Career Lessons From Michael Jordan's Contract Negotiator

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Sports agent David Falk's clients include Michael Jordan, Boomer Esiason, and other big names. He's also behind the iconic "Air Jordan" marketing campaign. He's the Warren Buffet of sports agents. Falk, a graduate of George Washington University Law School, started in sports management and representation while still in law school. His hard fought entry into that highly competitive space was paved with long hours – school, working full-time at Sidley Austin as a law clerk, and volunteering at night for Dell, Craighill, Fentress & Benton, a boutique firm representing professional tennis players. He worked 80-hour weeks.

In the 1970s, Falk added basketball players to his client roster, and during the 1908s, expanded into football. For decades, his clients have included top draft picks and all stars. He sat down the D.C. Bar Association's Legends in the Law series to talk about his long career and give some legal career advice.

In addition to his emphasis on hard work and mentoring, some of my favorite tips include:

  • Be yourself, always: "People are going to like you and respect you for who you are, or they won't. You can't play a different role every time you go to meet someone because then you'll have no credibility."
  • Effective negotiators are genuine: "I tell students you have to negotiate with your own personality. You have to be real."
  • Know when to fight and when to walk away: "I don't mind fighting, but I don't want to fight stupidly. My job is to make deals."
  • If your job refuses to pay you what you're worth, then it's time to leave: "I realized he would have never paid me what I deserved unless I told him I was going to quit... when I resigned, his counteroffer was four times more money than I was making. I told him I could always have made that money. I didn't want to have to threaten to quit in order to make it. That's not how you have a partnership."

Learn more about Falk's amazing career in "A Conversation with David Falk" by David O'Boyle in the DC Bar Association's Washington Lawyer magazine.