Williams & Connolly sports-and-entertainment lawyer James L. Tanner Jr. got his first taste of Washington during an internship at Procter & Gamble while enrolled at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Tanner was so taken by Washington that he moved here in 1993 after finishing law school at the University of Chicago—where he had President-elect Barack Obama as a professor.
He cut his teeth working in mergers and acquisitions and corporate law at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom’s DC office for four years, and in 1996 served as a senior adviser for the Clinton/Gore campaign.
In 1997, he was recruited by Williams & Connolly to help bolster the firm’s sports practice. Under the mentorship of Lon Babby, a sports-and-entertainment lawyer and a partner at the firm, Tanner successfully added to a roster of athletes that included Grant Hill and Tim Duncan.
Tanner’s talent, like that of the athletes he represents, has not gone unnoticed: In 2002, he made partner at the firm. He’s been recognized by various sports publications including Sports Illustrated and Sports Business Journal and in 2006 made it onto The Washingtonian’s list of 40 top lawyers under 40.
These days, he represents the likes of fellow UNC Tar Heels Marvin Williams and Brandan Wright, the Mystics’ Alana Beard, and Josh Childress, who left the NBA to become the highest-paid player in the history of European basketball. Tanner took time to answer some of our questions.
Name: Jim Tanner.
Occupation: attorney/sports agent.
Hometown: High Point, North Carolina.
Must-have item at all times:
Woodford Reserve or Johnny Walker Black, both on the rocks.
Finish this sentence: When not working, you can find me . . .
. . . watching my kids at one of their activities or watching a movie.”
Washingtonians you admire?
Lon Babby, my mentor and partner in our sports practice; Janet Hill, a partner with Alexander & Associates, who impresses me every time I speak with her; Susie Kay, the president and founder of Hoop Dreams Scholarship Fund, for her passionate and forceful dedication to the kids in her program; and President-elect Barack Obama, one of my professors in law school.
Favorite neighborhood in Washington?
I really like the energy and restaurants in Penn Quarter.
Washington insider tips?
Look for visiting NBA players at Lucky Strike next to Verizon Center. Also, check out Westminster School in Annandale if you’re looking for a fantastic elementary/middle school.
Favorite sport to watch on TV:
Basketball, of course.
What would you change about Washington?
The traffic. I never understand why it takes me 15 minutes to get to work some days and over an hour other days.
As you answer these questions, what Web sites are open in your browser?
ESPN.com, Google, and CNN.com.
Why sports-and-entertainment law? Did you know all along that’s what you wanted to do?
I started my career as a corporate-finance/mergers-and-acquisitions attorney at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. It was a fantastic foundation, but I never saw myself doing that for the rest of my life. I had friends from UNC who ended up playing professional sports, and I kept in touch with them. I also had friends who worked on the business side of sports as either agents or financial advisers, so I’d follow them as well. When this opportunity presented itself, I felt that my experiences and background were well suited to working with athletes.
As a sports-and-entertainment lawyer, what kind of issues do you handle? Contract negotiations and endorsements come to mind, but what are some other aspects of your job?
I handle a number of issues beyond contract negotiations and endorsements, including business planning and transactions, structuring our clients’ business relationships and foundations, and counseling the athletes on all aspects of their professional careers, including free agency, trades, and postcareer opportunities. As an agent, you’re required to wear many hats. One day you’re operating as the client’s lawyer. The next day, you’re his marketing representative. The next, you’re a friend or big brother.
What are some of the perks that come with representing high-profile athletes? Is there a downside?
Attending incredibly exciting sporting events like NBA All-Star games, NBA finals, NCAA Final Fours. Also, getting to know celebrities on a personal level is satisfying because, believe it or not, they’re just regular people. The only downside I can think of is that there is no downtime.
How long do you see yourself practicing law? Any other plans for the future?
I’ve been practicing law for 15 years and feel extremely fortunate with my current situation, so I honestly haven’t really thought about anything other than law for the foreseeable future. To practice sports law at a firm like Williams & Connolly with such talented colleagues is wholly satisfying.
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