Please tell us about yourself
An Indian American attorney has taken on an integral role with the National Football League’s Jacksonville Jaguars organization.
The club, which is owned by Pakistani American Shahid Khan, hired Parekh in 2013 to serve as vice president and general counsel and elevated her to senior vice president and chief legal officer in 2016.
At Harvard, Parekh always knew she wanted to specialize in sports law, and interned with the Boston Red Sox. She joined Proskauer because of its sports practice and was on the team that advised Shahid Khan on his purchase of the Jaguars.
The combination of sports and entertainment is a good fit for her, Parekh said. Her parents immigrated to the U.S. from India in the 1970s and as a child, she sometimes felt like an outsider.
“I wanted to be like the other kids. Through sports and music, I was able to connect with people,” she said.
The firm specializes in sports mergers and acquisitions and finance and worked with Khan when he was negotiating to purchase the Jaguars.
In her role, Parekh is responsible for oversight of all legal matters, people development and training, information technology and capital improvements.
Among some of the accomplishments she has achieved since joining the club include working on Khan’s acquisition of the Fulham Football Club; the $63 million public-private funded improvements to EverBank Field in 2014, which added the largest video boards (at the time) and two swim spas; and a $90 million project involving improvements to the U.S. Assure Club in addition to the construction and the 2017 opening of Daily’s Place amphitheater and covered football field.
A graduate of Harvard University and Harvard Law School, earning a bachelor’s in social studies and a law degree, Parekh has also worked on the extension of EverBank’s naming rights and selection and engagement of new food, beverage and merchandise providers for EverBank Field.
Alumna Parekh, previously a corporate associate in our New York office, is now Senior Vice President and Chief Legal Officer for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Parekh was recently named to SportsBusiness Journal’s 2018 “Forty Under 40” list of the top sports executives under the age of 40, recognized for displaying “innovation and excellence in their careers.” Parekh told us about her position and life after Proskauer.
Tell us about your day-to-day at your current company.
“Player contracts, coaches contracts and sponsor agreements take up most of my time,” Parekh said, but she’s also been a key player in Khan’s acquisition of Fulham FC, his soccer team in London, and public-private improvements at EverBank Field, such as the Daily’s Place amphitheater.
The most interesting – and challenging – aspect of working with the Jaguars is that every day is wildly different. I’m responsible for legal, government relations, human resources, technology and certain aspects of stadium development. Our in-house legal team handles work for the football team and also for our amphitheater and events companies, a sports analytics company, and a handful of other portfolio businesses. On any given day, you might find me at City Hall working with the administration on stadium capital project planning or downtown development plans, giving a training to our people, or sneaking off to a quiet but sunny part of the stadium to read a contract.
How did your Proskauer experience prepare you for your current job?
In a very direct way, it prepared me because I worked on the acquisition of the Jaguars for the team’s owner, Shad Khan. When I started the job, because I had done due diligence during the acquisition, I had information about the material agreements, the organization structure and the management team.
The diversity of work helped me develop the skills to understand how to approach issues or deals that I haven’t worked on before.
In a less direct way, during my time at Proskauer, I worked on a variety of different matters in the corporate department. For instance, I worked on a cross-border public M&A deal that went through a rigorous antitrust review and also into shareholder litigation.
Learning how to educate yourself (the right amount; you can’t be an expert in everything) about new issues is in itself a skill. I never pretend like I know what I don’t, and I find it interesting to learn about new areas of the law (and, now that I also manage people, new thoughts regarding organizational culture, leadership and other professional development topics). When I first started at the Jaguars, I didn’t know much about HIPAA compliance or workers’ compensation or managing insurance policies, and I had to develop a strategy for efficiently, cost-effectively and thoughtfully handling those matters.
What do you love about your career?
“The most interesting – and challenging – aspect of working with the Jaguars is that every day is wildly different. I’m responsible for legal, government relations, human resources, technology and certain aspects of stadium development,” she told India-West in an e-mail.
“Our in-house legal team handles work for the football team and also for our amphitheater and events companies, a sports analytics company, and a handful of other portfolio businesses,” she added. “On any given day, you might find me at City Hall working with the administration on stadium capital project planning or downtown development plans, giving a training to our people, or sneaking off to a quiet but sunny part of the stadium to read a contract.”
Parekh elaborated that, while the perception is that the NFL is a massive entity, the organizations within the league structure are small- to mid-size companies. That said, the Indian American attorney says she takes an “all-hands-on-deck approach” to her job.
I think “love” is the wrong word to use in the same sentence as your career. Every job is still a job and loving it is dangerous if you have a personality like mine; you’d be very boring and work all the time. I save my love for my family and friends and Jon Bon Jovi. That said, my favorite part of my job is knowing that I play a part in creating memorable experiences for our fans. I enjoy seeing a stadium full of people celebrating touchdowns or an amphitheater full of people singing along to Cheap Trick. Sports and music enhance quality of life and make people happy. I love making people happy.
Tell us about your work
Before her time with the Jaguars — a team on the rise in the NFL under Khan’s leadership, having reached its first AFC Championship game in18 years — Parekh worked in the New York office of the law firm Proskauer, which is an international law firm known for its sports practice.
At Proskauer, she worked on public and private acquisitions and financings and securities offerings, including the acquisition of the Jacksonville Jaguars by Khan, the Houston Astros and the Cleveland Browns, according to her bio.
While at Proskauer, Parekh also worked on a variety of matters including public and private company acquisitions and equity and debt financings, it added.
“Not only did I have the opportunity to work on a variety of matters and learn about a number of different areas of the law, I also had the opportunity to work for different partners,” she said of her time with Proskauer. “I think managing up can be one of the most important and at times challenging parts of any job, and working for different people with different working styles and personalities helped me learn how to manage up and also taught me more about the type of leader I would want to be.”
Parekh credits her time at the New York-based Proskauer for propelling her to the post with the NFL’s northern Florida team.
“Mr. Khan acquired the Jaguars in January 2012, and about a year after the deal closed, the position opened up,” she explained to India-West. “There was no way to predict when the position would become available.”
What career advice would you give to junior associates?
The talented Indian American legal professional urged anyone looking to catch a break in the sports industry, in any capacity, not to give up, despite many potential rejections.
“I had interviewed for many more jobs at teams that I was turned down from,” she said, adding, “then the one that said yes, so for anyone seeking a job in sports, be patient.”
She added that since he has been working for Khan, she has nothing but wonderful things to say about the owner.
“But paramount among them is his intellectual curiosity,” she said. “There’s no topic that I’ve ever been speaking with him on where he either isn’t more knowledgeable, or due to his native intellect, he grasps and masters. That goes for everything from cars to shoes to wines,” Parekh noted to India-West.
Parekh’s top-notch work throughout her career has led to numerous recognitions. The Indian American was named to Forbes Magazine’s 30 Under 30 Sports List in 2012 and 2013, which honored the country’s top sports athletes and executives under the age of 30 who “represent the entrepreneurial, creative and intellectual best of their generation.”
Parekh has also been named a Woman of Influence in 2014, Ultimate Attorney in 2016 and to the Sports Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 this year — all during her stint with the Jaguars.
Parekh graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College and Harvard Law School. While in school she was a sports writer for The Harvard Crimson. She also currently serves on the boards of the Jacksonville Jaguars Foundation, Florida Sports Foundation and the Sports Business & Leadership Association, and works with Women in Sports and Events.
The attorney, despite her pivotal role in a well-known organization, and her success throughout her career, still manages to remain humble.
“If you told me 10 years ago I’d be working as general counsel for an NFL team and living in Jacksonville, I would have told you that you are crazy,” Parekh quipped. “It’s important to plan and prepare, but also to be open to opportunities that you might not have expected. Life has not turned out as I expected: it’s better than that.”
I worked for some very demanding partners during my time at Proskauer. Working for demanding people is the best way to improve your work product (even though it can be exasperating at times). Don’t be afraid of working for the smart people; seek those opportunities out and try to anticipate what a partner or client will want before they ask you for it.
One of the most interesting moments of my career was when I saw a letter pop into a data room and printed it right before walking into a meeting with the client. Coincidentally, even though we hadn’t discussed it before, the client asked the partner for the letter and instead of having to go print it I pulled it out so they could review it. There was, of course, luck involved there, but it made an impact on the client because he felt we were very prepared and efficient.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Recently, I decided I was going to try to focus on getting a life (and being better at delegating to and trusting the very smart people who work with me). The morning after we lost the 2018 AFC Championship game, I texted a friend who owns a beach bar and asked him if I could play an acoustic set on March 5. That’s the year anniversary of a childhood friend’s passing: a friend who told me that I am good at everything besides having fun. I’ve been playing guitar since I was 12, off and on, but it always took a backseat to school and then work, and there were a few years where I hardly played at all. I decided that I was going to honor my friend’s life and challenge myself to have some fun. I practiced about two to three hours a day every night until the set, formed new friendships with people who practiced with me, and traveled with an acoustic guitar (which leads to a lot of interesting conversations in airports). I played the set on March 5, 2018, and it was one of the most fun things I’ve ever done! Now my goal is to keep it up so I can play by fire pits with friends.
Do you have any advice for someone thinking about going in-house?
If you want to go in-house, consider carefully if you want to work in an environment where you are handling a lot of random issues (which makes it difficult to become an expert in anything) and working with people who have a different thought process than you. Working with sales people is much different than working with other attorneys at a law firm. I enjoy the diversity of thought and the variety of work, but if you prefer to focus on one practice area in depth, then going in-house may not be right for you.
What did you want to be when you were a kid?
I wanted to be president of the universe.
What are you watching on Netflix right now?
I’m currently watching Justified.
When you’re not in the office, where would we find you?
The beach! Throwing the football and hoping that Coach [Tom] Coughlin walks by and decides he sees talent he must have on the field, or playing a game that I poorly named “beach soccer tennis.” We make the rules up as we go, mostly, but it’s essentially ping pong rules as two people are volleying a volleyball back and forth with everything but their hands. I’m self-dubbed reigning champion of Jacksonville Beach.