We were all law students once. So no matter how far removed I get from the days of Bluebooks and IRAC essays, exam nightmares will always haunt me.
That’s why I figured it might be a welcome distraction for everyone cramming for finals right now to hear from someone who was once there too and is now working in a dream job. It might seem impossible now, but that hard work can and will pay off.
Meet Brian Rothenberg. Rothenberg earned a B.S. in Marketing from Rutgers College prior to obtaining a JD from Emory Law School. After several years cutting his teeth at a large firm in Philadelphia, Rothenberg decided to make the move to go in-house. But he didn’t just take any in-house position; Rothenberg went big.
He is now the Vice President and Senior Deputy General Counsel of Comcast-Spectacor, the sports and entertainment firm that owns the Philadelphia Flyers and Wells Fargo Center. Comcast-Spectacor also owns various sports and entertainment entities including Global Spectrum, Ovations Food Services, ticketing company Paciolan, and Front Row Marketing Services. Rothenberg has provided legal support and oversight for all of these entities for the past 13 years. So he knows a thing or two about how to land a great job and provide excellent legal services to clients, no matter how large or small.
How did you end up in your current position?
After graduating from law school, I worked for a fairly large law firm in Philadelphia for about three and a half years. I always knew I wanted to transition to an in-house position though, ideally in the sports and entertainment field, so I sought out a legal recruiter to help me identify opportunities. I recall her telling me that there aren’t many sports and entertainment positions in the Philadelphia area, and I would likely have to move to New York or Los Angeles to find what I was looking for. But after about 6 months of independent job hunting up and down the East Coast, I got a call from the recruiter with an opportunity at Comcast-Spectacor, right in my backyard. So there was certainly an element of hard work involved, but also luck and timing were also factors in landing the position I am in now.
Did you have a sports or entertainment background?
I did not have a sport and entertainment background at the time I was hired by Comcast-Spectacor. At the law firm, I had a general corporate practice, with an emphasis on intellectual property, licensing, employment and general contacting matters. As it turned out, those were exactly the skills needed for the position for which I interviewed at Comcast-Spectacor.
What have been some of the biggest differences between working at a law firm vs. going in house?
The biggest difference for me between working at the law firm and working in-house at Comcast-Spectacor is that I now work for one client. At the law firm, I worked for many different clients in various industries. While that experience provided a great foundation for learning the nuts and bolts of business law, by focusing on only one client I am able to gain a deeper understanding of its business objectives, which has allowed me to play a greater role in achieving those objectives. And after negotiating a contract or advising on an issue, I often see first-hand how well I thought through the issues as the business folks are right down the hallway and provide frequent updates on performance successes and failures. My view from the law firm after advising on issues was a bit further removed. Of course, that could be good or bad, depending on the outcome.
You oversee a number of different companies within the Comcast-Spectacor umbrella with a wide variety of legal issues. How do you keep up with the ever-changing law in all of these areas?
One of the biggest challenges in my job is keeping up with changes in law that affect our business. This is especially challenging because we have multiple lines of business which operate in 46 U.S. states, as well as a handful of foreign countries. Reading industry publications and participating in discussions with industry trade groups are good ways of trying to stay on top of new developments. And having good local counsel in the states and foreign locations where we conduct the majority of our business is invaluable.
Were there any particular skills that you use in your position that you learned in law school or at the firm?
The most important thing I learned in law school as well as early in my career was how to properly analyze and evaluate complex problems to arrive at the best solution. My day to day job requires lots of problem solving. Whether it be in the course of trying to resolve a business dispute, negotiating terms in a contract, or advising our business principals, the type of critical thinking taught in law school is always in play. And I’ve been lucky enough to learn from some really good lawyers, at both the law firm as well as in my present position, how to analyze a problem in a creative and strategic way to be able to give the best advice or find the best result.
On the flip side, is there anything you wish you had done or experienced prior to going in-house?
While I don’t have any regrets about how I developed my career, I never had the experience of working as a solo practitioner or in a small firm, and I think that experience would have been fun and rewarding. In some ways it would have prepared me better for my current in-house role, in which I am one of only four lawyers and have had to learn to work independently in a dynamic environment.
For anyone currently in law school, is there any advice on how to get into a position like yours in the sports and entertainment world?
I don’t think there is any one best way to break into the sports and entertainment legal field, but what worked for me was first building my legal skills in a business department of a sophisticated law firm, then, having a few years of that experience under my belt, seeking an in-house position. Many sports teams or entertainment companies have small in-house legal departments, where the lawyers do not have the time or resources to train new hires. So having at least a few years of law firm experience makes a candidate much more valuable to a small legal group looking to staff up rather than what a less-seasoned attorney would offer.