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Sports & Entertainment Law: Making a Solo Firm Work Against the Odds

Jul 20, 2020

Jeremy Evans managed to outlast hundreds who started law school hoping to do sports and entertainment law. He talks about the struggle to start his own firm and why he thinks he was among the last standing. Jeremy is a graduate of Thomas Jefferson School of Law.

Transcript

Host:

From Law Hub, this is I Am the Law, a podcast where we talk with lawyers about their jobs to shed light on how they fit into the larger legal ecosystem. In this episode, Kyle McEntee interviews a sports and entertainment lawyer who highlights everything he had to overcome to succeed in starting his own practice.

Kyle McEntee:

We are joined today by Jeremy Evans. Jeremy, you definitely have one of those stories that law schools dream of. One that shows the transformative power of education. So not only did you come from a less privileged background, but are one of nine children and the first to attend college, and of course, also the first to become an attorney. So you applied to a ton of law schools, but only got into one, Thomas Jefferson School of Law, where you graduated from in 2011. And now, you have one of these sexiest lawyering titles out there. You're a sports and entertainment lawyer. Is that what you came to law school to do?

Jeremy Evans:

I actually went to law school to become a district attorney. I wanted to prosecute crimes and I probably had that feeling from watching Law and Order episodes growing up. As you mentioned, I grew up in a middle class family. I mean, it was one of those things where obviously a struggle, big family and fighting over resources and that. But I really didn't have mentors so to speak of in the sense of obviously looked up to my father and had people that I looked up to, but I didn't have a lawyer that I could go to and say, "What law should I practice?" And so, I got my information from television and from entertainment. And as right or as wrong as that is, that's what I went into law school thinking. And ultimately the DA route, district attorney route, did not pan out and just didn't know the right people, didn't have the right skillset, or didn't have the right grades, or whatever it was.

And ultimately ended up getting an opportunity with the Public Defender's office. I never thought that I would enjoy working for the public defender. I wanted to be a prosecutor. Being a public defender is literally the complete opposite. And so for me, having that experience really opened my eyes to, number one, realizing that I didn't necessarily want to be in criminal defense, but also, I didn't want to be in criminal prosecution either. And realizing that I loved the drama and theatrical nature of being in a courtroom, thus my love for Law and Order, but that was not the reality of the situation. And it was something that I realized, okay, this is something I don't like, but it was something that I learned.

I would say another significant event that happened in law school was that I competed in the International Baseball Arbitration Competition. And I think that experience as nerdy as it sounds, and it is, it's basically a bunch of baseball folks talking statistics and arguing numbers, it really opened my mind to the fact that I could do what I love and make money at the same time and not necessarily in baseball arbitration, but it really opened my mind to that.

Kyle McEntee:

So then how did you get from wanting to do something you love to something you love on your own?

Jeremy Evans:

I had had this epiphany in law school where I realized that the entire reason that I was going to school was, I mean, obviously educate myself, but I realized that education was going to be the way to being my own boss and being able to choose my own destiny. I had worked for enough people and for enough companies that I realized that I'd like to do something on my own. That I had a lot of friends that were encouraging me and saying, "Hey, Jeremy, you should open your own practice." And at the time, frankly, I did not know. I was like, well, what's a sole practitioner? I mean, I was barely getting started on what the bar exam was. And so, got to a point where I started to look at building a website and what practice should I get into? I really sat down with myself and I was like, you know what?

If I'm going to open my own shop and open my own business, I'm going to do what I love and I love entertainment, media and sports, and I'm going to focus in on that. And when I thought about a name, I thought, well, when somebody is searching something these days, they search for a lawyer. They literally type in DUI lawyer or real estate lawyer in California. And so I thought, well, if I could get the search term and corner that market, and I thought, okay, well, California Sports Lawyer. And oddly enough, in the history of mankind, it had never been trademarked. So I got it trademarked and here we are today.

Kyle McEntee:

I think a lot of schools around the country, they have these sports entertainment law interest groups and hundreds of people show up to these meetings. Was that the same kind of deal you had at Thomas Jefferson?

Jeremy Evans:

I went to a Sports Law Society event in my first year of law school and there was probably 400 people at that event, everybody wanting to be the next Jerry McGuire. And ultimately by the time that I graduated, I was the only person in my class pursuing sports. And there was a few people that went into entertainment and went on to work for some of the major networks or streamers, but ultimately, I was the only one in my class to pursue sports. So it goes to show you that everything is about timing in the sense that you have to be the last person standing, but you also, not to be the quote guy, but the Roman philosopher, Seneca, who said something like luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. And as cheesy as that might sound, it truly is those two parts of timing. It's being the last person standing, but it's also being ready, willing, and able to jump at an opportunity when it presents itself.

Kyle McEntee:

Yeah, and that's the rub. So I want to take a little bit of a detour here, a slight detour and explain to the listeners the philosophy of the show's guest selection. So as you talked about when you were describing your desire to become a lawyer, popular culture really highlights certain lawyers while overlooking many others. And that can mean inadequate representation of women or people of color. That means misrepresentation of what lawyers actually do, but it could also mean over-representation of certain practice types. And the clip we played from Jerry McGuire, the start of the episode is a great example. Not only was Jerry an agent, but he was a lawyer as well.

So what we have done is look at the data, we aim to be more diverse in the legal profession on race and gender, and as diverse as the legal profession is in terms of practice areas and work setting. That said, many people do go to law school to do what we might call these unicorn jobs and then they don't actually even know what those lawyers do. So before we get into the weeds on your day-to-day, let's talk a little bit about the industry and why you succeeded.

Jeremy Evans:

I think for me, I was always somewhat of an entrepreneur and somebody that loved the freedom aspect of being able to choose my own way. My mom would tell me that if I would've been the first kid, I would've been the last because I was so free in the sense that I always wanted to be outside, I always wanted to be challenging stuff. And as you get older, you don't necessarily lose that. And so I think it took me going through education to figure that out and experiences to realize that that's what I wanted to do. So I think for me, it was thinking beyond the legal.

I knew I could provide the legal advice and I knew I could draft the contracts, and I knew that frankly from working at the public defender's office, that a lot of times, you have banks of documents that you work off of and you're not going to recreate the wheel, so to speak. Sometimes the client needs something very specific, but for the most part, you're going to have a document. And frankly, a lot of times you're going to have clients who are going to provide sample documents for you to work off of.

Kyle McEntee:

And how do you look at the business side?

Jeremy Evans:

I look at every business decision that I make through a three-pronged approach, and that is geography, branding and community. So geography, you have to be in the place where the action is happening. And so for me, I went to law school in San Diego, but grew up in LA. I realized I needed to be back in LA if I wanted to continue to push my influence in the industry and be able to get the clients that I wanted. And also encouraged me to go back to school and get my masters of law and master of business administration in entertainment, media and sports law and management from Pepperdine, from their law school and from the graduate business school there despite technology and virtual and Zoom and everything else. Fact is that zip codes still matter. The next part is branding. I think one thing has really driven me that I think changed my perspective and put a bow on everything.

And it was this great quote by Jonathan Perelman, who is a partner at ICM, a big Hollywood agency, and he said, "Content is king, but distribution is queen and she wears the pants." And it's sort of this great funny quote that highlights that social media is maybe one of the greatest inventions because you can literally market and push out information and do it for free. And it's not advertising because all you're doing is sharing information. And when I market stuff, I'm not talking about myself or things that I've accomplished. And so, the way I figured was if I have to write an article or do a podcast, I'm going to have to do the research and I'm going to prepare for it. So that's going to make me more knowledgeable about a subject and more prepared for clients. But two, you become an information source, so then people are looking to you to be able to reach out to you.

But it's also a situation where you have to look at it from, it's like the schools that you go to and what brands open up certain doors. For me, it was like, okay, I know that being in LA, having another LA school is going to open up some doors for me. And so I thought, okay, this is great, and let's see where this goes. And then lastly is community. And I think this is maybe one of the most important aspects in that you want to join organizations that are going to specifically benefit the practice area you want to get into, or business that you want to get into. And that may sound selfish, but the reality of it is this is that if you're going to give up volunteer time to a legal or a business organization, then you need to join certain organizations like the Sports Lawyers Association, the California Lawyers Association, the American Bar Association.

I mean, these types of organizations and the specific sections that can open up opportunities for you and not just joining them, but literally taking on leadership opportunities so that you're constantly involved, and that you're writing and you're putting on events and that sort of thing to where you can be in the right place at the right time. And again, pushing content and connecting with people and networking.

Kyle McEntee:

So you've mentioned your website, you've mentioned going to events. Can you talk a little bit more about the breakdown of where you do find your clients? And I mean, is it going to the red carpet? Is that a real thing?

Jeremy Evans:

I love putting on events. I love bringing attorneys and business professionals together. I love having the conversation. I love meeting people. I love the sharing of ideas and all those things are great for networking. And anytime that you put on events and you do certain things, it allows opportunities for branding, it allows opportunity... Anybody who doesn't see that or recognize that that's part of it is just blind. And I don't mean that in a mean sense. I just mean that in that these are all opportunities to grow a brand and to put a face to a name. And frankly, you want to be the person that people go to for information. And part of the way that you do that is by going to events and getting invited to events and being a part of that. Through all of that though, I would highlight that the ability to stay humble and to feel honored by being in this profession.

And I mean that truthfully because I've seen too many folks get big heads over certain things. But I think the reality of it is that there's not a day that goes by I don't wake up and love what I do, and obviously it's a challenge and it's a struggle, but ultimately, events are just so important. It's a part of that aspect of community. Don't just be the person who shows up and sits at the back of the classroom or the back of the room, show up and be the person who engages because that's where you're going to have an influence. And that's where people are going to remember.

Kyle McEntee:

I wanted to try to put together some of the timelines that you've described. You are a 2011 graduate, but you moved to LA from San Diego in 2017. Can you talk a little bit about those five or six intervening years, what you were doing when you were starting your firm? I know for the first year, you clerked for a judge in California with the Superior Courts, and then it was right after that that you started your own firm. Were you struggling to pay the bills? Did you have second jobs? What was life like trying to start this firm from scratch?

Jeremy Evans:

I will say this, I think frankly, people have to know that starting a business is... And this may sound obvious, but it's very difficult, and building your own brand, bringing your own clients. I would say there's probably a few significant things that occurred that allowed me to survive and emphasis on survive because there was times or months that go by that wouldn't be able to pay to rent, and you're looking for ways to borrow money. I mean, just being completely honest, I mean, it was a struggle. And frankly, it still is a struggle. That never gets old. And I think frankly, that's one of the things I love about being a sole practitioner is that you're constantly hungry. You cannot afford to not be hungry, sorry to use a double negative, but get the point, right? It's like you have to be hungry because you have to be constantly looking for clients and looking for branding opportunities.

So I think for me, number one was when I first opened my practice, I literally went to Google and typed in how to start your own law practice. And I ordered three books, which are like $5 a piece, very easy to read. And one of the best pieces of advice that I got out of those books was get an office that's convenient to your clients, not to you. And for me, that was virtual. I have so many clients I've not met in person, maybe met once. Being available I think is more important than being physically there. Although I want to differentiate that with the geography statement I mentioned earlier. Geography has to do with networking. And geography has to do with connecting with people, but it's not related to where your office is, right? In the sense of you can have a virtual office, you can have a business address, but you need to be physically present at some of the networking events. And number two was making a list of five attorneys and going out and meeting with those attorneys and asking them for nuggets of wisdom.

Kyle McEntee:

What'd you ask them?

Jeremy Evans:

What did you do to survive? How did you keep costs down? Who's your malpractice insurance provider? What email service do you use? What services do you use for billing or this and that? And knowing where to get online research. You get all that information from attorneys. And so I met with about 60 different lawyers in a three-month period, whether it be through text, or phone call, or lunch, or coffee, or dinner, or at their offices. And just got a ton of information that probably saved me 40 years of headache and heartache. And not that I got all the information, but it helped. And it definitely put me on a good path forward at the least. I realized that I needed... I had my bread and butter, but I needed something else, a contingency side of the practice. And a lot of businesses and a lot of law practices do this.

They'll do wills and trust, but then they'll also do personal injury. They'll do criminal defense, but then they'll do personal injury. So you have your bread and butter, you're getting paid your upfront fees or your hourly fees, but then you're also getting paid contingency. And so for me, it was a little bit different because I was getting paid hourly or flat fees regardless, but I knew that I needed to do something in the beginning. And so I did a little bit of criminal defense for the first six months to a year. And so, I was doing sports as this idea of building it up and meeting people, telling people about it, that sort of thing. And initially I thought, well, geez, a lot of athletes do get into trouble, so maybe I could be like a one-stop shop. What I realized from a marketing standpoint was that that did not make sense. And athletes don't want to be reminded of the fact that there is a criminal aspect and frankly, the two just didn't meld together for me.

Kyle McEntee:

Did you have any tactics that helped you focus just on the sports practice as you got on your feet?

Jeremy Evans:

One was that I had a colleague that was very kind enough to let me use his office space when I first got into practice in exchange for doing appearances for him in court. So obviously he got some experience through court doing those for him and got some great office space. I remember one time, he was looking at my website when I was building it and he said, "What is this general counsel thing on your website?" He goes, "You need to be very specific and you can grow from that, but be very specific, be very niche, be the person that people want to come to for a specific thing." And that's exactly what I did. And from then on, I got rid of the criminal defense, focused solely on sports and entertainment. And here we are today where my practice is solely entertainment, media and sports.

I think the last piece to that was taking on second jobs. So I was the director of the Center for Sports Law and Policy at Thomas Jefferson, an adjunct professor there, and ran the National Sports Law Negotiation Competition. I worked for the San Diego County bar for a little bit and ran the diversity fellowship program, also did some contract work for lawyers, did appearance work for lawyers. These were all things that helped bring in money and also helped my brand because I got to meet people. And frankly, working as a director and adjunct professor and a center for sports was completely going to directly affect in a good way my practice.

Kyle McEntee:

You talked a little bit about your kind of clients, at least broadly speaking; sports, media, entertainment. What is your clientele?

Jeremy Evans:

About 50% entertainment, 50% sports. And I would say it is studios, I have influencers and some individual athletes further off the field stuff. Sometimes for the on the field stuff, but I'm usually working with an agent when that's going on. And I'll even work with writers and directors on certain deals. I have entertainment and sports brands. I've had sports apparel companies, sports leagues, sports teams.

Kyle McEntee:

So it's not just individuals that you're representing, you are actually also representing businesses?

Jeremy Evans:

Absolutely. Funny story about that. I had a major general counsel of a top Fortune 500 company one time give me a call. And when he first called me, I was like, this is a joke. There's no way this general counsel would be calling me. And he convinced me after five minutes that it was really him and was basically like send me your retainer, tell me your hourly fee because we want to hire you to draft some sports contracts for us. And at the end of the call I said, "How did you find me?" And he said, "I googled California sports lawyer." And so it's one of those things where everybody's using Google to do it. Referrals are important, but it does help.

Kyle McEntee:

So as part of this exchange though, you're getting paid. Can you tell us a little bit about your compensation and how that works and how you set your hourly rates, or your fees, or determine your retainer?

Jeremy Evans:

It depends on the client. There's sometimes where you can charge a flat fee and you can say, hey, I know that it's going to take me X hours to finish this trademark or this copyright and I can do it, no problem. I would almost set it in stages like we were talking about earlier, where if it's a direct transaction, you know what you're getting. It's usually a flat fee you're getting paid up front. If it's a drafting of a document, probably still doing a flat fee, maybe you're moving to an hourly. And then the last part, you're definitely doing hourly because it's so involved, and it's so comprehensive, and you're negotiating going back and forth on terms and conditions. I highly recommend doing strictly hourly. There is some attorneys who take percentages. This is more common in the entertainment space where you represent some sort of talent in like an agent, you're taking a percentage. I would just be careful of that because of the Talent Agency's at Act and that sort of thing here in California. And just being weary of acting as an agent when you're not licensed as an agent.

Kyle McEntee:

Also, I guess you can make a little bit more money when you do contingency work like that and take a cut, but also if the deal doesn't go through, you're kind of out to dry.

Jeremy Evans:

100%, right. And that's why for me, I tell you, working in collections all those years before I went to law school, it was from that that I realized that getting paid up front was so important. I've never really had a collection problem because for me it's like this is what the service costs, this is what you get paid. It's like pizza delivery, right? You don't get the pizza, eat the pizza, and then pay the guy. You pay the guy, then you get the pizza.

Kyle McEntee:

So what distinguishes you from Jerry McGuire isn't the kind of clients necessarily, but the type of work that you do for them?

Jeremy Evans:

I think that I do have agent friends that travel the country, do the recruiting, they do all that. That was not a part of my plan for two reasons. And I think this is important for people who think they want to be agents. I had worked too hard, frankly, to go around begging people to work with me and not saying that that's what goes on. But the reality of it is that when you're recruiting, you're out there basically telling people, this is what my services are and you should go with me. And it's a very cutthroat business, right? How many movies and television shows and stories have we heard about that?

And it's a hard business. I got a lot of respect for agents. But that being said, it was not a part of what I wanted to do. The second part was money and that I did not have a bank role, or family, or parents giving me money saying, Jeremy, go travel the country and recruit players. So frankly, it was a monetary thing. I just didn't have the resources to do it. So I had to adjust. I had to pivot.

Kyle McEntee:

Especially when so many people signed with the big agencies that have all this purchasing power and all this leverage that they can use to multiply their people roles, for lack of a better phrase.

Jeremy Evans:

100%. It's such a solid point, and it's something I was glad I learned and I'm glad I experienced and glad to say, Hey, I looked into it was not my thing. And I thought, you know what? I had the education, I had the credentials. I'm a smart guy. I know what I'm doing. I don't need to sell my services. If somebody calls me and says, "Can you help me?" I tell them what I can do and what I can't do. And I feel like I've gotten a long way that way of just being very honest with people, not overselling, not underselling, just saying, "This is what I can do." And I think from a very practical standpoint, I'll sometimes get companies that call me and say, "Hey Jeremy, we just need a simple trademark. Can you file a trademark for us?"

And so then you're doing the research on it, you're making sure a prior mark doesn't exist, and you're going through the branding process with them. And even helping them determine what their brand should be and what it should speak to. So it's very creative in that sense too, in addition to the legal side. So having both the business and the legal aspect is helpful. Thus, the reason why I went back to school to get the MBA.

Kyle McEntee:

So let's say you have an endorsement deal that you want to work on. What does that deal look like? And then what's your role in actually bringing about that deal?

Jeremy Evans:

There's been times where I've worked with influencers where you're literally getting into the nitty-gritty of negotiating the contract. And you're saying, okay, this is the term we want, this is the term we don't want. And you're going back and forth through redline documents. And so I think there's different stages. So I think from the trademark sense, they're very transactional, they're very creative on that side. But then you get into maybe the more middle part where it's help drafting the document, editing a document, reviewing a document, and then the third piece to that is the most comprehensive. And that's the I'm going to get in here and argue and draft certain terms and go over this until we can come to a final agreement.

Kyle McEntee:

The beginning and the end really require a different kind of skillset than that second. The second really is can you get into the weeds and red align? Do you know what provisions mean? But for the first and third, you really have to have this big picture view of how do you value your client's assets, whatever those assets are, usually they're their brand. And then how do you decide on the give and take. So can you talk a little bit about how you do that valuation and then how you weigh the pros and cons within a specific contract negotiation?

Jeremy Evans:

I think that's something where it comes back to leverage. And I will even hark back on experiences, doing things that maybe you think you might not like. All those things taught me about leverage and what was important. And so I think I would say three things. Number one is knowing what the client wants. You have to ask the client, what are you trying to get out of this? It's one of the first questions I ask people, do you want to make money? Do you want to get your brand out there? Is this your first deal? Is this your fifth deal? Is this your last deal? And all those things bring leverage, right? It's like getting producer credit on a movie or a television show. You always want to continue to get more credit, higher credit, higher title, because that makes you more marketable. Number two is finding out what the other side wants. And then number three is figuring out what leverage you have to get your points more than their points.

Kyle McEntee:

This goes to your point earlier that transactional work really can be quite combative, but ultimately, you are trying to get a deal with the other side. So you can't be too combative.

Jeremy Evans:

100%. And frankly, it only gets combative if people get upset in the sense of if they get upset that you've edited their document, or that you've changed their terms. And I think the more you do it, the more used to you get to realizing that it's just a document. You're editing a document for a client. And frankly, if you keep the bigger picture in mind... I'll give you one of the greatest experiences I had. Dave Stewart, a baseball pitcher and a friend of mine once told me.... Because we had him come out and judge one of the competitions and there was a three judge panel. And I'll use the academic exercise to demonstrate what happens in practice. And he was the only judge on the panel to vote for a certain team to win the competition. The other two did not vote for the team that we were talking about.

And the team that he voted for, and when I asked him, why did you vote for them? And I had a reason, a thought in my mind of why he did. He says, I love deal makers and I want people to make deals. I want to see people come to deals. And that's the beauty of it, is that if you keep that in mind of you're doing a great thing, you're bringing two parties together to make a deal, to make product, to make a service, to create a brand, to share information, keep that larger aspect in mind of keeping the deal alive and you're going to be okay. And I love that because to me it was like, yeah, we are deal makers and you need to be in a situation where you keep the bigger prospect of deal making. And frankly, it was the reason why I chose transactional over litigation because I didn't want to break up apart a deal. I wanted to make a deal.

Kyle McEntee:

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