From the training ground to the world stage, sports law boutique Northridge is certainly one to watch.
A game of two halves
If debut seasons are a barometer of what’s to come, then Northridge Law seems to be poised for quite an illustrious career. In autumn 2017, the firm’s four founders left Charles Russell Speechlys and sought to refine their specialities by setting up a sports law boutique. Now, after a solid start, the firm appears to have fully found its feet. Ian Lynam – one of the founding partners – tells us: “We started with 15 fee earners and now have 28. There’s been strong growth, and we've become the largest sports law practice in Europe.” Looking forward, Lynam predicts a more measured path: "We will look to align our growth in a strategic way against our sector strengths and areas of opportunity.” Alongside top-tier rankings from Chambers UK for Lynam and fellow founding partner Jonathan Ellis, the firm as a whole also scooped a Chambers UK ranking for sports law for the first time in 2018.
“We’re trying to do things differently, almost like a start-up.”
The firm's been running at a blistering pace over the past two years, and for trainees the buzz and optimism is still palpable. “We’re trying to do things differently,” one reflected, “almost like a start-up.” In part, the new office in Farringdon is “a complete game changer,” but sports law is also an area of law which requires innovation and work that “might not have been done before, so you have to think originally.” Coupled with this the roll-out of Northridge Track – a network for tech companies wanting access to the sports industry – points to the pioneering outlook of the firm, and indicates its ambition to “tap into the future of the sports industry.”
The firm’s current clientele continues to speak for itself. While the powerhouses of The FA, Chelsea FC and Welsh Rugby Union remain on the books, several new sporting names have recently flocked to the firm. Lawyers recently helped Italian footballing giant AC Milan overturn its UEFA ban; advised French legend Thierry Henry on his managerial appointment to AS Monaco; and advised Puma on its partnership with Lewis Hamilton. While the calibre of Northridge's sporting clients is enough to get any sports fan salivating, pursuing a training contract here purely on the pretence of a sporting interest is both naive and ill advised. One trainee pointed out: “It’s not really good enough to say I’m an Arsenal fan and went to law school; the reality is we all have an interest in sports, but the main thing that's important here is an interest in the sports law industry.”
Game, set and…
Not only matching expectations, but surpassing them, the infancy and flexibility of the firm’s training contract resonated with our sources. One interviewee weighed things up: “You may lose the structure and rigidity of a big firm here, but there’s a fluidity and opportunity for your voice to be heard. The partners are incredibly open to that and want a sense of initiative to continue to be a salient commodity here.” A general structure to the training contract has emerged though: it's “essentially split” between six months in both a contentious and non-contentious seat, plus secondments of varying lengths.
On the non-contentious side – made up of corporate, commercial and employment work – trainees encounter “a right mix of work.” Be it working on endorsement contracts, sponsorship deals, licensing agreements or image rights assignments, rookies get lots of responsibility thanks to the small size of the team. “The team members are really good at giving initial instructions then allowing you to have a go at it,” one source shared. “I did first drafts of contracts and non-disclosure agreements, and I could immediately see how I'd done with robust feedback.” Trainees also deal with clients directly, whether they are professional athletes, teams or sponsors wanting something “that’s not been done before.” An ability to think on your feet is both encouraged and celebrated – “we’re drafting bespoke clauses as the ideas might be new and unique.” For example, lawyers recently helped the British Horseracing Authority write a completely new rule book as it decided its current 1,000-page tome was too long and unclear. The launch of Northridge Track has also required a focus on dealing with sports tech firms needing “quite a lot of fund-raising and ongoing corporate support.” The firm has recently been working with STATSports, which makes GPS trackers for players, including advising on distribution deals in the US and China.
“We’re drafting bespoke clauses as the ideas might be new and unique.”
Over in the contentious seat, trainees see a range of litigation and arbitration sporting and entertainment matters, as well as “regulatory work for sports governing bodies.” The client base is all of “high importance and high calibre… sometimes I have to pinch myself!” For example, lawyers recently defended The FA against appeals brought by Sunderland, Southampton and Blackburn over the licensing process for the Women's Super League. Also on the tip of each trainee’s tongue was the firm's involvement in the Independent Review of Integrity in Tennis. Dubbed “a bit of a beast” by one source, this involved the team acting as secretariat to a review panel looking at integrity issues in the game globally. One source described the tasks involved: “We did everything from doc review to drafting some of the report to acquiring evidence and taking witness statements. At one point, I had most oversight of all the documents because I’d worked on so much of it.” Looking forward, the addition of “two leading gambling lawyers” will allow for further differentiation within the seat, as “gambling regulatory work has a huge crossover with the integrity side.”
Secondments are a crucial aspect of life at Northridge. “For the trainees,” Ian Lynam explains, “it’s a great experience to see how the client operates and see the world from the other side of the net.” Though it’s not only Lynam who speaks highly of the process. One trainee found there are “enormous tangible benefits to secondments; it’s one of the best things about the contract here.” Whether at The FA or a leading Premier League football club, “you’re exposed to every single part of the business doing things that you wouldn’t normally be able to do.”
New dog, new tricks
One trainee reflected on the firm's origins and development: “The founders came from a well-established firm, and they could have continued to do things as they were done there, but they’ve taken their own route.” So, what’s Northridge up to then? “The founders have taken a commercial approach to running a law firm,” one source said. “We're not only about providing legal advice but also look at how we can be more innovative and move away from tradition, for instance through our profit-sharing system.” This system, which sees 20% of profits go to non-partners, is emblematic of the blended hierarchy the firm’s sought to establish. Naturally titles are titles, but for our sources not only does “everyone know everyone” due to the firm’s size, but “if you can demonstrate your ability then your job title doesn’t really matter – you’re given responsibility based on what you can do.” In this environment factors like commercial business acumen really help trainees establish themselves and earn a seat at the table.
“Everyone knows everyone.”
Speaking of tables, the kitchen in the firm’s new office allows for a far greater degree of socialising than before, with the last Friday of every month seeing the firm routinely congregate for drinks. Beyond such official events, “someone will often suggest a quick beer after work.” Alcohol-free social events were also reported, including a trip to the theatre to see Hamilton, an escape room, and a visit to Lord’s to watch the cricket with clients.
Hours-wise, things tend to be pretty standard for a team competing with “conventional City firms,” which means 9am to 8pm is pretty usual. “At best, you might be out by about 6.30pm,” but at times “it will be tough and occasionally you're working into the early hours.” Rest assured though, it's not always a question of “relentlessly long hours,” and even when it is, “the work here is so interesting, I’m happy to stay.”
The first two trainees completed a full training contract at Northridge in June 2019 with both qualifiers staying on.
Get Hired at Northridge Law
The Northridge vacation scheme will run for one week and offer participants an unparalleled insight into life and work at Northridge. The week will involve hands-on work experience and various social activities allowing applicants to immerse themselves fully into the firm’s way of life and ultimately feel like part of the Northridge team. The week will include a number of assessments, with the successful applicants being offered a training contract starting in 2022. The scheme is therefore aimed at penultimate-year law students, final year non-law students, and graduates.
Applicants for the Northridge vacation scheme must demonstrate a proven and genuine interest in sports law, which includes being alert to current trends and able to speak informatively about sports law issues. We welcome applications from students from all degree disciplines, but you must have achieved, or be expected to achieve, a 2:1 or above at degree level (or equivalent). We also look for a minimum of ABB at A Level (or equivalent).
Shortlisted applicants will be invited to participate in an assessment process, including a written exercise and an interview with the team at Northridge’s offices in London, before being offered a space on the summer vacation scheme.
Northridge will not be running an application process outside of the vacation scheme so if you are passionate about joining Northridge, we encourage you to apply for our summer vacation scheme.
Northridge will offer successful applicants both GDL and LPC funding as well as 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 total bonus could exceed 25% of annual salary.
Budding sports lawyers can apply for our 2020 summer vacation scheme here. The deadline to apply is 31 January 2020.
Northridge Law LLP
90 Bartholomew Close,
- Partners: 5
- Associates: 17
- Total trainees: 3
- UK offices: London
- Graduate recruitment: [email protected]
- Training partner: Jonathan Ellis, [email protected], 020 3957 8800
- Dates and deadlines
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1st October 2019
- Vacation scheme 2020 deadline: 31st January 2020
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £38,000*
- Post-qualification salary: £65,000*
- * plus an uncapped profit share (approximate 20% of salary) and an uncapped discretionary performance-related bonus
- 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).
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019
- Sport (Band 1)