Monday, June 22, 2015

The St. John's International Sports Practice LLM: Opening Doors for Gold Medal Students

Want to argue to FIFA why Canada should be awarded the 2022 World Cup on redraw?  Want to represent Rafael Nadal in Malaysian sponsorship agreements?  Want to draft Formula One insurance contracts when they renew the contract in South Africa? Want to work at the concession stand for the Blue Jays?

As we all know, there is a massive demand for international lawyers.  And there's a massive demand for sports lawyers.  But the two together?  If you join two fantasies, can you form a superfantasy?

With FIFA getting nailed recently, international sports is a hot topic.  Fresh from the laboratory of freaky LLM hybrids that would make Monsanto's most perverted researchers blush, St. John's has merged both of these fine snowflake specialties into one ass-kicking LLM:  international sports law practice.

No, I did not add a word.  They use the word "practice."  And the website makes clear that it's for real lawyers wanting a "rewarding" career:
This program is designed for attorneys with a passion for sports and a clear desire to practice in this rewarding global legal specialty.
After gushing generically about the faculty and "unique" curriculum, the LLM page makes what may seem like an empty promise:
Through this combination of engaging classroom and experiential learning, doors will open to the exciting global sports law profession and you will thoroughly prepare yourself for the challenges and rewards of a thriving career in this arena.
Here, they clearly should have gone with a more sports-like metaphor.  How about "you'll have an empty net one-timer for the Cup!" or "it's first and goal and coach is calling your number!"  If you're going to sell the passion for sports as a reason to invest in this thing, you might as well give it the full slate of Disneyesque tropes.

The remainder of the overview describes Queens as " ethnically rich and financially accessible", describes the Big East as "venerable", and states that "New York City is home to one of the most storied sports teams in history, the MLB New York Yankees and the Mets...."

Ignoring clumsy phrasing that makes me want to call this program a "fertilizer produced by the world's most diverse thoroughbreds," I want to focus a bit on the faculty.

The faculty list at the bottom of the page has thirty-eight names for this particular program.  As best I can tell, here is a guide to where they went to law school:

Foreign (Western Europe): 10
Foreign (Everywhere Else):  5
Traditional Top 14:  6
Second-Tier Private During Better Times:  9
All Other Schools:  8

Among the "other" category, there are a few genuine success stories, but most appear to be former athletes (Jeff Gerwitz, Brooklyn, was a tennis player; M. Quinten Williams, the only St. John's alum on the list, was a football player; etc.), practiced in other areas prior to moving into sports law (Jay Reisinger, Ohio Northern, did white collar defense; Don Zavelo, Kansas, was a labor law attorney; Daniel Mullin is basically an insurance defense attorney), or they are just plan accidents of history (e.g., Walter Champion, Temple, was hired two years out of law school to be what appears to be the library director at Texas Southern).

Landing a sports law position today, much less an international sports law one, is incredibly difficult without connections, a strong athletic background, and/or expertise in an area that happens to overlap with sports law.

Indeed, sports law is a fantasy field, and often has no more existence than "soft drink law" or "pickup truck law."  If you negotiate labor rights for a sports league, you are a labor law attorney with a sports-industry client.  If you defend athletes against disciplinary proceedings, you are an employment lawyer with an athlete for a client.  The basic nuts and bolts of law do not change because the client plays a game for a living.

We don't isolate non-sexy areas of the law this way.  There's no "kitchen appliance law" LLM or "international shipping logistics" LLM.  It's 2015.  We should ideally be past the point where law schools are selling bogus dreams with "rewarding" fantasy specialties and a "thriving career" representing Tom Brady.

You know who actually represents Tom Brady?  Jeffrey Kessler, a Columbia grad who's been in BigLaw since the 70s.

While this LLM may have a slight purpose for those already in the field or those with elite credentials and bottomless wallets, it's not the world it was in 1985, and for St. John's to peddle this to all comers with a "passion for sports" as a ticket to a thriving career and a hallway of open doors in international sports law is cynical and shameless.

Here's one of its own faculty members talking about the field:
Mendelez stressed that it is considerably harder to get into the business today. There is an enormous amount of competition, and as a result it is necessary for applicants to be highly qualified, experienced and specialized.
And here's Reisinger's practical advice for sports law aspirants:
The most important advice that I can give to those interested in Sports Law is to get practical legal experience in areas outside of Sports Law.
And this is before we even consider that international sports law is a very narrow subset of a narrow fantasy area.

The converse, of course, is that international sports law is also a narrow sliver of the fantasy of international law.  The odds of some third-tier snowflake ever practicing in the Hague or drafting transnational trade agreements seems low; the idea of doing it while specializing in defending footballers and working with Olympic sponsorships seems even more infinitesimal.

International sports predate many forms of international commerce and have been proceeding without a specialty LLM for well over a century in every possible permutation.  Why in the world do we, now, need a new credential, and how in the hell does anyone think it would be an advantage?  If you truly want to practice international sports law, the best thing you can do is go back in time and be born in the 1950s in Switzerland, or maybe be born as a world-class athlete in a European-friendly sport.  The 2nd-best thing you can do is go to a top law school and finagle your way into BigLaw.  The 3rd-best thing you can do is probably to hang around middle schools befriending future athletes.

But, hey, if you're a sports law aspirant or an international law aspirant or just a struggling attorney, why not go for it?   Tuition is only $55,500.00, and it's open to law school graduates foreign and domestic.


  1. In related and equally hilarious news, Fordham Law has announced the world's first Fashion Law LLM program:

    1. They already had a fashion law institute. Why not an LLM?

    2. I read about that on Above the Law and thought it was a joke. Sounds like something out of The Onion. Someone please tell me it is satire, right?

  2. Isn't it ironic that this "Office of Transnational Programs" is located at 8000 Utopia Parkway?

  3. Are people actually falling for this?

  4. Can you combine this program with Space Law and Animal Law? That will surely be a combination that will guarantee a lucrative and exciting career.

    1. could represent monkeys shot into space. could help them unionize. Might me hard to get an oath out of your monkey if the need came to litigate something.

  5. As I've pointed out before, there are no "specialties" or LLMs in insurance claims, impaired driving, divorces, wills, or other common but humdrum areas of practice. With the exception of tax law, almost all of these "special" programs highlight non-existent but sexy fields.

    Rare indeed is the lemming who sees herself handling divorces and traffic violations. Rather, lemmings tend to see themselves doing something glamorous and lucrative: "sports law", "international law", "entertainment law", "aerospace law", "global leadership". Scamsters can sell these fantasies just by playing to the lemmings' naïveté and grandiose self-images.

    Suppose that "sports law" (never mind "international sports law") were a genuine area of practice. Could there possibly be enough jobs to support numerous specialized programs? How many graduates could be expected to have "a thriving career in this arena"?

    Much the same would be true if "sports law" were changed to "fashion law", "entertainment law", "international law", or any other variation on the theme of hobnobbing with famous people for dollars.

    Meanwhile, the scamsters justify law school in part because of the alleged shortage of legal services for people with no money. So why not set up a "specialized" LLM in pro bono work? "After spending the better part of $100k on our bullshit degree, you will be well placed to embark upon a career of unpaid work."

  6. Too funny. A relative who isn't quite a dolt majored in journalism at St Johns because he was a huge fan of its basketball team and thought he could become a sports writer. He's now a tax collector. He should double down and get one of these awesome degrees.

    This is sheer hucksterism.

  7. Having taught as an adjunct in an LL.M. program, I can testify that there are two categories of students who should consider an LL.M. (other than a tax law LL.M.): (1) students who have practical experience in a field such as a law student who previously worked as a nurse and wants to get an LL.M. In health care law, and (2) students who have special talent, experience or connections and want to get a US federal government agency job but didn't have the JD grades. Government agencies usually require top 25% or an LL.M. in that field e.g., an LL.M. In environmental law for the EPA. Otherwise, regardless of what the LL.M. Is called, it's probably an LL.M. in IBR.

  8. The reasons that these programs keep cropping up is that the ABA doesn't require employment stats and US News doesn't have post-LLM employment as a score component. A savvy lemming-flavored snowflake would ask the law school for employment success stats, but chances are there are no savvy lemming-flavored snowflakes.

  9. The profusion of LLM and legal master's programs takes the law school scam into new levels of shamelessness. This is a money grab, pure and simple. Programs like this have no business existing; they are such blatant student-loan-sucking scams that anyone -- especially someone who already has a JD! -- should be able to see through them. It's kind of brilliant, in an evil way: the law schools get to pull in more loan cash form students without any impact on their U.S. News ranking. I think we will continue seeing more of these types of programs, even at elite school. See, for example, Northwestern Law School's absurd "Master of Science in Law" program. Utter nonsense,

  10. With the exception of tax LLM's at NYU or Georgetown (and even then, only for people with a demonstrated tax law focus), legal recruiters have informed me that LLM's most often harm one's employment prospects, and recruiters often advise candidates to omit or diminish the LLM on a resume. I cannot imagine the thought process behind students who enroll in these courses (save for the truly wealthy who can afford the cost and the opportunity costs).

    1. That is very interesting. I can absolutely see how the vast majority of LLM programs do nothing whatsoever to improve a person's chances of gaining employment. But I always considered them harmful only in the sense of being a huge waste of time and money. I assumed their effect on employability to be neutral -- an LLM wouldn't help you at all, but it wouldn't harm you in the job market, either. Could you say a bit more about how an LLM harms your employment prospects? I totally believe you that it does, I am just interested in understanding this issue a bit better.

    2. Not the OP, but often an LLM pigeonholes you. For example, say you get an LLM in corporate law. How will that look to family law, criminal defense, and any firm that does work outside of corporate law? Even with more snowflake specialities like animal law, it basically stamps you as being strongly interested in that field, and it makes you more of a flight risk.

    3. Animal Law! I love animals!

      And after I defend the animals, they will repay me with their affection. And nothing else.

    4. I'm 8:27. For most students the LLM is a career killer. If you were to get this LLM in international sports law, no law firm will hire you for their insurance section. An LLM shows a firm where your interests are and as was said above, oftentimes the LLM focus is too narrow for most firms to take a chance on you.

  11. I'm not sure programs like these are even designed to provide career opportunities. Much like the proliferation of MFA programs, this is just conspicuous consumption for education. I guess there are enough sports loving trust fund kids around the world for this program to work. Hopefully, they are honest about the non-existent employment opps.