Sitting Down With One of Philly’s Top Sports Lawyers

Ballard Spahr Partner John B. Langel

The Legal Blitz caught up with Ballard Spahr’s John Langel to talk about his path to representing some of the biggest names in sports, including Philadelphia 76ers coach Doug Collins. Langel, a Temple Law alum, is a partner in Ballard Spahr’s Litigation Department, partner-in-charge of the Labor and Employment Group, and a member of the Health Care, Insurance, and Higher Education Groups. In addition to Coach Collins, Langel has represented the likes of Reggie White, Ron Jaworski, Sedale Threat, Dave Brown, Mia Hamm and Julie Foudy. Langel’s affinity for sports passed down to his sons, Casey and Matt. Casey played basketball at Colgate and Matt, now the head coach at Colgate, played at Penn. Check out Langel’s full bio here.

What was your path to Ballard Spahr and how have you maintained such a long career in one place?
My path to Ballard was through Ballard’s hiring program. I was hired as a 3L, clerked for a Federal Judge (Hon. Daniel H. Huyett III) and then joined Ballard. I have stayed at Ballard because of the healthy combination of an interesting practice and terrific colleagues. Ballard’s culture has kept me here.

How did you get involved in sports law? Have you always been a sports fan?
Early in my career, I gravitated toward labor and employment law. A client of Ballard’s purchased the 76ers. I had worked with him and he asked the partner in charge of the client if I could work on the 76ers. In large measure, sports law is labor and employment law. I was a fan but not a rabid fan.

I read in a previous interview that you don’t like to call yourself an agent, why?
I am an attorney. I provide legal advice. Why should I be called an agent?

Do you think agents get an undeserved bad reputation? I think generalizations are awful but individual reputations are earned. Do there need to be stricter regulations on agent conduct in the wake of so many recent NCAA scandals? There need to be sanctions for anyone who behaves unethically or violates state or federal civil or criminal law.

What is it like running Ballard Spahr’s Labor and Employment practice? What is the most challenging part of your job and your favorite? I like it. The most challenging part is the business part of the practice of law. Retaining clients, cementing relationships, expanding work for existing clients and creating new relationships. Making sure clients and prospective clients know of the terrific Ballard lawyers.

Do you have one area of law you like practicing the most or do you enjoy doing a lot of different things?
I enjoy a variety of things. I like helping clients that I like.

Shifting gears to sports, who do you think has the stronger case in the NFL labor dispute and do you think there will be football this season?
From the beginning, I’ve been doubtful that the union could effectively disclaim interest and rid itself of the yoke of the non-statutory labor exemption to the antitrust laws.

The NBA might be the next league to lock out and you represent Coach Collins. So how do you advise your client during a labor dispute when he is sort of caught in the middle between players and the ownership?
When you read of the steps Doug is taking before the date for the lockout, you see that Doug needs little advice. He has embarked on a trip to meet with his players in advance of anything happening. He then will be guided by the team’s interests and will become an observer like many of us.

You have represented players, coaches and broadcasters.are their needs all similar or are their unique challenges to negotiating contracts and representing someone in each role? Both. Needs are similar but one size should never fit all. What is most interesting representing non-players in the sports world is there is no template as there is with standard player contracts. There is an opportunity to be creative.

Almost every law student out there is in dire need of a job, do you have any career advice for students looking to break into a big firm? Do well in the class room or then do terrifically in your first law jobs. Both are avenues for success.

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