On establishing the business and why it’s important to never be star struck when representing the likes of Maria Sharapova
Mike, can you tell us a bit about your early career and how you started out in law?
I studied a Joint Honours BSc in Sports Science and Psychology at the University of Birmingham. I really enjoyed the degree but I wasn’t sure that I wanted to pursue the usual career paths that follow from Sports Science or Psychology degrees. Then, an alumni from the University of Birmingham – Darren Bailey – gave a presentation about his career in sports law. I was intrigued as I had never even heard of sports law before then. I did some research, spoke with lawyers and eventually decided to make the switch. I subsequently studied my GDL and LPC at Nottingham Law School, before training at Hammonds LLP (now Squire Patton Boggs).
How and why did Morgan Sports Law come about?
I spent almost eight years working as a dispute resolution lawyer within the Sports Law Group at Squire Sanders (formerly Hammonds LLP and now Squire Patton Boggs). It was a great experience and I had the privilege of working with some very talented lawyers. By 2013, it seemed to me that there was a niche in the market for a firm focused exclusively on sports litigation/arbitration. As much as I’d enjoyed my time at Squire Sanders, I felt the time was right to try something new. That is how Morgan Sports Law came to be.
What’s different about the firm?
We are focused exclusively on sports disputes and, to our knowledge, we are the largest sports-only litigation/arbitration team in Europe.
What are your own core specialisms?
I focus almost exclusively on sports arbitration disputes and have particular experience advising on doping and corruption disputes.
What does your role entail day to day?
My day-to-day role varies vastly from one week to the next. There may be extended periods of time, such as the first three months of this year, spent working overseas. That is because most of our hearings take place overseas and most of our clients are based overseas. We draft all our own written submissions/pleadings in-house so I spend a lot of my time doing that and working on case strategy. There are now 10 of us at the firm so I also spend a lot of time overseeing the work of others and, of course, managing the firm. Fortunately, we have an excellent group of lawyers, which makes my life a lot easier.
You’ve worked with some very high profile clients including Maria Sharapova and Lizzie Armitstead. What’s that like?
Given the nature of our practice, it is often the case that we work with high-profile individuals in sport. It is, of course, always a privilege to work with exceptional individuals who have reached the pinnacle of their respective fields. However, at the end of the day, athletes come to us because they have a legal dispute to resolve; they are looking for lawyers, not fans. You can’t, therefore, allow yourself to be star struck.
What case are you most proud of winning since establishing Morgan Sports Law?
I am proud of all the cases we have won. It is always satisfying to save an athlete’s career. That said, cases which augment athlete rights are arguably more significant because they benefit the whole athlete community and have a lasting impact. On that basis, the following cases were hugely significant as they affirmed the importance of certain key procedural protections for athletes:
(1) Mamadou Sakho v UEFA (2016)
(2) CAS 2015/A/3977 World Anti-Doping Agency v. Belarus Athletic Federation & Vadim Devyatovskiy
(3) CAS 2014/A/3487 Veronica Campbell-Brown v. The Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association & The International Association of Athletics Federations
Finally, what’s next for the firm?
The firm has recently converted to an Alternative Business Structure (ABS) as we plan to expand the range of services we can provide to our clients. It was a natural next step for us and for our particular client base.