Motorsport, like all things in life is governed in some way or other by the rule of law. How the law impacts the sport is of critical importance to drivers, team and series officials and anybody else involved in the motorsport ecosystem. To get a better idea of the role of the lawyer in motorsport I spoke with Genevieve Gordon, CEO of Tactic Connect in the first of a two part series. In Part 1 we explore questions such as when a driver should engage a lawyer, why it is important to do so and whether in fact “motorsport law” actually exists as a separate branch of the law. Next week in Part 2 we will look into how to find a lawyer and what a driver and their advisors should be looking at when evaluating a driver contract among other topics.
Motorsport Prospects: When should a driver engage a lawyer?
Genevieve Gordon: What any athlete or team should do is build their team around them and what they need fairly early on in their career. This is imperative so when there is a problem, they know who they are going to get help from and they won’t make a rushed decision with who is helping them.
There is a big difference between having a lawyer on a retainer like a lot of football players would do, and an ad hoc team who are there to help with key decisions. Most of the people within motorsport, at least when it comes to drivers, do not have the amount of work to support a retainer value, so it is important to identify individuals that are happy to help you and step in when you need the support. Drivers and teams need to build relationships with the people that are willing and able to support them so they can rely on the support and not feel like they are being a burden to those prepared to help. Engaging them in your ‘motorsport family’ on an ongoing basis so nothing comes as a surprise to them when you do ask for their help is crucial. It is key to keep people invested in your activities on and off the track. Essentially, you need to create a network and keep them consistently engaged so they can provide the proper support when it is required.
MP: How would you do that?
GG: Drop them a phone call now and then. Be creative with your engagement. Send mini-newsletters saying what you are up to and what kind of racing you are involved in, what cars you are driving. Give a little information about who else you are working with, some struggles you’ve faced, what has and hasn’t gone well for you since your last update. This invigorates your wider network too – letting them know they are part of something and that you value their input.
Knowing what you are doing and what you are up to enables your team to help in ways they had not initially thought of before. News can help with sponsorship opportunities as well. If you keep updating your information and people know where you are and at what stage you are at, there is the opportunity to identify connections and links. There are more creative ways to achieve all the engagement and I am sure marketing guru’s would like to see video content and all the visual good stuff, but for me, a lawyer, something as simple as an email saying “Hi, I just wanted to touch base and let you know what I am up to.” I get periodic emails like that and for my purposes that serves well because I can, in a moment, update myself and keep abreast of situations in a timely fashion.
People who have lawyers on retainer get a good service because (a) they are paying for it but (b) they have a relationship, so they know where to start when the need arises. They know a lot of the answers to the questions whereas if you are chopping and changing who is in your team all the time it takes more time to get going. A lot of legal work is about background checks, due diligence, and if you have to start that process each and every time you require support the costs get higher as they hours tick by. If you have the people around you that you need, and you have a team that are knowledgeable of your affairs, this makes them time efficient. If one of those people is a lawyer you are going to be in a much better position. You don’t have to supply them with work all the time, but you have to keep that conversation going in one form or another. If you are relying on non-paid professionals you still need to emulate the relationships and patterns of working which can be a challenge.
MP: Why is it important to use a lawyer? With all the software and apps out there, that offer “legal” advice why should I pay xx number of dollars an hour when I can probably do a lot of this stuff by myself?
GG: My answer to this is that we do this stuff day in and day out so we have a level of knowledge that is specific to the area of our practice. The generic forms and information that are on the internet are not specific to you and they certainly don’t take into account your individual requirements. Therefore, you can’t expect a contract to perform properly to your benefit if it is not written for your benefit. Contracts generally have schedules which contain the negotiated sections and these need to be specific, especially when featuring express terms.
It drives me to distraction that everybody wants to “simplify” things. If you are simplifying things then you are essentially removing elements, so it then makes sense to you but then it is benefiting the other party. Stop trying to simplify and start trying to understand what the requirements are because you can’t rely on something when it’s not there. And if you take it out to simplify it, it’s not there at all, unless you can rely on an implied term (which are the standard forms of the industry).
There are some generic templates that work well and of course form a good basis, but you should still send it to an advisor to verify it is appropriate for your situation and purposes. This is critical because these generic contracts are quite often not appropriate for all purposes because all parties generally want something different and specific to their needs. While the cost of generic templates seem to be a reason to use them, you need to understand that investing in the right people with the correct skill sets is an investment in your career. If you are not going to invest in yourself why should other people?
You can look online for legal information but you’ll have to decide what is right, wrong or out of date. Lawyers know the relevant laws to rely on, the nuanced meanings etc and trust me they have a field day when something is wrong! All you need is a wrong word in the wrong place. This is easily illustrated by the “and/or principle.” “And” and “or” do not mean the same thing. One does not replicate the other. When you put them together it is something different again and people do not understand that.
It is important to get the right advice at all times, not necessarily for now but the future. Decisions you make now can affect your future and certainly impact it.
MP: Tell us a bit about your practice Tactic Connect and the kinds of things that you do.
GG: Tactic Connect is a bespoke sports management company providing support services to sports organizations, athletes and other stakeholders. Our key areas of business are commercial, education & welfare, media and events and CSR ,which includes the strategic running and advising of sports foundations and charities.
We have a specific motorsport section that provides support to drivers, teams and race organizers. This includes remote support, workshops and webinars in a number of key topics relevant to the business side of motorsport.
MP: In many other sports a manager tends to be a lawyer yet in motorsport the managers tend to be ex-drivers. What are the differences between a lawyer and a manager?
GG: A manager tends to be more commercially minded. They are looking for results, opportunities, drives, sponsorship, they are managing a driver’s race career. In the United States most manager/agents have to have a law degree. If you go around the world though, there is very little legislation stating that a manager or agent has to be a lawyer. The US is very specific about the rules they require in that environment.
Managers to me are more about promotion, promotion, promotion for the driver and the team. They are not necessarily looking at the legal requirements within an environment and you can’t expect them to. Lawyers deal with the law every day and they should be working alongside the manager to deal with any of the legal aspects of a driver’s career. Agent and manager contracts will often have %’s written into them which incentivize deals to be made and I guess there is the temptation for some deals to be more worthwhile than others.
MP: Is there a difference in Motorsport specific law and sports law generally?
GG: I would say motorsport law itself does not truly exist just as football law does not truly exist but a lot of colleagues will not agree with that I assure you. There will be plenty of lawyers practicing in football that will say they practice football law because it revolves around the nuances of football but it really isn’t a branch of the law, merely an application of the law to the game of football. The governing rules and governance issues of sport are perhaps different as they are sport specific. For me when you research sports law you encounter this historical discussion between “is it sports and the law or is it sports law.” If it is sports law, then it is something specific that only applies to sport and if it is sport and the law it is the application of the law to sport. I think it is sport and the law and that goes across any sport.
However, I do think there are differences between sport just as there is with other industries. The idiosyncrasies and the specific cultures within those sports. So, in football there are specific behaviors and attitudes that the law works with which allows football to continue in the manner in which it continues and can derive a benefit from.
Motorsport does the same thing. Opinons and legal application is built on the culture and the attitudes of the sport that dictate very much, the behavior of the impact of the law.
I could not necessarily find a lawyer that say they specialize in motorsport law. But of course there are lawyers that work for motorsport companies that say they are a sports lawyer but do not refer to themselves as a “motorsport lawyer.” A litigator would refer to themselves as such as it denotes the area of law they specialize in. Same thing really.
If the question is “Do I think people need a lawyer who have an interest in motorsport and an understanding of motorsport?” my answer would be yes absolutely. You asked another question “is experience in Motorsport itself a requirement or is a general business lawyer more than adequate for a driver’s needs?” and the answers to these two questions mold together because a commercial lawyer that has contentious experience, that has an understanding of the workings of motorsport is a good bet. If you have can find that person then they are going to be able to cut through a lot of the deadwood and get to the heart of the matter quicker because they understand what would be acceptable in motorsport and what wouldn’t be acceptable in motorsport. There’s no point in writing a contract that would be fit for purpose for one sport knowing full well that in motorsport it would not be workable and would ultimately frustrate.
In addition to all of this an understanding of motorsport is important as it goes a long way to cutting down costs and getting the right advice to start with from someone with a bank of knowledge.
Next week in Part 2 we will continue our discussion and zero in on some particular things you may want to look at before signing a contract and more.