A robust legal system can help governing bodies and corporates in the development of a commercial model for sport by building confidence in institutional frameworks, which leads to increased investment in sport.

Roshan Gopalakrishna, Counsel (Sports & Entertainment) at LawNK (a boutique law firm) and Chief Legal Counsel at Copyright Integrity International (CII), addresses the issues of IP infringement, rights protection and piracy in Sport, Media and Entertainment sectors.

Roshan talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about taking up a career in sports law after realising the tremendous growth potential of Indian sport (with the growth of T20 cricket and franchise-based sports leagues) which would inevitably require high quality legal assistance. 

For students, if you want to contribute to the evolution of the Indian sports ecosystem, there is no better way than protecting the rights of all the stakeholders !

Roshan, can you walk us through your background?

I was born in the coastal town of Karwar, Karnataka, a place of immense natural beauty. As my father was a bureaucrat, we were able to experience life in many districts across Karnataka (notably Uttara Kannada, Mysuru, Mandya, Hubballi, Tumakuru and Chikkamagaluru) which also meant changing schools every couple of years. 

I was an average sportsperson who relied more on effort rather than talent and tried my hand at a variety of sports with varying degrees of success. My first love was and is football. I don’t think I could have asked for a better teacher of life lessons and values than the football field! I was interested in public speaking, writing and quizzing, and had a general dislike for science and math, and lots of interest in humanities. While exploring options on “what next”, a few well-wishers suggested that I appear for the National Law School of India University (NLSIU) Bengaluru entrance test given my aptitude. I appeared for the NLSIU entrance test twice and made it through on the second attempt.  

What did you do for graduation/post graduation?

I graduated from NLSIU in 2008 with a degree in Humanities and Law – B.A., LL.B. (Hons.). 

What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and unique career?

My father, who is a retired civil servant. The idea behind getting into NLSIU was to use my legal education as a stepping stone to the civil service. 

Mr. Nandan Kamath, who I have been working with for more than 12 years now. I first met Nandan during my final year of college and joined his firm a year later.

My first internship with a sports management agency in 2006. I enjoyed the work and also realized that I was not cut out for a career with the government.

The realization that Indian sport was on the cusp of rapid commercial expansion (circa 2007 onwards with the growth of t20 cricket and franchise-based sports leagues) that would inevitably require high quality legal assistance. 

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path

The aim was to explore options within the sports ecosystem and to gauge if I was merely drawn in by the glamour associated with working in sport, or if I was any good at it! I was also clear that a career in the civil service, litigation or corporate law were not for me. At the same time, no firms had a sports law practice either. So I applied to sports management companies and that helped. The companies seemed as surprised that a law student would want to work with them.  

I just focused on good internships and on researching topics related to sports law. Apart from the mandatory internships in college, my first internship in sport was with Globosport in 2006 where I was able to work on organizing a WTA tournament in Bangalore and also work on many celebrity management and endorsement contracts. Thereafter I worked (interned) with a “now defunct” event management agency run by Sachin Tendulkar’s then agent (Mr. Vinod Naidu) in 2007, MMB Legal (a boutique firm with a sports law practice) and Godrej in 2008. 

I either organized internships on my own or was placed through the recruitment cell at NLSIU. 

Sport is an easy field to engage with and to be interested in. It helps to be aware of and informed about new developments. 

How did you get your first break?

I was recruited by an Australian law firm in 2008 through the campus recruitment process and worked with the firm for 6 months. I returned to India and got in touch with Mr Nandan Kamath who was already a recognised name within the Indian legal and sports ecosystem. I jumped at the opportunity to work with him and thankfully things have worked out well so far.  

What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?

Challenge 1: Adapting to a work culture which made me responsible for my own development. I was aided immensely by Mr. Kamath’s guidance and patience. 

Challenge 2: Work quality and deadlines. I would (and do) consistently remind myself that I had been given an opportunity to make a career in a field of my choosing and had to make the best use of the opportunity. 

Challenge 3: Creating a sustainable work culture. I have tried to ensure that I treated my colleagues with the same respect that I was treated with when I first joined the firm. 

Where do you work now? Can tell us about your role as a Sports Lawyer

I joined Copyright Integrity International and LawNK in June 2009 and have been with both entities ever since.

CII addresses the issues of IP infringement in sport (illegal broadcast streams and footage, unlicensed merchandise and trademark infringement, etc.). LawNK is a boutique law firm with a significant sports and gaming practice which offers world class sports law services.

What skills are needed for yor role? How did you acquire the skills?

The essential skill is that of being a good transactional and advisory lawyer – knowledge, drafting, research, analysis, presentation. Specifically, it is important to understand the context of each transaction and resist the urge to be guided by precedents. This comes only with experience and the willingness to be proactive with thinking through and structuring transactions. 

What’s a typical day like? 

Lots of calls, reading, reviewing/drafting documents, providing advice, all focused on achieving the best possible outcome for our clients.   

What is it you love about this job? 

The fact that I work in sport, and the variety of work within the umbrella of sport – governing bodies, broadcasters, leagues, teams, athletes, sponsors/partners, rightsholders, NGOs, etc., 

How does your work benefit society? 

Our aim is to aid in the holistic development of sports in India. This happens in a number of ways. 

Our core work essentially protects and aids in the development of the commercial model for sport, building confidence among governing bodies and corporates which leads to increased investment in sport. We have a prominent pro-bono legal practice as well. Through our firm, we support the efforts of GoSports Foundation which funds the careers of 125 able-bodied and para athletes. 

Last but not least, our initiative The Sports Law and Policy Centre is India’s premier thinktank on sports law and policy. At this juncture, our aim is to provide information on global and local sports law and policy issues, which we do through a monthly newsletter, monthly sessions and an annual symposium. We have also launched a campaign titled Equal Hue which is focused on women’s sport in India.    

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!

Working on-the-ground with the ICC’s legal team on the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 (India leg) and ICC WT20 2014 (Bangladesh) was a memorable experience. Quite apart from the fact that I was able to watch firsthand some outstanding matches and performances (the tied game between India and England, Kevin O’Brien’s century against England, Herath’s 5/3 against NZ), I was also able to experience the practical impact of the work we do. In conventional terms, transaction lawyering often tends to be a desk job, and it is wonderful to see all our documentation come to life through marquee sports properties. It also helps in developing practical perspectives while drafting documents.  

Your advice to students based on your experience?

Understand the opportunities, pros and cons of a career in a specific area of law before deciding, gain first-hand experience through internships, get advice from seniors who have had a similar career path and do not hesitate to take timely corrective action if any decision does not work out as you had hoped. 

Above all, understand your personal motivations and the price that you would be willing to pay to excel, and do not fall for the ‘glamour’ associated with any field of law. Your personal circumstances are unique and important while making choices, do not disregard them. The ‘glamour’ will inevitably fade. In any career, one must be particularly good with the basics to ensure progress and there is no other way of doing this than to be willing to put in the grunt work for the first few years. Finding a mentor, and/or a workplace that is supportive and shares your ethics, is crucial. 

Future Plans?

To get better at what I do, ensure that I contribute to the continuation of the work culture and value systems of our organisations, and most importantly to contribute to the evolution of the Indian sports ecosystem with the ‘athlete’ always at the center of it.