The Downside of Being a Successful Sports Lawyer?

The Downside of Being a Successful Sports Lawyer?

By Darren Heitner

Is there such a thing as doing too much to brand yourself in a particular niche?

It’s a question I have been asking myself occasionally as of late.

Let me give you some background.

Going into law school, I was certain I wanted to be a sports agent. I spent years building up a practice only to pivot to practicing full time as a lawyer soon after graduating from law school.

Since then, for almost 15 years, I have tirelessly worked to brand myself not only as a sports lawyer but as THE sports lawyer.

I relentlessly focused on pushing myself to be educated on all applicable precedent, consume as many contracts as possible, dive into the deepest areas of intellectual property, build relationships with key decision makers in the sports industry, teach at various universities, write books published by the American Bar Association, publish articles at Forbes, Inc Magazine, and more, travel the country speaking at sports law events, etc.

And I have accomplished my goal. Today, I do believe I am on a very short list of sports law practitioners who get called upon to solve problems and achieve goals in the space.

But have I forfeited opportunities outside of sports as a result of this endless pursuit for perfection in that niche industry?

At times, a potential client who has a complex transactional matter, an IP dispute, wants to create a corporate entity, is embroiled in a civil dispute or otherwise come to me with interest in me serving as an advocate and representative and ask, “but aren’t you a sports lawyer?”

Well, yes, I am. But I’m also so much more.

The skills I have developed over 15 years translate very well outside of sports-specific matters, but I find myself now putting in similar relentless effort to correct the assumption that I’m “just a sports lawyer” that I did when I wanted people to think of me when they are seeking a “sports lawyer.”

Have I “over-branded” myself in a niche? Is this a challenge others have confronted in their development? Was the initial goal the right one and I’m just dealing with necessary complexities that have resulted therefrom?

As always, I’m interested in your thoughts. And perhaps people who are just breaking into an industry can learn from the discourse.