Alumnus Michael Pasternak shares some insights about his LL.M. in sports law in Los Angeles
Michael Pasternak earned his first law degree at the University of Hamburg in Germany. Prior to pursuing his LL.M., he worked in the Hamburg office of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP for eight months. While at UCLA, he focused his studies on Media, Entertainment, Technology and Sports Law (with a particular emphasis on intellectual property and sports law). Upon graduation from UCLA, he returned to Germany to clerk for the Higher Regional Court of Celle.
Michael, what first comes to mind when you think about your LL.M. at UCLA?
Even though in Europe it is still considered a niche market in the legal arena, “Sports Law” is a valid and rather large legal and financial market, which makes it an appealing career path for young lawyers (and oftentimes for sports enthusiasts as well). As an American Football player and lawyer (jurist), I was always interested in and fascinated by the unique U.S. sports industry, which has its own legal and economic framework that can’t be compared to the sports systems established in Germany or Europe more broadly.
From college football to the draft and franchise systems to established financial fairness rules such as salary caps, the U.S. sports system spans a wide variety of interesting topics, many of which are discussed in several interesting and unique courses at UCLA Law.
The International Comparative Sports Law class for instance, taught by Prof. Steven Bank, offers a comparative view of different sport systems and their legal frameworks. Students are introduced to the concepts of different sporting institutions (FIFA, UEFA, IOC, WADA, CAS) and discuss a variety of interesting as well as controversial topics from the world of sports across the globe.
Another course, taught by Prof. Steve Derian, is rather practice-oriented and is designed as a clinic. In this class, students negotiate real life player contracts, endorsement deals, and broadcasting agreements. They really learn how to negotiate, research, and draft contracts within the realm of American sports. Furthermore, students learn about various legal concepts within the American league systems (especially BA, MLB, NFL), such as collective bargaining agreements, the legal position of student athletes, and more.
This was probably my favorite course during the LL.M. because I was able to work out real life deals/contracts and practitioners like the general legal counsel of the LA Dodgers, the agent of renowned players like Steph Curry, representatives of the NFL Network and an active general manager of an NBA franchise helped offer invaluable insights you won’t get anywhere else.
What was your main incentive in pursuing an LL.M. program, and what led you to choose UCLA for your LL.M.?
Growing up in Germany with a multilingual background, I always considered myself as international and liked to connect personally as well as professionally within my chosen professional field of law. So, in my opinion, the LL.M was the best way to: (a) hone one’s linguistic skills, (b) get to know a new, interesting and globally relevant legal system (with regard to the U.S.) and (c) grow personally and connect to people from around the world. Of course, after years of pretty tough legal education, it was also a welcome change of scenery - a decision for which I have no regrets to date, and probably never will.
Nearly 1.5 years after the LL.M., I can confirm that UCLA Law was the best choice of my life. As a young professional interested in media, sports, and entertainment law, UCLA is the closest law school to the media and entertainment hub (Hollywood) and offers unique proximity to the practical and legal world of U.S. entertainment, which is widely known around the globe. Where, if not there, can you learn from people who worked for corporations like Disney, 20th Century FOX, Universal, and all the other giants influencing the modern world of entertainment?
UCLA Law is the best-connected institution to the world of entertainment in the U.S., and the Ziffren Institute for Media, Entertainment, Technology and Sports Law faculty consists of great professors who see this industry through a legal lens firsthand. This was one of the main reasons for my choice. Other reasons included, of course, the weather, the unique flair of the city - Los Angeles is 2nd largest in the U.S. - and the recommendations made by other UCLA ambassadors in Germany. What stood out was that alumni praised the supporting cast that runs the LL.M program at UCLA Law, and their praise was more than justified.
UCLA School of Law is the youngest of the top-ranked law schools in the U.S. What was your experience like during your first several weeks at UCLA, and how would you describe the overall professional and personal support provided by the Law School?
The first 2-3 weeks were very well-organized with a helpful and interesting introduction to the curriculum as well as great social events. It never felt boring or unnecessary. Every part of the opening weeks felt like a smooth “ride” that would provide a seamless transition into each student's curriculum of choice. Arriving in Los Angeles simply felt great. Imagine coming from a country like Germany, which, in August has more rain than Los Angeles has in a year, while also feeling this positive anticipation about beginning something new and meeting new people. Those weeks were very intense, but at the same time, really fun.
Regarding the personal and professional support directly provided by UCLA Law, it can be described as – to put it simply – awesome. No matter what questions you have – whether those be bar exam-related, specific to the curriculum, or even regarding personal matters - the Graduate Studies & International Programs Office was always there to provide quick and effective help. In my case, the Graduate Studies team helped me a lot with fullfilling bar requirements, which can be more than a bit confusing. Although I'm just one example, I know for a fact that UCLA Law was always able to solve nearly every problem raised by LL.M. students. To this day, I remain in close correspondence with the members of the LL.M. department, and even help them represent UCLA Law at events abroad as an ambassador.
You earned your first law degree at the University of Hamburg in Germany. Prior to pursuing your LL.M. in California, you worked in an international law firm for eight months. In your opinion, is it an advantage to have professional experience prior to starting the LL.M.?
I would say it does not hurt, especially if you had prior professional insights regarding the work of “Big Law" firms because - by my estimation - they conduct over half of their work in English and gaining familiarity with that legal language can be useful. Still, I would not say it is an absolute necessity. It does, however, offer the opportunity to save some money before the LL.M., since we all know that good education in the U.S. comes at a price.
At UCLA, you focused your studies on Media, Entertainment, Technology and Sports Law and Policy. Did you already have prior exposure to or contact with these disciplines before the LL.M.? In your opinion, what are the advantages and disadvantages of this specialization, particularly with regard to your future career path?
My exposure to media and entertainment law was limited before the LL.M., but this was exactly the reason why I saw the program as an opportunity to break into these disciplines. In my opinion, the LL.M. offers a flexible, unique chance to simply get a feel for a new area of law. Since UCLA Law is the top institution in media, entertainment, and sports law, it provides a great opportunity either to deepen or to be introduced to this interesting, dynamic field.
Most (if not all) professors who teach media, technology, entertainment, and sports law at UCLA Law have backgrounds as practitioners in these areas. Being that close to the entertainment and technology hubs of the U.S., you learn firsthand from scholars and leaders that know what they are talking about - they were involved in the big litigation proceedings, they made the big movie deals, and they advised producers and actors on how to navigate disputes and comply with CBAs (collective bargaining agreements) and the law. This is also the reason why the school is so well-connected to this particular industry; and students truly benefit from it when famous actors, producers, lawyers, managers, and directors come to campus to deliver lectures or talks to the student body. This makes UCLA Law, in my opinion, one of the best law schools in terms of media, entertainment, and sports law.
With regard to my career path, I look forward to seeing where it takes me, but my love for this area of law remains strong.
At UCLA, you completed the “Sports Law Simulation” experiential course, taught by Professor Steve Derian. How did you become aware of this offering, and how is the class structured?
I became aware of this class simply by reading through the curriculum. I quickly noticed that this course required an extra application in which I had to describe why I wanted to join the clinic, and how I could contribute to the class. After the enrollment period concluded, I was ultimately one of two LL.M. students that were selected to participate in the clinic and, as I said before, it was one of the best academic choices I made that year.
Through Prof. Derian’s practice-based approach to teaching the class – including group negotiations, contract drafting exercises supplemented by real-time advice from renowned practitioners, and preparatory theoretical lectures – I learned more than I could have ever imagined. The best part about it was that every single class was fun.
Two times a week, we had three hours of clinic. The first day focused on theory and foundational knowledge we needed for future projects. The second day was practice-oriented, and typically entailed preparing for upcoming negotiations and contract drafting. Usually, there were two opposing groups representing their respective clients that would attempt to achieve the best possible deal during a negotiation held outside of the classroom.
The groups had to organize the negotiations themselves, which made the experience even more like the “real world.” In the second half of the semester, we had a big final project in which every student was assigned a role (player-agent, or general manager of a major sports franchise like the MLB, NBA, or NFL) and had to prepare a comprehensive written work. The focus of those written pieces could revolve around a player whose contract was running out, for instance, and that would serve as the baseline for a larger negotiation. These preliminary negotiations were attended by expert practitioners who offered up their time to give us “live” tips before each final negotiation.
During your time at UCLA, you served as LL.M. representative of the Sports Law Federation – one of the Law School’s more than 50 student organizations. What were your responsibilities in this position, and how did you support and represent fellow LL.M. students?
Even though the Sports Law Federation was a relatively small student organization, we were still able to organize interesting legal keynote events, during which our guests shared their experiences from a sports lawyer’s perspective.
I helped to organize these events, and essentially publicized them to the LL.M. student community. At a point, many people came to recognize that I was interested and involved in sports, so they even asked me to explain some sports rules. An example of this was regarding American Football rules, so that my peers would be able to watch UCLA Football games and understand at least a bit of what was happening. There was actually a funny moment when I even taught a group of LL.M.s the rules of American Football in a UCLA Law classroom.
You also interned in the UCLA Athletics American Football department (D1) in recruiting and football operations. Do most LL.M.s participate in these types of similar significant experiential opportunities, and does UCLA guarantee internship offerings in this specific area?
To be honest, no. These types of experiences away from the Law faculty are not included in the academic spectrum of the law school, but as a graduate student at UCLA, you are encouraged to make the most of the university resources by taking some self-initiative and simply asking around at various departments.
As a graduate student, you have access to nearly every single department or center on campus. You just have to ask. In my case, I simply knocked on the door and made my case. I shared that I was a huge football enthusiast and player from Europe, was currently enrolled at the law school, and wanted to help the team as a volunteer in some capacity. I gave the guy at the door my phone number and asked him to pass it along to anyone who might know about jobs/opportunities inside the department.
This mostly originated out of personal motivation, since – where I came from – there was no comparable level of American Football like that of the U.S., and it was just my own personal desire to experience and understand the operations of a Division 1 college football team in action from the inside. I helped with recruiting high school players and really learned the ins and outs of the whole process.
„UCLA is kind of a microcosm of LA itself, which is one of the most – or maybe even the most – diverse cities in the U.S.“
In addition to your internship, you also worked part-time as a soccer and basketball official for UCLA Recreation. How were you able to manage both part-time work and the rigorous LL.M. course load and study schedule? Do you think IP Law and Sports Law are complementary?
It was actually fairly easy to manage, because you worked for either the soccer intramural competitions or the basketball ones. Additionally, you were able to choose your shifts, which were typically not longer than 2-4 hours each, depending on the number of games you took. In my opinion, the LL.M. allowed sufficient time for a part-time job in the evenings, and I was still able to focus on my LL.M. studies.
I would describe IP law as a part of sports law, but sports law is not only IP Law. The two definitely go hand-in-hand, since much of sports law has to do with the exposure of a player (for instance) and the use of one’s name, image, and likeness, all of which has to be compensated. But this is merely one example of IP being relevant to sports law.
UCLA has the largest campus within the UC system and is one of the world’s leading research universities. How would you describe student life at the campus, and what – for you – defines UCLA?
I would describe student life in three words: rich, diverse, and big. UCLA is kind of a microcosm of LA itself, which is one of the most – or maybe even the most – diverse cities in the U.S. This makes the UCLA experience unique; you get to experience the traditional American “big” college lifestyle with a liberal and diverse flair. Personally, I loved that about the campus life. I also enjoyed the fact that, for the most part, Westwood (the neighborhood in which UCLA is located) is a “student town.” With all the parties, events, fraternities, and sororities, it honestly felt like being an extra in a college movie.
What were your most exciting, interesting, or memorable experiences at UCLA? What advice would you give to prospective students?
I would say that commencement, graduation (even though we were hit by COVID), the help I received from UCLA Law and broader UCLA campus staff both before and during pandemic, the trips, surfing, the sun, and the worldwide connections and lifelong friendships I made are some of the most unforgettable aspects of my experience. But there’s so much more. It is difficult to point to just a few things.
After graduating from UCLA, you returned to Germany where you worked as a legal trainee in several courts, as well as at the public prosecutor's office in Hanover, Lower Saxony and at Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg (RBB) in Berlin. To what extent was your LL.M. experience helpful to you in these jobs, and how did you adjust to the differences between German and American law and legal systems?
As a leader in the global economic market, the U.S. often functions as a “trendsetter” and consequently influences society, politics, and economics. The deeper understanding of the U.S. system I developed during the LL.M. helps me really understand topics like data protection law – and the flaws in the U.S. system – or IP law and why corporations operate as they do with headquarters in the U.S.
These things also helped me with the projects I worked on at RBB, because journalists often use U.S. platforms and, inevitably, the question of whether those services comply with European Law always arises alongside the matter of how Americans justify their special use of data. In general, it is very valuable to understand how American stakeholders think, and this helps me even in my current work at White & Case LLP in Frankfurt.
Right now, you are working as a summer associate at the Frankfurt office of an international law firm. What is a “summer associate” and, in your opinion, is it essential to do an LL.M. in order to work as a lawyer in an international law firm?
The term “summer associate” is just the American and – at White & Case – uniform nomenclature for legal trainees or young professionals who are not far off from beginning their professional careers. In my case, I am a “Referendar” or legal clerk completing his lawyer’s stage (“Anwaltsstation”) at W&C. Of course, you can’t say it is absolutely essential to complete a LL.M., but it definitely helps. Based on my experience, law firms certainly appreciate the completion of a LL.M. program.
You planned to take the California bar exam in 2020 and are currently working towards gaining admission to practice in both Germany and California. What are the requirements for the bar exam, how is it structured, and what would you say are the benefits of being licensed in more than one state?
Unfortunately, I have not yet sat for the California bar because of the pandemic and the fact that it was significantly postponed during 2020. I simply could not extend my stay in the U.S. to take the exam in October because I had to begin my “Referendariat” in Lower Saxony.
However, the bar exam is the most difficult test in U.S. legal education. During the two examination days, students solve hundreds of multiple-choice questions, write several essays, and are orally tested. Students prepare for the exam during a span of approximately three very intense months and try to pass it on the attempt.
German LL.M.s actually tend to have very good passage rates and, in my opinion, it is nice to have taken it because it is during bar exam preparation that you spend concentrated time focusing on extensive studies that provide the broadest and deepest insights into U.S. law. The benefits for German lawyers are not that big a deal because they likely won’t advise clients on American law – usually, both the client and the firm tend to prefer a full-fledged U.S. lawyer. Still, gaining bar admission demonstrates that you have a better understanding of American law in comparison to the average German lawyer that never touched a U.S. legal textbook or a Barbri outline.
The pandemic crisis unfolded in the spring of 2020. What was your experience like at this time, especially in regard to the sense of unity and the support at UCLA Law?
This was actually a scary moment, seeing yourself in a foreign country approximately 11.000 kilometers away from home, your family, and your known health care system. But the state of California – which is probably the most progressive state in the U.S. – as well as the University of California system (UC network), which includes UCLA, provided instant help and relief not only to U.S. citizens but also to foreign graduate students like me.
Due to the loss of my part-time job – which resulted in a shortage of funds during my stay – UCLA Law and UCLA at large provided me with a remarkable stipend to cover the cost of a monthly rent and even food during the two most difficult months, from March to May 2020.
It was such an unexpected but positive surprise when I found a student relief check in my mailbox. UCLA administrators even called me and asked whether I needed further assistance going forward. This was actually the moment I realized that UCLA cared deeply about its international students, who were only there for just one academic year. It’s really very touching for me to think back on how helpful the entire institution was during one of the toughest moments of recent years.
UCLA was the best, most memorable, and most profitable year of my life, regardless of the expense. It is, in my opinion, the best investment in oneself that a young aspiring graduate from Germany can make.
Thank you, Michael Pasternak!
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