For many attorneys and law students aspiring to utilize their legal degrees to work in the sports industry, an in-house position with a professional organization is considered the peak of an arduous climb to the top of the sports law world. Oftentimes, legal positions in some of the mainstream sports in America, namely football, basketball, and baseball, are typically those that are sought after by the sports enthusiasts in the legal world. Nevertheless, due to the exponential growth of its popularity and the constant expansion of its professional leagues, the path toward in-house positions in American soccer has never appeared more open for those aspiring to work within the beautiful game. As an incoming law student who ultimately hopes to attain an in-house counsel position within professional soccer, I wanted to learn from those who are currently in positions toward which I and several others passionate about the intersection of soccer and the law aspire. Accordingly, I decided to start a process that I wanted to document by way of Conduct Detrimental to share with all who are interested – an interview with a member of the legal counsel at every MLS club.
From these interviews, I hope to be able to provide insight into the nature of legal counsel positions in professional soccer. And at the end of this process, I hope that we will all be more knowledgeable on what it requires to successfully convert our greatest passions into a dream occupation.
This interview, though, is slightly different from my first interview and will be different from those that follow. Nonetheless, it will still provide invaluable information about a position within one of the most prominent organizations in professional soccer. For this interview, I had the privilege of speaking with Michaela Clicque – senior legal counsel for the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA). A graduate of the University of Vienna and Instituto Superior de Derecho y Economia (ISDE) in Spain, Clicque has worked with UEFA for just under eight years. Her words were incredibly insightful, and it was a pleasure to learn from her.
1. BG: Tell us a bit about your story – what led your interest in working within soccer to develop and what were some of the career steps you took that eventually placed you in your current position? Also, for those in America unfamiliar with UEFA, could you please provide us with a brief description of the federation and its role within FIFA and global soccer as a whole?
MC: Since I was a kid I was always very much interested in football and it became quickly my dream to work in this world. Therefore, once I had finished my studies of law in Vienna I found a university in Spain which offered a master in sports law. Through this master I have managed to score a great internship in one of the best law firms in Spain which specialises in sports law. Not only have I learned a lot there but it opened me a lot of doors through great networking opportunities. Once I have finished this internship, I was probably in the right place at the right time as there was just an opening in UEFA. I must say, though, that a crucial reason why I was chosen for this position was the fact that I was speaking all three official languages of UEFA (plus two other ones).
Briefly about UEFA: UEFA is a Confederation, covering the European area (and a bit further), which organises its own national team and club competitions. In the pyramid structure of football, it is located below FIFA. However, there is no direct reporting line between the confederations and FIFA. FIFA is in charge of its own competitions and has jurisdiction over all its member associations in matters which are regulated by FIFA. In the same way, UEFA is in charge of its own competitions and has jurisdiction over its (55) member associations as well as clubs for matters which are under UEFA’s competence.
2. BG: What does a typical workday look like for you as legal counsel at the UEFA? Is your position more of a consultancy role, or do you primarily serve as the club’s representative in all pertinent legal matters?
MC: In general, I would say we are advising all national associations and clubs as well as our colleagues internally on all statutory and regulatory related matters. This may relate to a specific question with regards to the application of a rule, or more general, to the revision of a set of regulations as well as ensuring that any kind of process launched within UEFA is in accordance with the relevant UEFA regulations.
Apart from that, there are always new things landing on our tables which makes the job so interesting and diverse.
3. BG: As UEFA is a continental federation, we see employees originating from various countries, which may be influenced by the flexibility afforded to workers from member nations of the European Union (EU). Does this flexibility play a role in the international diversity within UEFA’s personnel?
MC: Yes, UEFA is a great working place in this regard, as you will find colleagues from a lot of different places. This allows a great cultural exchange. However, one thing that we then all have in common is the love for the game. There is always a great atmosphere when a major football tournament is on and everyone is rooting for its own country.
It is true that the majority of UEFA employees may come from EU countries but there are still quite some employees coming as well from outside of the EU. Switzerland, the country where UEFA is based and where, I believe, still the majority of UEFA employees comes from, is not part of the EU.
4. BG: Could you explain the licensing process for attorneys in Europe, at least from your experience?
MC: This is a bit of a complicated one, as every country has its own system. As football related matters are mostly resolved in the Court of Arbitration for Sport, it is not necessary to be a qualified lawyer from a specific country. Lawyers from all over the world are arguing cases before the CAS.
5. BG: If you could list 3 of the most important skills necessary to work as in-house counsel for UEFA and provide a brief explanation for their importance, which skills would you choose?
MC: A good knowledge of football and its politics. In order to be able to properly understand all regulations (be it competition regulations or rather more technical regulations), a good knowledge of UEFA’s competitions in general is of paramount necessity. Moreover, it is important to understand how the whole football model, with the relevant member associations, leagues and clubs is designed and interacting.
Apart from that, due to the international character of the work, it is always helpful to speak more than one language.
6. BG: Do you think there exists a possibility for Americans aspiring to work in the soccer industry to obtain a position at UEFA or as counsel for a European club? In your mind, what would be some of the steps necessary to realize this aspiration?
MC: Yes, and I believe there are already some Americans working in legal positions in certain clubs in Europe. We have as well some employees within the UEFA legal division which are not from Europe. It is true that the world of sports law, and, in particular football is rather small, and it always helps to know the right people in order to get into this world. But without having a good knowledge of the competitions, and the game itself, even the best contact cannot help.
It is important to always stay humble and sometimes maybe accept a position which may be a bit below your expectations at first, but which would allow a step into the football world.
7. BG: What is the one critical piece of advice that you could offer from your experience to law students aspiring to work in-house not only in soccer but in sports as a whole?
MC: It might be tough at first to get in, but you should never give up and be persistent. There will be this one little door which will open and then you have to give it your all and show that you deserve to be there.
Special thank you to Michaela Clique for her contributions to this article. She can be found on LinkedIn at Michaela Clicque.
Bryce Goodwyn is a 1L at Regent University School of Law. He currently works as a Dean’s Fellow completing research and administrative work. He also formed part of the recently established National Sports Legal and Business Society as the East Region Chair. He can be found on Twitter @BryceGoodwyn and on LinkedIn as Bryce Goodwyn.