When two high flying, female, London lawyers are described as “probably the best sports lawyer in the country” and “top class” by leading legal directory the Legal500, and endorsed by the likes of Barry Hearn and Rene Carayol MBE, one might wonder what else there is to achieve. Well, Liz Ellen and Stefania Genesis decided to go one further and recently launched Livida Sport. Livida Sport is a one stop shop for sports stars, clubs and other sports businesses to provide holistic legal support as well as management of international sporting projects. Liz, who founded the Sports Law Group at a top London law firm and her “rising star” business partner Stefania have a combined 25 years’ experience between them in the industry. We recently interviewed them to find out what their new venture is bringing to the sports landscape.
Given you are both well respected in sports law and have carved a niche, what made you want to take this daunting step and start your own business, especially when one of you recently became a mother?
Liz - This is something that we wanted to do for years, but there’s never a good time to walk away from a big company to start a new business. Having a baby probably gave me the motivation I needed to take the leap - Stef was always ready for it!
Stef - It got to a stage where I craved something different! I was getting increasingly frustrated with the constraints of working in a corporate environment and the emphasis on billable hours. Liz and I had worked together for a number of years, and I had every faith that we could make this work and build something quite special.
What attracted you to sports law and are there any challenges or quirks of the profession that have surprised you?
Liz - From a young age I knew I wanted to work in sport, whether as a sports doctor, a sports lawyer or a sports journalist. I had no preference as to which profession, but it had to be sport. As it happens, my whole family come from a law enforcement background so that probably had an influence on my decision.
One of the quirks of sports law is that there really is no such thing as ‘sports law’. Sport is a sector focus rather than an area of law, but because there are so many legal, commercial, practical and reputational issues relevant to sport, it has become an area of expertise in its own right.
Stef - I always knew I wanted to be a lawyer, but I didn’t set out to be a sports lawyer. I found my way into sport through my languages. I speak Spanish and Italian fluently, and right from the outset of my training contract, I was brought in on sports matters to assist with Spanish / Italian speaking clients. It's a dynamic industry teeming with a wide variety of different people from all walks of life. As a real people person, I realised very quickly that this was the area I most enjoyed and was best suited to.
One of the challenges of sports law is the regulatory structure. Most sports will have a national and international governing body, and each body will have its own set of rules and regulations!
What does a legal concierge do day-to-day and what do you enjoy most?
Stef - a legal concierge is basically a one stop shop for legal needs. This basically means that every day is different. Take today for example, between us we’ve have worked on a match fixing case for a governing body, discussed a transfer proposal with a player and advised a club on the recovery of a debt. Where we are asked to assist a client in an area where we don’t have the expertise, we can tap into our close network to ensure the client gets what they need at the highest level.
Being a litigator by training, what I enjoy the most is getting stuck into a meaty dispute and fighting a client’s corner!
You’re not limited to the UK, operating globally in 3 languages, how does this shape the way you do business and what you’re involved in?
Liz - At the elite level, sport is a global business. You cannot help but work internationally when clubs are hiring players from abroad, players are going on multi-million pound transfers abroad etc. China has become a really interesting country for sport over the past ten years - they have the resources to recruit the best talent and to attract the biggest events - but culturally it is so different from the western approach which most professional sport is used to.
Stef - It’s a challenge but one where we can really make a difference. By understanding culture, speaking the language, and having a professional approach we feel we can bridge the gap that otherwise exists between clubs, players, agents and brands doing business internationally.
Whilst many of us struggle with negotiating, you both seem to thrive at the table. Have you always been good at getting what you want and do you have any tips for those of us who may find it more difficult to come out on the right side of a compromise?
Liz - I think that a lot of people don’t like dealing with confrontation. For us, we have been trained in litigation which means we were dealing with disputes every day. Confrontation doesn’t phase us because we accept it as a necessary element of resolving a problem. We see it with players all the time - they have been let down by someone they should be able to trust, be it an agent, a friend, a service provider, and yet they would rather walk away than turn around and say ‘that’s not right, please fix it’.
Stef - Most lawyers have a strong sense of justice. We want a fair outcome. We aren’t looking to crush an opponent, or take something that doesn’t belong to our client. And maybe when you recognise that you are seeking fairness you can have a bit more confidence in your negotiation.
Liz, you were listed as 13th in a list of the 50 Most Influential Women in Sport in 2015 - how do you feel that the sporting landscape has changed for women?
Liz - I think there’s certainly a growing realisation that women are good for business. Statistics show time and again that the more diverse the management of a company, the more successful the business is likely to be. The difficulty in sport is seeing the realisation become a reality. Sport still trails behind in terms of diversity and there are nowhere near enough women in the boardroom. The same is true of BAME representation. Some sports claim that they cannot attract a more diverse audience, but if they look at the composition of their management structure, more often than not they lack diversity internally.
Stefania, would you tell us more about the mentoring you do and could you both see a mentoring aspect evolving at Livida Sport?
During my time at Mishcon I mentored three young aspiring sports lawyers from ethnic minority backgrounds. I really believe that mentoring is an important way of sharing your knowledge and experience, particularly with individuals, who do not have a ready made network to tap into.
What are the biggest challenges, broadly speaking, for people in sport when their career comes to an end and what can they do to prepare themselves?
Stef - it’s different across various sports but the post-career position for football players is scary. One-third of male footballers are divorced within a year of retirement, and even more are bankrupt within five years. That gives you a good indication of the problems that face certain professional athletes at the end of their career. They are often underprepared for life after sport - financially, emotionally and practically. Across all sports (even where there isn’t such a dramatic loss financially), depression is a serious issue.
Liz - we think of footballers as earning huge sums of money, and it’s true that many of them do. In the Premier League the average salary is around £50,000 per week. In the fourth tier, it’s more like £50,000 per year. But their careers are short and most are finished by their early thirties, if not sooner. At the point of retirement few are equipped to start a new career because education and development will have taken a back seat to football from an early age.
The position is made worse by the fact that not enough to players get good advice during their careers. With fame and fortune comes the risk of excessive spending, demands of friends and family, and the potential for irresponsible representation by under-qualified agents.
Some of the sports you represent may not traditionally have had health and wellness at their core. Is this changing and what more could be done?
Stef - the anti-doping regime is so strict across sports that most professionals have to be really cautious about what they are putting in their bodies. If you’re signed up to certain anti-doping codes then they can be subject to random testing at any time, without warning, and if there’s anything in their system that shouldn’t be there then they have an uphill task proving their innocence.
Liz - It’s really not that long ago that professional footballers would be heavy drinkers with bad diets. That culture has disappeared now though, and the positive changes have no doubt filtered through to the lower and amateur levels of sport. The likes of Cristiano Ronaldo have shown such dedication and professionalism when it comes to their personal health and wellness, and that is a great role model for the younger players coming through. They see someone like Ronaldo at 35 years old, still looking in peak condition and playing at the highest level, and can only be inspired to make the right health and lifestyle choices themselves.
Finally, given changes to businesses currently affected by COVID-19, do you think there will be changes in the way sporting events are managed after this pandemic?
Liz - sporting events have obviously been hit particularly badly by the pandemic, and those effects will be long-lasting. When toddlers are not even allowed to sing songs at nursery for risk of spreading germs, you can only imagine the potential impact of having 80,000 rugby fans at Twickenham singing and cheering for their team. It will be a slow return and whether there can be a full return in the next couple of years remains to be seen.
To learn more about Liz and Stefania, and the work they do at Livida Sport, visit them at lividasport.com or on Instagram @lividasport
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