Can Lawyers be great football agents?
As the football season starts, so the transfer season begins, and it is now that football agents get busy.
A small, but fast-growing contingent of these agents are lawyers, too. The number registered as agents at the Football Association has almost doubled in the past year to 350 but there are doubts about whether they are any good at it, and whether they can improve the agents’ poor public image.
There is a basic logic to a lawyer being an agent: if already acting for a footballer, negotiating the terms of his contract with his club and his sponsors, it is an extension of that to broker the deals in the first place.
There are also some overlapping skills between legal adviser and agent: both are about delivering a client service. Mel Stein, the former agent to the likes of Paul Gascoigne and Alan Shearer, and now a sports law consultant at Clintons, the West End firm, says that lawyers make good agents because “they understand that the client’s needs come first”. Plus solicitors who are already regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority do not have to sit the FA and Fifa agents’ examinations because they are categorised as exempt solicitors.
The heart of an agent’s role is making contacts and turning those contacts into contracts; this is something lawyers can struggle with.
Neil Warnock, the football manager now at Queen’s Park Rangers in West London, says: “It will only work if they know about football.” That sounds obvious but Warnock says that he receives at least two or three calls a day from agents whom he describes as “wasters” because they appear to know little about the club or even the game itself. “They should spend time at a club, hang out with players and find out what they want, what their needs are, what the club’s needs are.”
The problem is that lawyers often do not have the time - or inclination - to do this. Finding players to represent is easy enough (one solicitor says that he has received 40 video-based CVs in just two months), getting in the club’s door is not.
There is a way round this dilemma. A few law firms have started partnering up with sports professionals, former managers and former pros, to make the vital connections on their behalf.
JMW, a Manchester-based outfit, which represents at least 17 premiership and international players as agents, employs a former player, Ben Haworth, as its head of sport. Haworth, who played with clubs such as Leeds United and Bolton Wanderers, says: “You need to go out there and create these relationships and work on them, even on a wet and windy Wednesday night.
“I have been in the world of football since I was 14 and have built up relationships in clubs in three continents during my playing career.”
This partnership model may be the cornerstone of a successful lawyer-agent practice, and when the Legal Services Act comes into full effect next year, allowing law firms to develop greater business relationships with non-lawyers, such collaborations may become much more common.
If lawyers do develop their talents as agents they could improve the public image and practices of the group.
News stories abound of football agents who charge disproportionate commission; who swarm around very young players and sign them up to deals they barely comprehend; and who push players into a transfer because they, the agent, financially gain most from that. A recent European Union survey showed that agents in the EU earned about €200 million from transfer deals alone.
Lawyers may not quite have the stomach for this: Stein, who is also chairman of the Association of Football Agents, says lawyers can help to “professonalise” agents because they are “used to being heavily regulated, used to working by the book”, and are thus less likely to exploit their position.
Posted on 31 Oct 2011 by Patrick
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