Europe’s largest sports boutique law firm remains in a league of its own.
If full-service law firms are like decathletes, with an all-rounder approach but with the occasional dodgy shot-put, boutique firms resemble 100-metre sprinters – they do one thing, and they do it very well. The squad at Northridge focuses squarely on sport and the varied legal challenges is poses. The firm was founded in 2017 by four departing partners from Charles Russell Speechlys, and it hasn’t taken long for Northridge to pull ahead of the pack: Chambers UKranks it as one of only two firms in the top tier for sports law nationwide.
Within this 25-a-side team, Northridge hires just two or three trainees each year. “The size of the firm creates greater opportunity for trainees to make an impact,”our sources told us. “Trainees are relied upon to perform key tasks – and we’ve now got a body of work under the Northridge banner that we can point to and demonstrate what we’re capable of.”Clients like the Football Association, Chelsea FC, Premiership Rugby and the British Horseracing Authority are among the prestigious names on the books. “Undoubtedly the biggest draw of the firm is the calibre of clients,”trainees said. “Across all areas of the practice, we see household names.”That doesn’t mean Northridge has settled for its current league table position: “The firm has kept up its push for innovation and momentum, which you might not get at a more established firm. There’s a constant appetite to be as forward-thinking as we possibly can.”In one example, the firm established a gambling and betting practice in 2019 with the introduction of partner Melanie Ellis.
“…we’ve now got a body of work under the Northridge banner that we can point to and demonstrate what we’re capable of.”
Trainees spend roughly six months at a time in contentious and non-contentious teams, and “everyone does a secondment”of some length. “There’s some flexibility between the disputes and non-contentious sides,”a source said; bottom line, this is a less rigid training contract than most. The relaxed approach has pros and cons: trainees might get more say over their workload but lack the certainty of a “well-trodden path”as at bigger firms, and boutiques come with fewer options by default. “Where I go depends on client needs and where the work is in the firm – I could be seconded next year, but it’s up in the air,”a source explained.
Contentious work at Northridge includes litigation, sports arbitration, disciplinary processes, rights of appeal(“always involving the Court of Arbitration for Sport”) and regulatory issues “before big governing bodies, acting as secretariat for barristers running reports.”The firm recently represented Premiership Rugby in “landmark proceedings”brought against Saracens Club for breaches of salary regulations; and Chelsea FC, successfully reducing a two-window transfer ban to one after a case of transfer of minors was referred to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. “Because of the team’s size, you’re very much a part of things once you’re staffed on a project,”sources suggested. “Inevitable”trainee tasks like drafting emails and document review are present here, but sources warned/boasted that “you’ll be exposed to work that’s normally set aside for an associate.”Drafting witness statements, letters, or text for an independent report; project case management; “communicating with clients without having to be filtered”;or “niche and often fairly original”research tasks are a few examples. “We’re often dealing with issues that haven’t been considered in a sports context before,”a source explained. “The jurisprudence is quite young in sport, so you’re coming up with potentially ground-breaking solutions and finding precedent.”
On the non-contentiousside, trainees can juggle M&A, investments, and corporate and sporting governance. Northridge has recently got to grips with the growing trend of transfer receivables, a process whereby football clubs pay in instalments for the transfer of a player “with banks getting involved to loan the money to clubs up front.” The firm advised Deutsche Bank on the launch and establishment of its football receivable financing practice in 2019; depending on the transaction, the firm might advise the lender or club. “A steady stream” of commercial deals includes contracts, talent endorsement deals and sponsorship agreements, Northridge again acting on both sides in different deals. The firm advised Betway during negotiations of its multimillion-pound title sponsorship renewal for West Ham Football Club. Trainees were quick to “take on some of the drafting and substantive work” alongside the basics including contract review. “You might be dealing with a footballer and engaging with a brand in a talent endorsement deal, so you draft the contract and liaise with brand teams or the player’s agents.”
“The jurisprudence is quite young in sport, so you’re finding precedent.”
“We’re at the forefront of exciting and niche areas, with lots of exciting corporate work with startups,” trainees told us. They also enjoyed international travel as “lots of disputes are heard in Switzerland,” and the firm has advised clients on prep for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. Northridge aims to continue running client secondments for trainees, which are usually UK-based but in the past have occasionally been situated abroad.“If you get the opportunity for a secondment, its rarely a bad thing,” one source said. “You get input into where you’re placed, but it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to question any you end up with because they’re so valuable.” Common destinations include the FA, prominent Premier League football clubs, or entertainment agencies like CSM Sports and Entertainment.
Though the firm has expanded its practice since it began, “Northridge has demonstrated a willingness to maintain the initial culture,” according to our sources. “You’re not at a major law firm where you’re invisible; there’s still a sense of excitement knowing that we’re all in something quite unique together.” It’s easier to get to know your colleagues when “you can fit everyone round a dinner table. The firm’s size allows for connection between everyone, and there’s a real understanding that even as a junior you may have good knowledge in a particular area.” One of the benefits of growth, though, is that “the social life has become a bit more structured. More thought is put into running events, though there’s still that culture of people informally going for a beer on Friday.” Interviewees sang their hearts out at karaoke, got festive at seasonal parties and pooled their wits for a Sherlock Holmes escape room.
“There’s still a sense of excitement knowing that we’re all in something quite unique together.”
In 2019 the firm rolled out its Northridge Track scheme, partnering with early growth stage companies “with an interest in the sports and entertainment markets, and the application of technology within them.” The purpose of the scheme is to assist with fund-raising activities in this space and to help create new business relationships. Trainees reckoned this exemplifies the “firm’s approach and strategy, it shows we’re operating commercially as well as legally.” Another addition was the appointment of Tessa Hollingsworth as the firm’s first legal director: “She’s really interested in training and takes a big interest in trainee development. Lawyers here are so busy, but now there’s someone pushing you to develop yourself.” Trainees generally felt “well supported throughout” their training contract.
“There are times when hours are softer and times when you’ll be in late,” we heard. “It’s fairly in keeping with conventional City firms.” Interviewees reported more “peaks and troughs” in contentious practices: 9.30am to 7pm is an “ordinary” day when the tide is steady, but more intense waves call for “a couple of weeks working beyond midnight each night as well as the occasional weekend.” The non-contentious side is “more predictable,” and trainees said it’s “rare to be working super late nights or into the morning.” As well as healthy starting salaries (£38,000 for first years and £40,000 for second years), the firm’s profit-sharing bonus helps sweeten the deal: “It helps you to see this as your business to an extent, and makes you feel invested beyond how a normal trainee might.” The bonus is tied to how the firm performs overall, so the idea behind it is to encourage everyone to contribute to Northridge's success and reap the rewards of that success.The firm isn’t as obviously forward-thinking on diversity: “At the moment, there is an over-representation of men,”as in much of the sport world. “We’ve still got work to do and it’s something the firm is continuing to address,”sources agreed.They pointed to the incoming trainee class – three out of four are women – alongside promotions of senior female colleagues and charity initiatives with Stonewall as evidence of a more diverse future to come.
Like much of the firm, the qualification process at Northridge is still in its infancy and reportedly “quite informal.” The firm did not disclose its retention rate in 2020.
How to get a Northridge Law training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2021): 31 January 2021 (applications open on 1 December 2020)
The Northridge summer vacation scheme will run for one week and will 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. There will be a number of assessments, with the successful applicants being offered a training contract starting in 2023. 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 do, however, genuinely take into account mitigating circumstances. We do not have a minimum requirement at A Level.
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. In addition to traditional bonuses based on recorded hours and other individual contributions, each member of the team (including trainees) automatically shares in the firm’s profit pool.
Budding sports lawyers can apply for the 2021 summer vacation scheme from 1 here. Applications open on 1 December 2020. The deadline to apply is 31 January 2021.
Northridge Law LLP
90 Bartholomew Close,
- Partners: 7
- Associates: 15
- Total trainees: 3
- UK offices: London
- Graduate recruitment: [email protected]
- Training partner: Jonathan Ellis, [email protected], 020 3957 8800
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1st December 2020
- Training contract deadline 2021: 31st January 2021
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £38,000
- Post-qualification salary: £65,000*
- *plus discretionary performance related bonus and firm wide profit share
- 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.
In addition to traditional bonuses based on recorded hours and other individual contributions, each member of the team (including trainees) automatically shares in the firm’s profit pool. 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, 2020
- Sport (Band 1)