This week, I continue my written interview with Heitner Legal’s Darren Heitner. Last week, Darren shared with us what makes helping student-athletes in this new world of NILs so rewarding. It is hard to imagine something more exciting for a lawyer than to be at the forefront of a rapidly developing area of law, while getting to work with clients that really need the help.
Now to the remainder of my interview with Darren. As usual, I have added some brief commentary to the answers below but have otherwise presented his answers to my questions as he provided them.
Gaston Kroub: How do you think your transition from agent to practicing lawyer helped prepare you for your current practice?
Darren Heitner: Having practiced as a sports agent for a number of years, I have an appreciation for what life is like for the many agents who I currently represent as legal counsel, which includes the pitfalls, areas of exposure, as well as the ways in which conflicts tend to arise. It has helped me effectively communicate with those agents and also understand the trials and tribulations that they go through on a daily basis. It has also assisted me in having an understanding of the nuances in the profession, and given me a strong basis for handling unique issues in the sports agency world such as the arbitration precedent that commonly governs the profession. Not burning bridges with competitors when I served as a sports agent has allowed me to turn those former competitors into clients and service them, as well as their athlete clients, throughout my career as a practicing attorney.
GK: Darren’s answer reminds us of the value of understanding the business of our clients, as a path toward offering them better service. It is also interesting to hear that arbitration is a common means of handling disputes in the sports law world, which is something I wish were true on the IP side of things, especially for smaller cases for which federal lawsuits may be overkill. Ultimately, Darren’s understanding of the sports representation landscape from multiple viewpoints is something that is probably of value to his clients, including student-athletes who may not be represented by a sports agent.
GK: What makes a firm like yours attractive to clients looking for a fresh alternative to Biglaw practice groups?
DH: First, I think clients truly appreciate having the capacity to reach me at all times on all days (including weekends) by email, text, or phone call. They also recognize that I am very quick and thorough in my responses and do a good job of managing my time so as to be able to move things around when there is truly something urgent and pressing that arises. That is uncommon with many Biglaw practice groups. Second, I have stayed true to the rates that I charged early clients and they very much appreciate receiving the benefit of sticking with me throughout the years. Even new clients receive hourly rates that are very competitive and certainly far below the rates of most Biglaw firms in states like New York and California. Finally, clients tend to feel as though there is a personal relationship that exists with my firm, whereas I have heard that quite often that is lacking with the retention of Biglaw practice groups.
GK: Responsiveness is a key differentiator for smaller firms practicing in a variety of legal disciplines, so it is no surprise that Darren highlights it as an important contributor to his firm’s attractiveness to clients — all of whom have options when it comes to retaining counsel. Likewise, always showing favor toward your practice’s earliest clients — whether in the form of stable billing rates, increased attention, or anything else of value to them — is simply good business, as well as an important contributor to a positive feeling about one’s practice. There is something extra sweet about continuing to perform for a longstanding client, particularly one who took a shot on your firm in its earliest days. Competitive rates, personal attention, responsiveness — Darren correctly highlights them all as features of a successful boutique firm or solo practice.
My thanks to Darren for the insights and cooperation, especially for his patience in waiting for me to do my part in getting this interview ready for publication. I wish him the best of luck with his firm and his efforts on behalf of his clients. There is no doubt that NILs will continue to make news on the IP front — and I have no doubt that Darren’s ongoing contributions will help his clients and fellow IP lawyers learn how to best adapt to the always-changing NIL landscape over time.
I am always open to conducting interviews of this type with other IP thought leaders, so feel free to reach out if you have a compelling perspective to offer.
Please feel free to send comments or questions to me at email@example.com or via Twitter: @gkroub. Any topic suggestions or thoughts are most welcome.
Gaston Kroub lives in Brooklyn and is a founding partner of Kroub, Silbersher & Kolmykov PLLC, an intellectual property litigation boutique, and Markman Advisors LLC, a leading consultancy on patent issues for the investment community. Gaston’s practice focuses on intellectual property litigation and related counseling, with a strong focus on patent matters. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter: @gkroub.