As a new player in the game, sports law firm Northridge is going head to head with larger firms both on and off the pitch.
Making a racquet
In January 2018 FC Barcelona may have caused a stir in the papers with its £105 million purchase of Brazilian midfielder Philippe Coutinho, but there was one transfer story four months earlier that went under-reported: Northridge Law. In one of the largest sports law team moves ever, Northridge's four founding partners transferred from Charles Russell Speechlys in October 2017. Twelve further fee earners went offside at CRS to join the partners, as did a squad of heavyweight clients – “some of the biggest names in sport.” Two of the founding partners, Jonathan Ellis and Ian Lynam, feature in the Chambers UK league among the top sports lawyers in the country, and their team at CRS had a top-tier ranking for sports law.
The firm works with regulatory bodies for rugby, greyhound racing, horse racing and tennis as well as international agencies like the International Hockey Federation. But the football work is particularly notable: two of Northridge’s biggest clients are the FA and Chelsea FC. Tottenham fans needn't be put off by the firm’s association with the Blues – Northridge has also counseled Spurs midfielder Dele Alli as well as a handful of other Premier League players.
"Make a distinction between an interest in sports and an interest in sports law."
We wondered how trainees felt about working for such a new firm, but no one had pre-match nerves. One said: “This is an opportunity to establish ourselves as a key player in the sports sector. We can build the pitch ourselves and do big-ticket high-stakes sports work.” At the time of our interviews, there were only two trainees with the firm (first-years who were previously paralegals with the team at CRS), but by September 2018 that had grown to four.
What will it take to make the Northridge A-team? Well, “naturally most people are interested in and have done sports,” but it’ll take more than playing five-a-side at uni to cut it here. Chief operating officer Hannah Brunskill tells us that it’s important to “make a distinction between an interest in sports and an interest in sports law – be alert to current issues in that sphere and demonstrate a genuine interest in sports law.” Be aware you're signing up for a specialised training contract, but "if you know you want to do sports law, at the end of your Northridge training contract you'll be infinitely valuable to the sector."
Back of the net assets
Although this is a brand new firm with a spanking new traineeship, interviewees told us: “We’ve had very distinct seats so far with really great work.” At the time of our interviews, the trainees at the firm were doing two six-months stints with the firm – corporate/commercial and litigation/arbitration – plus a client secondment to the FA, before qualifying with time to count from previous paralegal experience. (No trainees had qualified with the firm yet at the time we completed research.) In future the firm may also offer seats in employment and/or competition plus a secondment to a Premier League football club which sources were “extremely excited about!”
Litigation and arbitration work is headed up by James Eighteen and Jonathan Ellis, who supervise the team's trainee. The pair recently acted for the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and the IAAF Ethics Board in an anti-doping case related to extortion of a Russian athlete by Russian officials. Ellis also successfully defended Chelsea in a £28 million damages claim brought by Fiorentina over the loan of player Mohamed Salah. Trainees have been working with the Independent Review of Tennis in an international panel headed by Blackstone Chambers' Adam Lewis QC undertaken after 2016 allegations of match fixing. “It’s a huge project – it’s really exciting and interesting to work on and amazing getting exposure to these important people!” an interviewee remarked. It's a trainee's job to gather evidence, take witness statements, assist with document production and “support the panel with whatever they need.”
“Endorsement deals, brand licensing and helping players negotiate deals.”
The corporate/commercial seat involves “endorsement deals, brand licensing and helping players negotiate deals.” Founding partner Ian Lynam oversees a lot of the latter, advising Dele Alli on his multimillion-pound boot deal with adidas and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on his £35 million transfer from Arsenal to Liverpool. As well as this, the group is involved in “quite a lot of work outside of sport – M&A, media and tech, launching new businesses and giving jurisdictional advice.” This includes the work founding partner Jon Walters has done with O2 Arena owner AEG Worldwide on its sponsorship agreements and ticket sales advertising. Trainees can expect to “get involved with all aspects of the work,” and spend their time drafting, going to client meetings and overseeing discrete parts of transactions.
Regulatory work, which trainees currently do across both seats above, is also a core part of Northridge’s practice. Lawyers are working with The FA on the structuring and delivery of a new professional women’s football league to replace the Women’s Super League. Trainees have been helping advise on the application process, the preparation of new licences for participating clubs, and the drafting of new competition regulations – “it’s great work because I’m very much into my football!” Trainees noted the significance of being part of the ever-growing market for women’s football: “Sport, especially football, happens to be a fairly male-dominated world at the moment. The drive for diversity is important to our clients.”
On client secondment with The FA at its Wembley HQ, trainees do both litigation and corporate work. “You’re given quite a lot of autonomy and responsibility,” we heard, including drafting the rules for an online competition and other “small projects you’re given to run by yourself.” Both current trainees have also been able to travel internationally for their work, with one going to Dubai for a multimillion commercial deal and the other travelling to Washington DC for tennis regulation panel meetings.
Join the club
Day to day, trainees can expect informal training from partners on the “very specific, specialised knowledge we have here.” Regular work feedback comes from associates, but trainees told us that seniors aren’t keeping a hawk eye on your every move. When it comes to more structured training sessions, trainees have to be “a bit more proactive” in order to find them externally. However, going to these training sessions is a simple process, we heard: “You bring the idea to a partner and they’ll sort it.” The formal end-of-seat appraisal system is “typical of what they have at bigger firms,” with supervisors and managing associates giving feedback on “what we've done, what we like to do and targets.”
"No bureaucracy required!”
According to interviewees, Northridge provides “flexibility as a result of being a smaller firm – they’re trying to push work/life balance as much as possible.” Unusually, working from home is “encouraged from the start” even for trainees, and lawyers are given a laptop to work from instead of a fixed work station. One perk of laptop-based work is that “you can just pick it up and go to a quieter area of the office to work if you want.” Trainees told us that the office near Tottenham Court Road is “a really nice space – it’s open-plan and everyone really enjoys that. It’s got lots of cool breakout areas... though it’s not quite Google!”
All this may be conjuring up the image of a bunch of lawyers walking around the office in casual clothes, or maybe even tennis whites – but think again. “We all wear business dress in the office, not tracksuits!” one trainee told us. “We do have dress-down Fridays though.” But even the dress code isn’t “set in stone” – a slot in the fortnightly breakfast meetings is set aside for people to “propose ideas about culture, like dress code, gym memberships, office yoga or social events.” Trainees liked the fact that due to the firm’s size and age, “the culture is open to being shaped by everyone. We’re enjoying the freedom to instil a culture that’s new and progressive.” Interviewees told us the managing partners are “very forward-thinking and open to new business ideas. If you put forward something beneficial to the firm, they can immediately take it on board. No bureaucracy required!”
“For anyone looking for that combination of sports law and a start-up mentality, this is the perfect place.”
How to get a Northridge training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2019): 31 January 2019
Training contract deadline (2021): 31 July 2019
Northridge's current trainees came over from Charles Russell Speechlys with the firm’s four founding partners when Northridge was born. They were paralegals before joining, but COO Hannah Brunskill tells us: “We certainly wouldn’t expect everyone to come from a paralegal background.” She says that what candidates must have is “very strong academics” – trainees described the educational backgrounds of Northridge lawyers as there being “a few Oxbridge people knocking around, but also a real range of universities.”
Brunskill tells us applicants need a “proven interest in the sector” – the sports sector that is. This doesn’t just mean being fond of a Wednesday evening five-a-side – potential trainees should be alert to current trends and “speak intelligently about sports law issues.” Trainees added that an interest in “watching or participating” in sports won’t go amiss, however, as “it’s beneficial because it allows you to connect with the clients.” One of the current trainees, for instance, is a striker with Crowborough Athletic FC.
Budding sports lawyers can send in training contract applications here – the deadline for traineeships starting in 2021 is 31 July 2019. Applicants who make it through the initial sift can expect to attend an interview, which will include a case study or written exercise. Following that, there’ll be an assessment day with group exercises. The firm is also running a vac scheme for the first time in 2019.
Northridge will offer successful applicants both GDL and LPC funding, plus a maintenance grant. On top of their salaries, trainees also participate in an annual hours-linked bonus scheme plus a bonus scheme linked to the firm’s profits. The firm told us the total bonus could exceed 25% of annual salary.
Interview with chief operating officer Hannah Brunskill
Chambers Student: Besides its sports specialism, what opportunities does Northridge offer?
Hannah Brunskill: It’s a unique offering because you get a chance to be involved in a small firm, but the quality of work is not limited in any way. It’s a relatively intimate team where you can have quite a lot of input as a trainee and help shape the firm.
CS: What types of experiences impress you when you see them on an application form? Does an applicant have to be mega sporty?
HB: We’re definitely looking for strong academics and a proven interest in the sector. We don’t have particular boxes that need to be ticked in that respect – further studies, work experience or being able to speak intelligently about sports law issues are all good. It’s important to make a distinction between an interest in sport and an interest in sports law – be alert to current issues in the sports law sphere and demonstrate a genuine interest in them.
CS: Sports is a male-dominated field. Are there any diversity provisions in place to ensure you’re attracting top female talent too?
HB: We have a number of female associates and have recently hired a female trainee. The balance is different to the original team already. Fundamentally we recruit the best people we can find. In this industry there are certain types of people who apply more than others, but we’ve already got a good mix of diverse applicants and we will hire the best person for the job – regardless of gender. We are mindful of the balance of the team and want it to be as diverse as possible. Diversity is central to our recruitment strategy; it’s something we’re very alert to.
CS: What does trainee life look like for new starters at Northridge?
HB: It’s a firm where we’re very much a team – we all know each other very well, and we’re welcoming to new people, especially trainees. People give them as much responsibility as they want – you won't be given rubbish work just because you’re a trainee. You're treated as a proper member of the team basically, and that’s reflected in the fact trainees share in the firm’s profit pool. There are also opportunities for a trainee to shape the firm and play a significant role in many different aspects of the culture.
Northridge Law LLP
The Bloomsbury Building,
10 Bloomsbury Way,
- Partners: 4
- Associates: 10
- Total trainees: 4
- UK offices: London
- Graduate recruitment: [email protected]
- Training partner: Jonathan Ellis, [email protected], 020 3957 8800
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 1-2
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 October 2018
- Training contract deadline (2019, 2020, 2021): 31 July 2019
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 October 2018
- Vacation scheme 2019 deadline: 31 January 2019
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £38,000*
- Post-qualification salary: £65,000*
- * plus discretionary performance related bonus; firm-wide profit share estimated to be at least 25% of salary
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant: Yes
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: London
- Client secondments: We undertake regular secondments to the FA and Premier League football club. Other secondments to further high-profile clients are possible.
Having previously grown a top tier sports practice, our founding partners were ideally placed to position themselves at the forefront of the market. The firm launched with 16 fee earners and an enviable client list (including The Football Association, leading Premier League football clubs, the Welsh Rugby Union, Premiership Rugby and sports stars such as Thierry Henry and Cesc Fabregas).
But we are not just about sport. Our skills and approach allow us to advise when the stakes are highest, regardless of the industry.
The success of this strategic vision is already evident: having retained our existing clients we quickly attracted major new clients — marking the firm out in only a few short months as a leader in its field.
Main areas of work
We are also market leaders in the governance and regulation of sport. Our team has unique depth of experience and is trusted by clients to advise and support them on the most sensitive and high-profile issues.
We provide the full range of corporate and commercial advice. Our abilities as ‘deal-makers’ in sport are widely recognised and we also have a wealth of experience in technology, media, retail and beyond.
Benefits include private medical care, permanent health insurance, life assurance, pension, market leading enhanced maternity pay, season ticket loan and 25 days’ holiday (changing to unlimited holiday on qualification).