Putting Cleveland on the Map: The Great Lakes Sports and Entertainment Law Academy

           Visionary leadership, innovative partnerships and a focus on practical preparation have made Cleveland-Marshall College of Law a destination for prospective law students across Northeast Ohio.  Launching in 2012, the Great Lakes Sports and Entertainment Law Academy, a program built on all three, will establish Cleveland-Marshall and the City of Cleveland itself as a destination for prospective law students across the nation and around the world. 

Peter Carfagna

        The Academy began with visionary leadership.  In 2011, Provost Geoffrey S. Mearns, formerly the dean of the law school, invited Peter Carfagna to bring his courses on sports law from Harvard to Cleveland-Marshall as an Executive in Residence.  A visiting professor at Harvard, Carfagna had originated three sports law courses, each of which has a published case book.  Carfagna agreed to teach the courses in Cleveland, a great boon for C|M|LAW students.  Around the same time, he was invited to join Case Western Reserve University School of Law as a Distinguished Visiting Practitioner.  Carfagna proposed a novel idea:  why not cross list the courses at Cleveland-Marshall and Case Law Schools?

            The Academy grew out of the resulting successful and innovative partnership between Cleveland-Marshall and Case, that was supported of by Dean Craig M. Boise at C|M|LAW and Dean Lawrence E. Mitchell at CWRU Law School.  Carfagna began working with an old friend, Craig Nard, the director of the Center for Law, Technology and the Arts at CWRU.  Nard’s experience in Intellectual Property and Carfagna’s experience in Sports law complemented one another, and from their work together, the idea for an Academy emerged. 

            When Carfagna began teaching his three courses to students from C|M|LAW and CWRU Law, it immediately became clear that students here in Cleveland were highly interested in them and their practical nature.  “These are skills-based, clinically-based courses,” says Carfagna.  "The skills that students learn are useful across industries, but they also address issues in sports that appear in the headlines today.

            “Consider the scandal at Ohio State University, or at University of Miami (FL),” says Carfagna.  “Our graduates will have the skills to assist an athletic director in interpreting and becoming compliant with NCAA regulations,” he says.  "With sports and entertainment crossing over more and more in venues like the Wolstein Center, students who are well-prepared to draft and manage event and venue related contracts will have an advantage."

            After teaching his courses in Cleveland for one year, Carfagna decided an immersion experience might beneficial to students.  “Craig Nard had been doing immersion on the entertainment side with music and law,” says Carfagna, “and we talked about the possibility of putting our courses together.”  The two felt that their courses combined would make a unique, practical, attractive package and their deans agreed.  Carfagna and Nard became co-directors, and the Great Lakes Sports and Entertainment Law Academy was born. 

            The pair looked to their successes with current students to guide the development of the program.  “These are pre-professional, specialized courses that offer the platform for students to enter this industries as attorneys,” says Carfagna, “but the difficult question is, how can we make those opportunities available to them?”  One of the top students who had already taken the cross-listed courses offered an answer.  After shining in two of the three courses, Christopher Harrington, a student from Cleveland-Marshall, had impressed Carfagna.  When the opportunity arose for him to recommend students for an externship placement at The Madison Square Garden Company in New York City, he submitted Harrington’s name along with the names of several of his best Sports Law Students.          

C|M|LAW student Christopher Harrington

“As a result of my participation in Professor Carfagna’s courses, I managed to obtain the externship and transition quickly into my new position at MSG,” says Christopher Harrington.  “When I arrived I was given contract reviewing, editing and drafting assignments.  Because we had extensive practice with similar complex agreements, I recognized the various provisions and boilerplates,” he says.  “I knew exactly what to do, and I was able to get started without asking many questions, which impressed my supervisors.”  Harrington was assigned to MSG Sports and worked under Jamaal Lesane, he Vice President of Legal and Business Affairs for Teams and Sports Operations.  “There I was,” says Harrington, “this kid from Cleveland-Marshall surrounded by lawyers from Columbia, Yale and Harvard,” he said.  No matter how surreal the experience, it was a successful one for Harrington.  Carfagna and Nard wanted to have a similar impact on students at the Academy. 

            The question became how to provide such unique externship opportunities to students in the Academy.  Of course, one of the reasons Carfagna chose to teach in Cleveland in the first place is the unprecedented access to sports and arts institutions here in town. For example, Global Spectrum, part of the Comcast Group, is the on-site agency that manages the Wolstein Center for athletic events and music events as well.  “Would they appreciate a clinical student who can help them go over their forms and manage event related contacts for sports and events?” says Carfagna.  “Of course, and if a student can get that placement, they will have a huge advantage.”

            Carfagna and Nard began soliciting local organizations for externship opportunities and Global Spectrum, Nelligan Sports Marketing and Cleveland State University’s NCAA Athletics organizations were among the first.  The counsel for the Cleveland Browns, the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Lake County Captains and the Greater Cleveland Film Commission have since joined the expanding list.  “Our plan is to provide the top students in this summer’s inaugural Academy class with direct placement into these organizations for externships,” says Carfagna.

            On May 14, 2012, the Great Lakes Sports and Entertainment Law Academy will open its doors for its first class of students.  Students will be immersed in four courses over three weeks:  Representing the Professional Athlete, Negotiating Strategies in Sports Management, Representing the Musical Artist and Entertainment Law:  Film and Television.  The faculty includes Peter Carfagna, Mark Avsec, partner and vice-chair of the Intellectual Property Practice Group at Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan & Aronoff, LLP, and David Shall, Head of Business Operations & General Counsel at Vuguru LLC.

            “These faculty members are unique,” says co-director Craig Nard.  “Mark Avsec, for example is also a professional musician,” he says.  “He’s going to simulate what it’s like to represent an artist from the early days of a band all the way to becoming a heritage band.”  The first day, students from the course will travel to a music studio, see how musicians work in the field and learn about the legal issues involved in recording.  Each of the courses leverages the three-week immersive format to the fullest.  “With guest speakers, field trips and more to look forward to, this year’s Academy program will be wonderfully rich,” says Nard.  “And, this is only the first year.  We plan on making it bigger and better every year to come,” he says.  But, 2012 is already exceeding everyone’s expectations. 

            “We were hoping for 20-25 students to register for this summer’s Academy,” says Carfagna.  Registration is open to students from across the country, with courses to take place on the Cleveland State University campus.  By the time registration closed, the program had far exceeded initial expectations with 73 registrants from schools across the country.  Of those 73, the top 10-15 will receive placement in Cleveland-area externships.  “This program is a magnet,” says Carfagna.  “It’s a one-of-a-kind program – there is nothing quite like it out there. The program is great for Cleveland, great for CWRU Law, and great for Cleveland-Marshall,” he says.  “It will bring people here and create a brain gain.”