Interview with Sports Law Professor and Author Maureen Weston - On the Field: Women in Sports Law

I’m pleased to introduce Pepperdine University School of Law Professor Maureen Weston, J.D. Professor Weston is the Director of the Entertainment, Media & Sports Law Program and Dispute Resolution Project, in addition to her service on countless boards including the Sports Lawyers Association, American Association of Law Schools Law & Sport, and the Editorial Board of LawInSport. A graduate of the University of Colorado Law and the University of Denver, Professor Weston previously worked as an attorney. Her research interests include sports law, dispute resolution, ethics, and the intersection of these areas.

We are pleased to welcome you, Professor Weston. Thank you so much for your time today. Let’s begin by learning a little bit more about you. How did you make the leap from working as an attorney to academia? What specifically interested you in sports law?

Professor Weston: Thank you, Tatum! It’s my honor to speak with you and your interested readers about sports law, dispute resolution, and education.  I’m a life-long athlete, loosely defined of course, but certainly passionate about sports. I play tennis and continue to compete on several leagues. Tennis has opened many doors for me in life – the lessons learned about discipline, how to lose and to win, teamwork, health, grace and friendships that apply on and off the court. I had an idea that I would teach high school civics and history and coach girls’ tennis, but I wanted to learn about the law and government.    

After law school, I worked at law firms in Denver/Boulder and continued to play tennis. One of the tennis club members was a law professor who said I should think about teaching in law school. I went on leave from my firm to try a year of teaching at the University of Oklahoma School of Law, and loved teaching. At OU, I got involved in Athletic Counsel, NCCA compliance, student-athlete welfare, and coaching matters. I also wrote on topics of accommodations and rights of athletes with disabilities, and co-authored a Sports Law casebook. My specific interest in sports is how sports can unite people in celebrating the accomplishments, talent, and hard work of players, as well as the physical, social, and emotional benefits that sports offer. My interest in sports law is to ensure that sports are fair, safe, and accessible to all.

For our pre-law readers, what are some of the typical tasks associated with work as a professor? How do you balance conducting research and writing with teaching, in addition to your service on many boards?

Professor Weston: Students are foremost in my work as a professor. Sometimes I tell students that I’m their personal trainer – I have to work them hard to get them prepared to perform at their best as future attorneys. My approach to teaching is to utilize active and experiential learning. We spend some time on the “law,” in order to understand the legal doctrine, and students are expected to have done the required reading and be prepared as though they were in a courtroom. But, most lawyers' work is involved in counseling clients, negotiating, mediating, and advocating in arbitration or court. So, the students are put in roles to do just that. I involve students in a number of sports law competitions, such as baseball arbitration, football contract negotiation, basketball negotiation, and international mediation. These experiential competitions provide students with realistic opportunities to hone their skills and to receive feedback from experienced industry attorneys. My research and writing is often prompted by questions raised in class and my participation in sports law conferences and boards. The opportunity to write enriches my teaching and, hopefully, helps to advance improvement in the field and opportunities for my students. 

You’ve co-written two notable casebooks, Arbitration Law, Policy, and Practice (the only casebook with a full arbitration case) and Sports Law: Cases and Materials. Since most of us only have experience reading casebooks, can you demystify the casebook writing process? And, perhaps, share any casebook reading tips? 

Professor Weston: Ah, to demystify casebooks would be like giving away the recipe to Coca-Cola®! Both of my Sports Law and Arbitration textbooks are intended to align with my teaching philosophy noted above – to provide the framework for understanding the factual contexts, issues, and legal doctrines but also to set out case problems for students to analyze and apply the doctrine in realistic scenarios. The challenge in writing a casebook is selecting the best cases to illustrate a doctrine, editing without over-simplifying, and simply keeping abreast of the constant developments in both arbitration and sports law. 

For casebook reading tips – good old FIRAC. Don’t skip over the FACTS; it’s important to understand the “story” and party perspectives, particularly when counseling a client of their options and when engaged in a negotiation or mediation. We get caught up in legalistic arguments, when often what drives parties in conflict relates to a misunderstanding in perception, communication, or fact. Certainly, students must learn advocacy, analytical, and writing skills, but listening, hearing, and understanding are techniques essential for effectively representing clients.  

What changes have you seen in sports law research, and what trends have you noticed in the field? 

Professor Weston: Traditional sports law has focused on the major professional leagues and big four men’s sports organizations, the NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL. Antitrust and labor law – collective bargaining and arbitration are the primary legal issues. Much has changed with the emergence of media, technology, high stakes sponsorships, and popular new sports – eSports, MMA, women’s soccer, tennis as well as the international scale of sports. Thus, intellectual property, contract negotiations, governance, arbitration, conduct standards, athlete advocacy, and doping regulations are the next topics we’ll see in sports law.  

My current favorite issue is who owns the rights to an athlete’s tattoos? Of course, the topic of SafeSport, sexual misconduct, and health safety for athletes are among the most important issues in our day.

Finally, how have you seen past students successfully enter this space?

Professor Weston: My greatest satisfaction is seeing my students achieve their career and life goals. I’m pleased to report that a number of former students are working in the sports industry. It can and usually does take time, experience, persistence, and patience. Getting involved with sports at any level – even as a volunteer for the local soccer team – and with sport lawyer associations can open many doors and keep us on top of the exciting developments in the sports law industry.

Thank you so much for your time, Professor Weston!

Tatum Wheeler is a first-year law student at UC Irvine. When she’s not studying, she spends her free time exploring the coastline, connecting with friends and 
family, and cheering on her favorite sports teams. Please feel free to contact her with any questions, comments, or further advice.

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