Over the weekend, Kathryn D’Angelo participated in a panel discussion as part of National Girls & Women in Sports Week. Prior to that, I had the opportunity to sit and speak with her.
“Sports law doesn’t really exist. There isn’t a ‘sports law’ body of law. It’s simply the law as it applies to the sports industry.” Kathryn D’Angelo (’10) is Counsel with the Buffalo Bills. Kathryn, and those practicing in the sports law industry, can attest as well as anyone, that there isn’t a particular body of rules and laws that make practicing law in the sports industry unique. Kathryn is counsel for a company, a company that provides an entertainment product.
In order to be a successful sports law attorney, Kathryn is well-versed in a myriad of legal fields including transactional law, corporate law, labor & employment law, premises liability, intellectual property, insurance, and civil litigation, to name a few. An attorney in the sports arena is going to be dealing with legal questions and issues from these fields, and others, on a daily basis.
Kathryn did not plan on a career as an attorney for an NFL franchise, but it was her willingness to keep an open mind and not shut herself off to new opportunities that brought her to where she is now.
For the first few years out of law school, Kathryn worked as a prosecutor with the Erie County District Attorney’s Office. When asked what she enjoyed most about criminal prosecution, Kathryn said it was the ability to serve justice, which is not, and should not, be about ‘winning’. Justice demands the right outcome and sometimes that doesn’t mean winning your case. The right outcome can mean finding the right plea bargain, the right diversionary program, or determining that justice demands the charges be dropped.
Kathryn’s career then led her into commercial litigation and transactional work with Lipsitz Green Scime Cambria LLP in 2013. Through her time there, she was fortunate enough to work on projects for the Buffalo Bills as outside counsel. Her skills and work ethic made an impression on the Bills’ General Counsel at a time when he was looking to expand the in-house legal team. After being invited to interview for the position and a lengthy interview process, Kathryn was hired in April 2016.
Kathryn says there are many misconceptions when it comes to lawyers for NFL teams. When asked what typical response she gets when people find out what she does for a living, Kathryn says the very first question she gets is “are you the players’ lawyer?”. This is one of those common misconceptions. Kathryn protects the interests of the organization as a whole. The players have their own agents and attorneys who specifically work to advocate for each player’s individual interests.
One of the other misconceptions she says some people hold is, she, and other attorneys in the NFL, are not competitors. Yes, the teams compete against each other on the field on Sundays, but Kathryn enjoys the community she has and the relationships she has developed with the other clubs’ legal teams because many of them end up facing similar issues and projects, so they can be resources to one another in certain circumstances.
Kathryn is a well-seasoned, skilled attorney that has a real love for practicing law. “What attracted me to practicing law is I have a strong sense of rules and order. I enjoy using the law as a vehicle to solve problems.” This love for practicing law is incredibly important for an attorney wishing to pursue a career in sports law. Being a sports attorney means you need to be well-versed in nearly every field of the law as you’ll encounter those issues every single day.