The only firm in Europe focused wholly on sports disputes, MSL is in a league of its own.
Let's get ready to rumble!
Justin Timberlake. Cheryl Cole. The Minions from Despicable Me. These stars and many others have proved that going solo can take your career to the next level. Mike Morgan certainly thought so when he departed Squire Sanders (now Squire Patton Boggs) in 2013 to form “the only firm in Europe that focuses exclusively on sports-related disputes.” Morgan tells us “the plan is to become the go-to sports dispute resolution firm in the world. Whether a dispute involves a basketball player in China, a track athlete in Trinidad and Tobago or a football club in Saudi Arabia, we'd want to be the first port of call.” Newcomers who wanted to focus fully on sports law thought “the firm's focus sounded bang on point. There's a much more personal side to acting for the athletes, and it's very different to working for a massive corporate firm with no identity.”
“Everyone who's successful at sports law is first and foremost a good lawyer.”
With only 11 lawyers on the books as we go to press, Morgan Sports Law is the smallest firm covered in Chambers Student, but it might not be for long. It's already on Chambers UK's radar and is looking to expand its practice while keeping the focus on sport. Insiders felt “it's an exciting firm to be at because expansion is on the cards. We're headed up by very experienced people and the firm is doing incredibly well.” Morgan himself confirms "the immediate next objective is opening up offices overseas. The most obvious location is Switzerland because that's where the Court of Arbitration for Sport and a lot of international sports federations are based.” The firm is also looking to expand by regularly taking on trainees.
It's not enough to have sung 'It's Coming Home' during the World Cup – aspiring trainees need to have a genuine interest in the 'law' within sports law. “Everyone who's successful at sports law is first and foremost a good lawyer,” sources declared. That doesn't mean newcomers need experience in sports law per se, just that they're keen to learn. A science background will also serve you well as the firm's “quickly expanded into very science-focused areas,” but again it isn't essential. “One of the great things about MSL is the diversity of people, you've just got to be enthusiastic and ambitious.”
Morgan Sports Law only introduced its training contract in 2017 so the structure is still somewhat under construction, but we cut through the scaffolding and yellow tape to get some details. Up to now there hasn't been a seat system but Morgan reveals “that may well change in future. As we expand we'll need to establish more distinct divisions within the firm, which could lead to standalone sports litigation, arbitration, equine and football disputes seats.” Trainees will also complete a secondment with a client or other firm to fulfil SRA qualification requirements. “We have connections with other firms that do non-litigation commercial sports law,” sources explained.
Not all fun and games
The biggest chunk of MSL's practice is representing sports stars from across the world accused of doping offences. Past clients include tennis legend Maria Sharapova, Afghan cricketer Mohammad Shahzad and boxer brothers Tyson and Hughie Fury; most recently the firm successfully represented cyclist Chris Froome in a doping investigation by the Union Cycliste Internationale. “We'll look into the background of the situation and check that the lab involved has followed proper procedure,” Morgan insiders explained. This area of law isn't tied to particular jurisdictions and “anti-doping authorities are effectively borderless. A fair amount of the clients aren't based in the UK, it's been an interesting challenge collaborating with athletic trainers in sub-Saharan Africa to collect evidence.”
“It's been an interesting challenge collaborating with athletic trainers in sub-Saharan Africa.”
It's not all lab coats and urine samples – other aspects of the firm's practice include corruption, fraud, eligibility (concerning whether athletes fit the conditions to join a team) and defamation disputes. The common thread through everything is representing sports people in litigation, so there can be no conflicts of interest between clients. High-profile cases come with perks like “getting to see what we're doing featured on TV news, which is surreal. It's really interesting to see how often they get things not quite right.” There's also a unique kind of professionalism required of trainees, who “have to remember these elite athletes are humans like any other” and think of them as a client first and foremost. Nobody should come into a Morgan training contract expecting to meet their sporting hero; “trainees aren't in contact with top stars every day. We do, however, attend client meetings and calls and have some responsibility over client care.” Don't forget your passport: overseas travel is guaranteed, most often to Switzerland's Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Other trainee responsibilities include drafting documents like non-disclosure agreements and letters to sports authorities. There's also a fair amount of research: “I've spent a lot of time perusing websites. Sometimes I'll be researching the effects a particular substance might have and then formulating arguments based on the findings.” Trainees also summarised scientific findings in layman's terms; got “good hands-on experience preparing for and attending hearings - you're not considered too junior to go;” and while the firm “tries to be paperless as much as possible,” bundling is inescapable. Our sources concluded that “no two days are the same. As a trainee it's your responsibility to be on top of things.” 'Responsibility' came up again and again in our interviews: "I sort of expected to get a lot because it's such a small firm, but it's more than I hoped for. I've had to pinch myself about some of the things I've worked on.” Some of the premier league experiences included drafting witness statements at the very start of the training contract and taking full responsibility for documents; trainees also got opportunities for business development.
The specialist nature of MSL's work means “a lot of time is dedicated to explaining what you're doing and the big picture of why you're doing it.” Interviewees praised the firm for “not making it a need-to-know basis; I understand the whole case and senior members have been really good at getting me up to speed.” Formal training is rare because “nobody's really offering it for this area of law,” but sources felt confident enough in the education they received from senior lawyers. “It's got to the point that I'm suggesting methods of best practice to others,” one trainee boasted.
The only suits are lawsuits
9am to 6.30pm are the firm's set working hours, and trainees stuck to them surprisingly often. “There have been busier periods and I've stayed later but that’s very rare,” one said. “Litigation always comes with peaks and troughs so things can get busier.” How high the peaks got varied from “not leaving later than 9pm” to “some evening and weekend work.” One common piece of feedback was that “if you're not needed you're not expected to just sit there doing nothing, there's no face-time culture at all.”
“I'm sat in shorts, flip-flops and a t-shirt.”
There's no hiding from senior management here: one trainee “sat opposite Mike Morgan in the office, learning from him day to day.” MSL's lawyers divide their time between offices in London and Oxted, Surrey. The latter is “open plan-ish, whereas London has shared rooms. The benefit is we can always bounce ideas off each other.” You won't be surprised to learn “neither office is massive,” and sources dubbed both “very relaxed places to work. There's a really creative culture of friendliness and inclusion.” They suggested the environment is “very much one you'd expect of a young, smaller firm: very dynamic and incredibly diverse.” Rubbing in just how relaxed things can be, a source answered our call “sat in shorts, t-shirt and flip-flops.” We're sure that trainees do have to break out a tie every so often, though, and coming to work in a full Arsenal kit is probably discouraged.
The “very sociable atmosphere in the office” extends outside it too: when not defending sportspeople, you can find the MSL team emulating them on the pitch or court as “the firm does a lot of sports marketing, going out to play cricket and tennis.” Socialising doesn't always involve ball games – interviewees enjoyed visits to the local pub for lunch, “relatively regular” closing dinners, Christmas and summer parties. The latter comes complete with games and a hog roast.
Since 2016 MSL has been an Alternative Business Structure, meaning non-lawyers can have a financial stake in the firm.
Interview with managing partner Mike Morgan
Chambers Student: Could you outline the work that Morgan Sports Law does?
Mike Morgan: Our firm focuses solely on disputes within the sports industry, but this can mean anything from litigation to arbitration, mediation or other forms of dispute resolution. This sets us apart from other sports law firms who either do only non-contentious work or a bit of both.
CS: What unique challenges does the firm's niche of sports law present?
MM: On the one hand, our market is much smaller than general commercial litigation, but on the other, we're the only firm in Europe that focuses exclusively on sports-related disputes. The idea is very much for us to become the go-to firm in the world for any kind of sports-related dispute, particularly if it is a case to be heard by the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland.
CS: So what else should our readers know about what the firm wants to achieve going forward?
MM: Our immediate next objective is opening up offices overseas. The most obvious location is Switzerland because that's where the Court of Arbitration for Sport and a lot of international sports federations are based.
CS: What are the biggest differences between working as a boutique and as part of a larger firm?
MM: In many ways working for a boutique can be like working for the dispute resolution department of a larger firm, but the difference is that sports is the only thing we do. The work we do is therefore highly specialised.
In addition, as a boutique firm, our lawyers will have greater responsibility earlier on in their careers and greater opportunity for client contact than in a large firm.
CS: What are the plans for the training contract at the firm? What will the structure of it be and what will it offer to trainees?
MM: We currently don't have a firmly established seat system and our current trainee has effectively done one seat covering different areas of work all at the same time. In future that is likely to change because as we expand we'll need to establish more distinct divisions within the firm, which could lead to, for example, standalone sports litigation, arbitration, equine and football disputes seats.
CS: What kind of person would fit in at the firm, what are you looking for in a candidate?
MM: It goes without saying they need a genuine interest in sport.
Beyond that, trainees need to be bright and hard-working: it would be a mistake to assume we don't occasionally have to put in long hours like lawyers at City firms; at the end of the day we're working in disputes. The most unusual aspect to sports disputes is we'll often have very little time to resolve issues relating to a major event, as they often seem to arise not long before the start of the event. In those circumstances you're not able to request an extension, the Olympics won't move for you, so trying to resolve a dispute in the lead-up to a major event can get quite intense.
Finally, because we’re a boutique firm, we need to make sure that everyone gets on. That being the case, we look for people that we think will fit in and will work well as a part of a team.
CS: Do you have any advice for our readers who are interested in sports law?
MM: We're not aiming to recruit sports lawyers, we're looking for candidates with the potential to become great lawyers period. Needless to say, our recruits also need to have an interest in sports, because otherwise there'd be no sense in working here.
CS: Is there anything else we haven't already talked about that our readers should know about the firm?
MM: If you're trying to picture exactly where the firm is heading, the goal is for us to become the go-to sports dispute resolution firm in the world. Whether a dispute involves a basketball player in China, a track athlete in Trinidad and Tobago or a football club in Saudi Arabia, we'd want to be the first port of call.
On that note, I should mention that there's a lot of travel involved in what we do because most of our clients are based overseas. Most hearings are held in Switzerland so there are regular trips there. It is fair to say whoever joins us should be ready and willing to do some travelling!
Becoming a sports lawyer
Morgan Sports Law
3 More London Riverside,
- Partners 3
- Associates 8
- Total trainees 1
- UK offices London
- Zohra Furtado, operations and HR manager, [email protected]
- Mike Morgan, training partner, [email protected]
- Application criteria
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum A levels: AAB
- Dates and deadlines
- Year-round rolling recruitment programme for paralegals and trainees
- Salary and benefits
- Annual discretionary bonus
- GDL/LPC fees and maintenance payment
- First-year salary: undisclosed
- Post-qualification salary: undisclosed
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days pa
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
Main areas of work
Services: Anti-doping; disciplinary proceedings; arbitration; litigation; equestrian services; investigations; and reputation protection
During your period of training at Morgan Sports Law, you will gain unparalleled experience with the opportunity to work on high-profile cases often involving the biggest stars in sport.
While the focus of your training will be on litigation and arbitration, you will also be guaranteed to complete a secondment to fulfil all of your training requirements.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
- Sport Recognised Practitioner