Joe Curtis built his own firm and brand by combining traditional legal concepts with a futuristic approach
“You are going to eat [explicit].” Joe Curtis, a young, up and coming sports and entertainment attorney based out of Miami, Florida, fights every day for his once dream — and now reality.
Curtis did not always dream of working in sports and entertainment law (“S&E Law”), let alone in law at all. Curtis admits three things: (1) he is not good at math — failing to even show up to his junior year of college math final; (2) he used law school as an excuse to tell his dad he “had a plan” after college; and (3) he was afraid of getting into S&E Law because he did not want the legal work to hinder his love for sports. He could not have been more wrong about himself.
After graduating from the University of Miami School of Law, Curtis accepted a job at a large Florida law firm doing business immigration. Thereafter, Curtis wanted to expand his experience, accepting a job with Seltzer Mayberg as a criminal defense attorney. A year and a half into work at Seltzer Mayberg, Curtis found himself in Las Vegas, Nevada — at a criminal defense conference — with a firm managing partner. Curtis used this opportunity to change the course of his life.
“I pitched the idea to the managing partner, and it’s funny because we were eating at a buffet,” Curtis said while laughing. “I give him my passionate vision for what I want to do and even as far as getting into working with the government to bring back grants . . . I pitched the idea and they supported me. I am very grateful that they allowed me to take the idea and run with it.”
Curtis worked diligently for three months developing the S&E Law sector of Seltzer Mayberg, investing time and money, and making the necessary moves for a successful year such as lining up meetings in Los Angeles, California. Then tragedy struck with Covid-19 — challenging society and still impacting life today. Yet, despite the horrors of the pandemic, Curtis found a silver-lining.
“It was frustrating because with my personality I like to go out and expand constantly,” Curtis said. “When I don’t feel like I am growing, that is when I get bored and that’s when I get frustrated . . . but because everything slowed down, the world essentially stopped. It gave me time to think about how I wanted to run it instead of running and gunning. It gave me the ability to network with people because everyone was sitting at home, not doing anything. So, the competition probably wasn’t what it would have been if it weren’t for Covid. As weird as it sounds to say that.”
Slowing down time, mapping out the future, and making connections led Curtis to meeting important individuals in the S&E Law space, such as Dan Lust — prominent S&E Law attorney, working at Geragos & Geragos, teaching sports law at New York Law School, and host of the top rated sports law podcast, “Conduct Detrimental” and Zach Hiller — NFL Agent, founder of Loyalty Above All (“LAA”) (sports agency), representing players such as Dalvin Cook and J.K. Dobbins, and named on the 2021 Forbes Sports “30 Under 30” list. Curtis successfully parlayed his connection with Hiller into a working relationship, now acting Chief Operating Officer of LAA.
Curtis ate [explicit] and kept working. Eventually, turning his hard work into entrepreneurship, deciding to create his own firm, JOCUR LEGAL. A “future-focused law firm” based out of Miami, specializing in corporate, sports, entertainment, and non-fungible token (“NFT”) law, amongst other things. Creating his own firm energized Curtis, allowing him to fully utilize the network he worked so hard to curate. Working in the S&E Law space comes with difficulties; you must be cut-out for the work — different from the standard attorney.
“There is a way you have to carry yourself,” Curtis said. “People have to like you, but not like you too much . . . you do not want to venture into becoming just friends because then thing get weird, and that is in general with law. You have to keep that balance of ‘you are cool enough’ but, you are also respected because you are good at what you do. With the firm — and if I was in any other dynamic really — you have to be a lawyer first. But people do not understand what it takes to succeed in sports and entertainment. It is hard to get in, but it is even harder to stay in because there is always someone who wants to get in.”
Owning and running a boutique firm is difficult. A lawyer must generate their own clients, work with those clients, represent those clients, understand finances, hire and train other attorneys and interns, and continually grow to be better — to name a few of the challenges. Curtis pulls no punches when discussing these challenges.
“I tell everyone, you are going to eat [explicit]. You are going to eat [explicit]. You have to eat [explicit], Curtis said. “If you find ways to cut corners, you are not going to make it because you are not getting anything out of it . . . It is possible to be ‘lucky’ — I think I have been lucky — I was at the right place at the right time and met the right people, but I think I am at least five or six years ahead of where I would be if I didn’t, which is incredible. But I am still eating [explicit].”
Curtis, with a eat or be eaten mentality, has elevated himself in a legal field that caters to no one. The S&E Law space is like the sports world, you must “put in the work.” It takes fearlessness from an attorney to put themselves out there and create their own brand. There is no magic recipe. It is simply an attorney (or professional) putting themselves out there and making that first connection and thereafter building on that.
“There is no playbook,” Curtis said. “Each person and each path is going to be different. There are going to be different obstacles — money problems [or] a client is going to leave you — everybody goes through them. If you want to do something, you have to go out and do it . . . Even to this day, people come up to me and ask me, and people look up to me, and they see how much I grind, and just the way they are talking, they are trying to convince themselves that they want to do this. I do not say anything because they need to figure it out on their own.”
One way Curtis crafted his own playbook is through social media and specifically the NFT market. NFTs are new, exciting, and complicated for many. Numerous attorneys are attempting to infiltrate the market; however, Curtis is pursuing NFTs differently. Using social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram, Curtis uses “tongue and cheek marketing,” generating strategic posts to hint at new concepts in the digital space, known as “easter-eggs” — to keep followers and clients intrigued on his next moves. For instance, Curtis created an avatar of himself walking in a digital world, themed to the movie Scarface. This not only poked fun at himself, but also represented to clients and followers his understanding of the new digital world and how it can be used as a marketing tool.
“The reason I do it that way is because I want it to be seen like, ‘yeah you know, there is a perception of lawyers and they just do it and they are greedy b******s and they don’t give a [explicit] and they just bill and they just bill’,” Curtis said. “[But] it is an [explicit] intense profession. The mental energy you have to put in to do task the right way is incredible . . . Having that in mind, to show clients that, but not come across as a ‘nerd.’ In sports and entertainment law, as soon as you come across as a groupie or a nerd, they lose respect for you, or they do not want to work with you.”
Curtis likens NFTs to the legal field in that the people who work in these spaces are traditionally considered “nerds.” This perception intrigues Curtis because it is a perfect marriage of individuals — lawyers are inherently good at and like learning, reading, and analyzing. The legal aspects of NFTs are the same as non-digital forms, just on blockchain. As the world shifts to the digital world known as “Web 3” — something many people do not realize they have already done and are living in “Web 2” — the importance of everyone’s name, image, and likeness (“NIL”) is paramount. The legal significance is immense, and lawyers’ jobs remain the same.
“Our job is the same thing; it is just a different way to go about it. [We] still have to protect our client with NIL — more now than ever,” Curtis said. “Our likeness is our most valuable thing we have next to maybe our DNA. Our DNA is our most like part of our likeness. As we start moving digital, the real value of things is our likeness, because your likeness is what is going to make you look like you in the metaverse.”
Considering the significance of NIL, Curtis ensures all his clients maintain their NIL rights through licensing — ensuring there is nothing in a contract that removes a client’s ability to revoke their rights after a contract finishes. Many companies try and exploit athletes and entertainers with lifetime contracts that strip away their ability to maintain their own NIL.
“There are certain things that get me annoyed . . . when terms in contracts are just objectively ridiculous,” Curtis said. “Athletes are not realizing that these terms of the agreements were not even trying to hide through legalese what they are doing — that they own everything, and you have no rights as compensation to [it]. It is mind blowing that they are not even trying to hide it.”
Curtis is still young in his legal career and he will keep reaching career milestones by mixing his ability to understand different areas of law and implementing that knowledge in the S&E Law space. This knowledge, coupled with his marketing prowess, provides his clients with the capability of maximizing their legal protection and financial earnings. Curtis recognizes that there are other attorneys who specialize in S&E Law. Nevertheless, that is not stopping him.
“I am not the only one, I have no idea.” Curtis said “[B]ut . . . by doing my own law firm, [I am] establishing myself as one of the ‘go to’ people in the country, if not the world.”
3rd year law student and Co-President of the Buffalo Sports ands Entertainment Law Society. I enjoy writing and learning more about the intersection of business, sports, entertainment and law.