extern or summer associate, directly after graduation, or after a clerkship. We hear
from firms that they can’t keep their associates from going in-house or to business-side
opportunities after their second or third years, which is a nice problem to have,
as it is such a growth field.
If a student is interested in sports law/gaming, how do they find jobs/internships?
Should a student work for a company or a firm or both?
Let’s take the second question first. I think both would be ideal. I’d recommend
that a student look for corporate opportunities during the school year as extern/internship
opportunities and use summers to look for more traditional opportunities in firms.
A student may not need both experiences, but building any career does take some trying
things out and there is no better networking opportunity than actually being in the
field. As far as where to find opportunities, three places quickly come to mind.
First, the Seton Hall Law Office of Career Services. We have many legacy jobs/internships/externships
catalogued and engaged alumni working with Career Services all the time; they also
have a handle on national internship/externship programs which are offered by the
major professional leagues. And, the staff there is amazing, so even if you are intent
on taking the road less traveled, don’t forget to use the career resources already
in place. The second place is your faculty, probably starting with Dean Corneal and
me; we are connected to our fields, and we can help refine your interests, guide your
searches, and sharpen your skills in locating and competing for opportunities. Finally,
don’t forget the special programming and guest speakers Seton Hall Law brings to the
law school campus. We brought more than 50 leading figures in sports or sports law
to campus as part of our annual Sports Law Symposium last March and during our monthly
speaker’s series and brought 100 in gaming and gaming law during our annual Gaming
Compliance Bootcamp later that same month. Those personal contacts can be life-changing
so take advantage of meeting speakers, going to events, and being connected to a school
where the best conversations are happening.
Are there government agencies you would recommend working for if interested in sports/gaming?
In sports, one of the biggest entry points is labor law so, on the state or federal
levels, the National Labor Relations Board, the federal and state departments of labor,
or Equal Employment Opportunity Commissions offer great early opportunities for employment
in sports. In gaming, the New Jersey Attorney General’s Division of Gaming Enforcement
is probably the gold standard in all the world in regulating all forms of wagering,
but with most states now legalizing sports betting and more allowing more and different
kinds of wagering, there are similar types of government related opportunities to
pursue pretty much in every state. I shouldn’t forget to mention that prosecutor’s
offices remain a great place to begin one’s career, opening far more opportunities
than they limit. In the compliance space, the U.S. Attorney’s office experience is
highly favored, and many assistant U.S. Attorneys started as state prosecutors.
What are the most important qualifications/attributes a student should have in order
to secure a job/internship in sports/gaming law? Is GPA a really important qualification?
The biggest challenge is separating yourself from the millions of people who like
sports or like gaming, to demonstrate your seriousness about wanting to work in either
field. So having a resume that highlights your commitment to study these subjects
here helps, so does volunteer opportunities, or a demonstrated past interest. But
your initiative is probably most important, in working inside and outside to build
a network and show your value added. GPA is probably less important than initiative
and energy but that tends to be truer in more entrepreneurial and less traditional
points of entry. For more traditional employers, GPA matters and you don’t want that
to be a bar for you.
What SHU Law classes should a student take if they are interested in sports/gaming
law? Does Seton Hall Law have a concentration?
Seton Hall Law has a concentration in Gaming, Hospitality, Entertainment & Sports
Law (aka GHamES), which is really innovative and the school’s commitment to developing
this is why I chose to come to Seton Hall Law last year and why I think it Seton Hall
is the best place, or will soon be the best place, to study these exciting and interconnected
fields that really make sense with our location in the New Jersey/New York metro area.
The concentration requires every student take 3 of the 4 survey courses in Gaming
Law, Hospitality Law, Entertainment Law, or Sports Law, then take one of three related
doctrinal courses in either Administrative Law, Antitrust, or Employment Law. Finally,
students must write the Advanced Writing Requirement (AWR) or Journal note on a GHamES-related
topic. The concentration is a great starting point for making your resume stand out.
How hard is it to break into this field of law?
That is a difficult question to answer. Breaking into law at every level is challenging.
I’d say breaking into sports or gaming or a related field like entertainment law isn’t
harder to break into than any other field of law. But it takes some direction, some
perseverance, and continued engagement. If working in one of these fields is your
passion, as it was for me, it wasn’t work, it was a joy, even if there are ups and
downs and it is very competitive.
Are there other areas of the law that you would recommend for helping prepare a student
for a career in sports/gaming law?
We offer a number of additional courses focused on sports and gaming law beyond just
those in the GHamES concentration, so taking those electives and having these additional
courses described on your resume or in your cover letters is really a competitive
advantage, especially when you think most laws schools offer a single sports law course
and most don’t offer anything in the gaming space. We’ve already talked about the
important related areas of law that are entry points to this space, Labor & Employment,
Intellectual Property, Administrative Law, Antitrust, Compliance; those are all valuable.
Beyond those, I am always partial to any courses involving remedies; every sports
case seems to involve a request for injunctive relief, alternative dispute resolution,
advanced contract skills, and compliance skills as all of those have real value in
building your set of practice tools.
How important is networking in breaking into this field of law? Any networking opportunities
that you would recommend?
It is very important. But this is true in most aspects of building a legal career.
Not everybody is an extrovert, and it comes harder to some than others. For me, I
found when I was talking about a field I loved and to someone in it about what they
do in that field and how they got there, that seemed kind of natural and I’d encourage
students to look at networking as a more natural process. Don’t miss speakers in
the building, look up at the video screens, read the career services emails and bulletins,
and don’t be afraid to say hello to someone. I think asking recent graduates in the
field to connect for a few minutes over Teams or Zoom or coffee in person is a great
way to connect; the informational interview has great capability. LinkedIn is a superb
tool too for making those connections. And finally, there are events you shouldn’t
miss. Our Gaming and Compliance Bootcamp is so outstanding. Our Sports Symposium
brings great speakers. Outside organizations, the Sports Lawyers Association (SLA)
has an annual conference that draws 800 to 1000 from the field; I first went in my
third year of law school and have been going every year pretty much since. Do think
about joining the SLA if sports are a desired destination for you (https://www.sportslaw.org).
What firms/companies are best to join for sports/gaming law?
The one that hires you! There isn’t any singular path in these fields. It is still
probably good advice if you want to build a career in either field to try to get those
great or gold standard names on your resume early either in intern/externships or
even volunteer experiences. Someone who interned at the NFL or NBA will be more appealing
to a start-up agency than someone who doesn’t have similar experiences. Someone who
externed at the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement will get a longer look at
say FanDuel or Draft Kings for a compliance opportunity than someone who didn’t have
that experience. But also remember there is no one or perfect path, it is the one
that fits you best and offers you the best chances for experience and growth.