USC Gould School of Law students were given an inside look at sports law from two of the industry’s most prominent lawyers at an event hosted by the Sports Law Society earlier this month.
David Cohen, director of legal affairs and risk management for Angels Baseball LP, and Sam Fernandez, senior vice president and general counsel for the Los Angeles Dodgers LLC, spoke about their career development and how students must create their own opportunities for success.
“Look for connections wherever you can find them. When you find one, cultivate it,” Cohen said.
Cohen and Fernandez, who found themselves in situations where their networking prowess enabled them to make the right connection and get ahead in their respective careers, stressed the importance of maintaining contact with colleagues and business partners.
Fernandez’s connection came during his tenure at Latham & Watkins from 1980-84. While at the firm, Fernandez worked with Richard Kimbrough, the attorney who handled the O’Malley family’s estate planning.
At the time, Fernandez did not anticipate a future in sports law. However, in 1984 when Peter O’Malley inquired about borrowing a lawyer from Latham & Watkins to work as resident counsel for the Dodgers for one year, Kimbrough recommended Fernandez.
“The rest is history,” Fernandez said.
Cohen’s connection came while he was working as an athletic trainer in the minor leagues for the Montreal Expos.
After seeing an article about Bill Stoneman, the team’s vice president of baseball operations, in a fraternity magazine, Cohen called Stoneman to leave a congratulatory voicemail. Hearing that Stoneman was about to leave for vacation, Cohen faxed the article to him so he could read it before he left.
Stoneman and Cohen stayed in touch over the years and in 2003, during Cohen’s third year at California Western School of Law, his thoughtful act paid off. By that time, Stoneman was vice president and general manager for the Angels, and he offered Cohen a job as the team’s risk manager. Cohen seized the opportunity and completed law school as a part-time student.
Fernandez gave the students advice on what to anticipate if they decide to pursue a career in sports law.
“Expect the unexpected,” Fernandez said. “During the off-season is when you do the most work. During a typical day, you spend about 50 percent of your time drafting or reviewing something and the rest of the time dealing with the latest fire on your desk.”
Having spent nine years as an athletic trainer for the Expos, Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox, Cohen knew he wanted to pursue a career in sports but didn’t contemplate law at first. He recommended that those interested in sports law learn as much about the sports business as possible.
“Law supports business. Business supports law,” Cohen said.
Although both men said the job is demanding, there are many perks as well. Cohen travels with the team during spring training. Fernandez’s office overlooks left field, and he enjoys the view of Dodger Stadium from his office window.
Both men cautioned that working as an attorney for a baseball team is not the same as participating in the game of baseball.
“As an attorney, you are there to help your client achieve its business objectives. If you want to be in sports law because you want to be part of what’s happening on the field, you may want to buy a ticket instead,” Fernandez said.
Cohen earned a bachelor’s in exercise physiology and athletic training in 1995 and a master’s in community health education in 2001 from West Virginia University. He earned his J.D. from California Western School of Law in 2004.
Fernandez graduated magna cum laude from UCLA in 1976 with a bachelor’s in sociology and political science. He received his J.D. from the College of Law at the University of California, Hastings, in 1980.