Sixth annual Howard Soifer Memorial Lecture --features Mateen Cleaves and Jack Davis

By Roberta M. Gubbins

Legal News

Jack Davis, Loomis Law Firm and Mateen Cleaves, former Michigan State University All-American Spartan basketball star, NBA player and currently a Fox Sports, Detroit analyst were the featured speakers at the Sixth annual Thomas M. Cooley Howard Soifer Memorial Lecture in sports and entertainment law. The event was held on November 8th.

Davis explained how he met Soifer and hired him as a litigation associate. He and Soifer began to represent sports figures and Steve Smith became a client"

Explaining the roles of agent and lawyer, he said, "at contract time the lawyer and the agent discuss the terms--the agent is the expert on the length of the contract and amount of the initial demand; the agent is the best judge of the player's market value."

The lawyer, explained Davis, reviews the terms of the contract and negotiates for the player. He recalled one incident where no agreement had been made, the opening game was an away game, their client, Smith, had not practiced with the team but was in the city that night as were his agent and Soifer and Davis. The contract was finally signed by the owner at 7:30 p.m. as the game started. Davis remembered that Smith went from the owner's box to the game floor ten minutes into the game. "When it was announced that Smith was joining the team, the crowd went wild"

"This is an example of the role of the lawyer in sports' law," said Davis. "and the lawyer is to represent the best interests of the player and work with the agent. The lawyer should know the collective bargaining process," including what is covered and what is not and what can be worked into the agreements. "The owners understand the rules of free enterprise and you will not lose their respect if adhere to those rules."

Davis stressed the legal and personal relationship between the lawyer and the client. It includes negotiating endorsement contracts, family and domestic legal issues, investment opportunities, business opportunities, patent and trademark law as well as estate planning. "You must have the expertise in these areas or know where to find it."

The athlete is constantly bombarded with requests for his time or talent. "Your obligation is give the best advice possible" knowing that the client may ignore it. Clients are bombarded with requests to use their nickname, for example, leading the lawyer into trademark and copyright law. Media appearances can also be an issue--particularly commercials. "Your role is advisory."

Lawyer and agent must also be available at odd hours and times--for example, when it is 10:30 at night on the West coast, it is 2:30 a.m. in Michigan, and if the athlete did not get the playing time he desired or did not play the role he expected during the game, the agent or/and the lawyer can get a call from the team bus to get the frustration off his vest."

Representing an athlete is a business, he concluded, "but for most athletes there is a personal and emotional tie as well. Building personal relationships is as important as the customary legal representation. You need to know the family, the coaches, the children as they come along. The legal issues are complex but the personal relationships take just as much talent and commitment."

"The team that I built around me was unique to me," said Mateen Cleaves, discussing the lawyer-player relationship. "Once you get to the pro level (of your sport), it is a business. I understand that but I don't understand the business of it. I remember one day when I was playing with the Detroit Pistons, I received 15 missed calls from my agent. When I called him, I found that I had been traded. My heart just sank, I couldn't believe it. In that instant, I started to understand that it was a business."

However, Cleaves stressed that he didn't have to worry about the business side--his team of a lawyer and an agent did that and "I could concentrate on the game.' He laughed saying that he was a new millionaire and "I had to call in whenever I wanted to buy something to see if it was alright to buy."

Cleaves also commented on the personal relationship that "meant a lot to me. It's the personal relationship, the late calls that matter. They knew when things were not right with me. And, I have not played basketball in two or three years, but I can still pick up the phone and talk to these guys."

He urged the students to give back to their community, particularly the youth of the community. "Don't turn your back on them. They need your help."

Jack Davis is head of the Loomis Firm's business transactions, real estate, business entities and tax law departments. He is active in the community and freely volunteers his time. Mateen Cleaves, a firm believer in social responsibility, has established "The Mateen Cleaves Community Foundation" in Flint to work with the youth of the city.

"These lectures," said Jim Robb, Associate Dean for Development and Alumni relations, "were established as in memory of a great lawyer and a great man in our community, the late Howard Soifer."

"Howard was passionate about his family, the law and sports in particular," said Sandy Soifer, his widow and now Executive Director of the Michigan Women's Historical Center and Hall of Fame. "When he and his partner began representing sport's figures, it was a dream come true. Howard will be remembered for his great sense of humor, his loyalty, integrity and strength."

The event was broadcast to Cooley's other three campuses in Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor and Auburn Hills.

Published: Thu, Nov 24, 2011

Comments

  1. No comments
Sign in to post a comment »