Here is the latest interview our Tanner Simkins did with some elite professionals in sports business; this one with Columbia profesor and sports law leader Carla Varriale
Carla Varriale is a leading sports lawyer with a honed focus on venue litigation. We recently sat down with the HRRV partner for a reflection on her career and commentary on the changing sports law landscape. Varriale’s brief bio is provided after the Q&A
Full Court Press: For those who may be unfamiliar, tell us about yourself and your work?
Carla Varriale: I am a Partner in a law firm I founded with several other lawyers about ten years ago. It is one New York’s few female-owned law firms—we own sixty percent of the equity in the firm. My law practice is mostly litigation (spectator injuries/security issues are a specialty within that specialty). I do some contract drafting and review– I like to create waivers of liability! I work with some local sports teams and clients who are in the fitness and recreation industries. I also teach Sports Law and Ethics at Columbia. This summer, I will lead the summer project and study the controversial sport of Mixed Martial Arts (“MMA”) and efforts to bring it back to New York where it has been banned since 1997. We will study the arguments for and against sanctioning the sport, analyze why the legislation to allow it here has failed and how the sport could be regulated to address some of its detractor’s concerns if it is sanctioned. We may be the first class to study MMA in the country.
FCP: Why sports?
CV: I was not a sports fan (but the Nets are changing that) but I am a fan of the business of sports. Sports law is an amalgam of tort, contract, antitrust , discrimination and constitutional law. And more! I am weaving in more criminal law cases in my Sports Law and Ethics class in recent years because criminal issues seem to be coming into focus more and more. Sports law is a tapestry woven from several disciplines that I like and found interesting. There is always something in the news with this industry and it certainly ignites people’s passions. What lawyer would not want to work against that sort of backdrop?
FCP: Describe your leadership style?
CV: Direct. I practice transparency. Although I am naturally a collaborative person, I prefer strong central management versus diffused authority and decision making. Otherwise things never get done. For management purposes, I think I am a benevolent dictator.
FCP: What are some industry trends or developments that you are closely following?
CV: I jokingly refer to the NCAA as sports law’s gift that keeps on giving—I think the rights of student-athletes (or student-employees) will be at the forefront of our discussions. Between the O’Bannon and Jenkins cases and the recent efforts by the Northwestern football team to unionize, I think we may see a seismic shift in what it means to be a student-athlete and the rights of college athletes in general.
FCP: Who is someone you learned the most from? What did they teach you?
CV: I had (and still have) a wonderful mentor that I met at my prior firm named Stanley Kolber. He was a senior lawyer and counsel to my first firm out of law school. Even though we worked in different departments, he took an interest in my professional development. He is retired now and a noted nature photographer, but we are in touch and he remains a trusted advisor. When I was a young lawyer, he gave me no-nonsense, unvarnished feedback—sometimes it was difficult to hear but that is the difference between a mentor and a cheerleader. However, I appreciated his vantage point and knew that he was pushing me to be my best self personally and professionally. One of his things he said was that not every horse takes the bit—I took the bit. He also encouraged me to develop hobbies and interests outside of work—lawyers, like many professionals, can easily work all the time and that’s just not desirable. Stanley used to say “it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” I am only now realizing how true that is.
FCP: What is your biggest regret?
CV: I do not believe in regrets, it’s just not part of my DNA, but do believe in lessons. And I have learned plenty.
I had insomnia for years, it was self-driven. It now seems so unnecessary that I did that to myself.
FCP: If you go back, what would you tell you?
CV: It’s going to be alright, lighten up.
FCP: What was the last book you read?
CV: I am a passionate reader and I always have three books going at the same time. I just read Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides and it was fantastic-I stayed up late every night until I finished it. Right now, I am reading Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo. She is a journalist who writes beautifully about inhabitants of the worst slums on earth. I love history and I am trying to finish Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Anyone who is interested in management and leadership would do well to read that book—it is breathtaking.
FCP: Any tips for aspiring sports professionals who may be reading this?
CV: Lend a hand to those before you and those after you—it is important to try to help someone on his or her career path. It is part of your professional development as well. Volunteer your time, get involved in alumni activities, write for industry publications, mentor someone formally or informally. This is my idea of networking.
And keep on top of the news—by that I do not necessarily mean blogs or the sports pages—read The Wall Street Journal, industry publications, keep on top of the Supreme Court decisions. I subscribe to Twitter feeds for a variety of sports industry professionals and law professors to help me digest the vast amount of information about developments in antitrust, labor, risk management. Now you know why I have to make time to sleep!
Carla Varriale is an attorney with Havkins Rosenfeld Ritzert & Varriale, LLP, and has litigated cases for Major League Baseball teams and players, minor league teams, and various clients in the recreation and sports industries. Varriale has won dispositive motion victories in cases involving injuries arising out of promotional activities at sporting venues. She writes and lectures on issues of interest to sports, recreation, and entertainment venues. In her practice, she counsels entities with self-insured retentions regarding methods to minimize exposure and the development of successful risk management and litigation strategies, with a focus on security issues.