He is the sole lawyer at a startup company, but as a self-confessed “sports nut” this month’s in-house interviewee has found his dream job connecting football fans with their clubs


Questions put by James Honan,
In-house Lawyers’ Committee member
Where do you come from, and why choose
to study law?
I was at school (Hutchesons’ Grammar) in Glasgow and went on to do law at the University of Glasgow. Growing up I was a total football geek (I still have a season ticket at Ibrox), and this peaked in the summer of 2008 when I appeared as a contestant on Sports Mastermind on BBC 2, the history of the Scottish Premier League my specialist subject.
I fell into law, to be honest. I really did not know what to do when applying for university in 2001, and law seemed like a decent enough career, especially with a degree from a respected university like Glasgow. I loved university and really enjoy going back to walk round – without doubt my favourite place in Scotland.
Did you ever think about alternatives to law?
Growing up I loved writing and always thought I might end up in journalism. I did some when at university, including for Japanese television reporting on Celtic games, but it did not seem like a stable industry for the long term. Ultimately, as someone who loved writing and reading (as well as a good argument), law was a career that made sense for me.
What was your career path to your
current position?
After my degree I trained with Maclay Murray & Spens. I was really fortunate to get an eight-month seat in each of London, Glasgow and Edinburgh (much more fruitful than six month seats in my opinion), and qualified into the contentious construction department, where I remained for four years before moving to London to work in-house at the sports management company IMG. I switched to sports digital media business Perform Group, then to my current role at Dugout. 
I really enjoyed my work at MMS, but deep down knew that I did not want to specialise in construction work for the rest of my life.
How did you make the jump from the conventional “law firm track” to exploring sports law as a career? Were you nervous about it? 
After watching the London Olympics in 2012, and as a total sports nut, I needed to do something to get involved with sport. I am not good enough to play any sport at a decent level, so I enrolled in an IP masters with a focus on sports and media law from the University of London. This was a self-taught, long-distance masters which I did alongside my everyday work. It was hard work and without doubt the biggest challenge I have faced in trying to balance work and a full-time degree programme. I got a lucky break by securing the job at IMG in the summer of 2013, one year into my three-year masters, and have not looked back since.
Can you describe your role at Dugout, and the organisation?
I joined Dugout in September 2016 as the sole in-house counsel (though we use various law firms for specialist work). Launched in November 2016, Dugout is a social media app that connects football fans with exclusive content from clubs (including Chelsea, Real Madrid and Juventus – Hearts are our only Scottish club so far), players (including Gareth Bale and Patrice Evra), and publishers (including SkySports). I am really excited that the first league we signed up to publish on Dugout was the SPFL, which went live immediately prior to this new season.
What are the challenges of working in a startup?
Prioritising workload and meeting deadlines is hard, particularly as the only lawyer in the business. But that is also part of the appeal of the job – not knowing what is going to be thrown at you on a daily basis and having to deal with competing demands and needs.
One of the great benefits of being an in-house lawyer, particularly in a startup, is that you get a full overview of the commercial aspects of the business, which at Dugout allows me to talk a lot about football and what I think fans want
to watch.
What motivates you to go to work?
I am in my dream job. Working with top football clubs and players on a brand new product is a totally unique opportunity, and I do need to pinch myself sometimes at how fortunate I am.
The opportunity to make Dugout as good as it possibly can be is also a massive motivation, as well as a great challenge. I was one of the first full-time members of staff, and that makes you invested in the success of the business. Dugout started from having no users – being part of the growth journey is really great. We have 10 shareholder clubs (including Manchester City, PSG and Barcelona), and working with them to maximise Dugout’s potential is a massive challenge, but one we all love.
What is a typical working day or week like?           
I like to be at my desk by 7.30am and leave the office around 6.30pm. I am on call 24/7 (my honeymoon this summer will be my only chance to switch my phone off!). I do try to avoid too much drafting at weekends, but doing some can make Monday-Friday much more manageable.
Every morning at 8.45, we have a 15-minute standup meeting, where every member of staff has the opportunity to explain what key work they have that day, and anything they completed or are working on from the previous day. I cannot emphasise how valuable this is for an in-house lawyer, and how many questions arise from it in terms of what the business is doing from a legal perspective, which I would not otherwise know of.
One of my difficulties is remembering that while I am a football fan, it is important that Dugout’s needs have to come ahead of what I would want as a punter.
What is your advice for any law students or others who want to get into sports law?
Make sure you actually want to be a lawyer and, if you do, be patient. There are so many students who look at sports law and think it is “sexy”. In order to be a sports lawyer though, you need to actually want to be a lawyer in the first place – I have come across many people who want to get out of law and feel that being a sports lawyer is a good way of doing that! If you do want to be a lawyer in sport, there are a limited number of jobs, so do not expect to walk into the first job you interview for (I didn’t).
You also need to be a good lawyer. As simple as that sounds, attention to detail is the most important skill an in-house lawyer can have. I have made mistakes which I look back on now and kick myself for. Take time and breathe. If things take longer than they should, so be it. It is much better for the business in the long run, for a contract to take an additional few days to draft and to be correct, rather than be rushed and have issues arise later.
My advice for anyone starting out in an in-house role is to have confidence in your ability. In-house lawyers sometimes tend to rely on external law firms when not necessary. As we build a team at Dugout, I will emphasise the need to use our own legal skills as much as possible. It devalues both yourself and the business if you use external lawyers when the work can be done internally.
Do you see yourself working in Scotland again?  
One day I would like to, yes. If I am to stay in sport though, there are limited opportunities in Scotland so it will not be for quite a few years.
What do you do for fun?
For the past few months it has been planning my wedding this summer. I try to get to as many football games as I can – I am addicted to Scottish football so watch as many games on Sky and BT Sport as I can. I can also binge very easily on good TV dramas, like Line of Duty and Broadchurch.  
What’s been your funniest/weirdest day as a lawyer?
During my time at MMS I appeared in court quite often. I absolutely loved that (I actually miss appearing), and one occasion will stick with me forever. Our key witness turned up (late) under, it appeared, the influence of alcohol and proceeded to carry out a scene similar to that in The Two Ronnies where he answered the question before last in both examination-in-chief and cross-examination. In addition, after his phone rang, the sheriff told him to switch it off. Despite insisting that he had, it rang again, at which he claimed it was the alarm on his Rolex watch. This was swiftly followed by the other side asking him “Why won’t you answer any of my questions?”, to which the response was “I’ve answered all of yours.”
We won the case, and I have no idea how. It was a remarkable day.
And your scariest day as a lawyer?
In my first seat as a corporate trainee with MMS in London, I had two major completions in the space of 12 hours. Getting home from completion 1 at 3am, and heading to Didcot for completion 2 at 6am, was pretty scary in my first few months as a trainee.
I would also say my first day in Dugout was a pretty scary experience. Going from having a team around me and someone to report to, to being a team of one and having full responsibility has been the best legal training, but the most daunting, I will possibly experience in my career.
Have you changed your mind on any significant matter recently? What persuaded you?
Scottish independence. If a referendum was to be held again tomorrow, I would vote differently than I did in 2014. Brexit is a complete game-changer which nobody saw coming a few years ago. That process does need to be completed, however, before we contemplate another Scottish vote, in my view. As a political geek, the last few years have been fascinating, but the uncertainty for all businesses is a concern for any in-house lawyer.
Do you have any views that might be seen as out of the ordinary?
As someone who is about to marry a public sector worker, I would introduce a new tax system which would see those who work in the public sector taxed at a lower rate to those in the private sector. This would encourage more talented people to become teachers, doctors and nurses and give them the credit they deserve for the invaluable work they do. 
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