If the 73-degree heat outside was not enough of a reason to be in Miami during February, the University of Miami Entertainment and Sports Law Society (SELS) was hosting its 12th Annual Symposium.
On February 21, I was fortunate enough to be in the great state of Florida and attend the Symposium. The list of speakers included some of the biggest and best names in the entertainment and sports industries. The keynote speaker was David Cornwell of DNK Cornwell, LLC. Mr. Cornwell is one of the premier lawyers for professional athletes. He was one of the four finalists selected by the NFLPA's Executive Committee to replace the late Gene Upshaw as the Executive Director of the NFLPA. Mr. Cornwell has represented professional athletes such as Reggie Bush, Gilbert Arenas, Michael Beasley, Ricky Williams, and Darren McFadden. He has also served as ESPN’s legal analyst during the Michael Vick dog fighting case and the MLB’s steroid investigation. The rest of the list featured Alan Fertel, Donald Jackson, Darryl Cohen, John Bradley, Robert Ruxin, Dennis Curran, Vered Yakovee, Michel Vega, Simran Singh, and David Bercuson, to name a few.
The symposium was divided up into five 1-hour discussions, with a keynote speaker directly after lunch. Each session featured a moderator who would ask the distinguished panelists questions on a designated topic. The panelists did not hold back and told listeners exactly what they would do, without sugar coating anything. The University of Miami SELS that was hosting the event was very timely with the sessions; however, they did permit some speakers to continue educating the crowd for longer than the allotted amount of time. I was glad that they did not cut them off and that they let these professionals continue to speak.
The topics of each discussion were different, but all pertained to topics in entertainment and sports law. I attended the following panels: Troubleshooting the Celebrity Client, Entertainment 2.0, When the Going Gets Rough, The Rough Go on Tour, The Evolving Role of Agents in Team Sports, and Ethical Dilemmas in Entertainment and Sports Law and Collective Bargaining in the NFL. All of the panels were insightful and very interesting, but I enjoyed Troubleshooting the Celebrity Client, The Evolving Role of Agents, and Entertainment 2.0 the most.
The personalities of Alen Fertel, Darryl Cohen, and John Bradley were enough to keep anyone interested in what they had to say, but when the topic is Troubleshooting The Celebrity Client it is even easier. Although it was early in the morning, the three high-priced lawyers told stories about their craziest encounters with celebrity clients and their encounters with the law. The panel discussed stories regarding Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopes and O.J. Mayo, to the more recent debacles of Plaxico Burress, Charles Barkley, and A-Rod. According to the experts, the most important thing for those celebrities to do was to apologize and then hush and let their attorneys fix the rest. Image control is a huge responsibility for agents and representatives. Each particular client has their own “Brand” that must be manicured and kept in check by responding to the media and allegations accordingly. The Internet has made it easier for individuals to disseminate information regarding celebrities, which in turn has made the job for attorneys and representatives a lot harder.
Another one of the discussions that I enjoyed was titled, Entertainment 2.0: Revenge of the Nerds: Cutting Edge Legal Issues in Digital Media. The panel included Steven Kozlowski, Ernesto Luciano, Yvonne Imbert, Jose Sariego and Ivan Parron. Mr. Kozlowski was the moderator and did a great job of introducing new questions into the mix. The panel was one of the larger panels of the day and had a good variety with respect to the age of the panelists. The debate between “New Media” and “Old Media” was always at the heart of all issues and was discussed at length in the beginning of the lecture. The entire panel agreed that something has to be done about piracy in order for old media to survive. The trend is moving toward using digital media for almost everything. No televisions anymore. Computers of varying sizes, iPods, and viral videos will soon dominate the market. The panel also touched on privacy issues with respect to facebook and other social networking sites.
One of my favorite panels was a later discussion regarding Show Me The Money: The Evolving Roles of Agents In Team Sports. The moderator was Princeton Alumni and Harvard Law honors graduate Robert Ruxin, author of An Athlete's Guide to Agents. Panelists included Donald Jackson, Nicholas Christian, and Dennis Curran. This dialogue started off with Mr. Ruxin showing a power point presentation outlining the topics that the panelists would address and some recent trends in sports law. Many of the key issues were hit, but the most interesting part of the discussion was a debate between Dennis Curran, Vice/President General Counsel of the NFL Management Counsel, and the keynote speaker, Mr. David Cornwell, who had just lectured on the NFL and its terms regarding the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).
The two had very different opinions regarding the NFL’s strict steroid policy and the poor way the league handles sanctioning its athletes. The two are great friends and were chatting all lunch, but when they are dealing with their clients, the gloves come off and anything goes. As Mr. Fertel commented earlier in the symposium, you are not only dealing with your clients' lives, but also the lives of their wives, children, families, and all the friends and others that they support.
The Symposium was a great experience that I would love to encounter again. The discussions were very informative and covered a broad range of topics. With only a twenty-dollar registration fee, I certainly feel like I got my money’s worth and a lot more. The Symposium was a great place to learn about the most current legal topics in entertainment and sports law and meet some talented lawyers in the process. The individual face time and networking that this conference and others afford law students is a great opportunity that no student should pass up.
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