Sign on the Dotted Line

I’ve been approached by four different Elite Series pros over the past 18 months to provide advice on legal issues affecting their careers. I suspect that the number would have been higher if more of their peers were aware that I have a J.D. and that I am a member of two state bars.

The ethics and conflict of interest rules at my current job prevented me from representing any of them, but in most cases I’ve been able to help them by pointing them in the direction of the applicable law or standards. In one case, I referred the pro to a law school friend who practiced in the angler’s home state who kindly resolved the issue with a couple of very pointed letters.

Three of the four matters involved the interpretation or enforcement of a contract and I would have to assume that any marginally-successful pro angler is going to run into similar concerns over the course of his career – either evaluating a contract that’s been offered, enforcing its terms, or attempting to terminate it. Unfortunately, the odds are stacked against them from the start. First of all, most newcomers to the sport are so excited to have a deal in a given area – whether that be boat and motor, soft plastics, rods and reels, or any other category – that their bargaining power is diminished from the start. Second, if you reject a proffered contract, there’s likely another pro or semi-pro eager to take it on, regardless of the terms. Third, even the small companies likely have a lawyer on staff, on retainer or in the Rolodex. They’ve done this before. You have not.

Frankly, unless you’re a pro who has prior experience in the business world, like Boyd Duckett or Dave Smith, or someone who’s been in the game for a long time like KVD or Gary Klein, I wouldn’t expect most anglers to have any practice in the art-slash-science of contract interpretation. They’ve spent all of their available time to this point getting good enough to be one of the best hundred anglers in the world. That arguably doesn’t leave time for even a basic tutorial in legal principles, any more than someone whose life goal is to litigate before the Supreme Court has time to fish a full slate of BFLs.

I’ve seen many articles where pro anglers suggest that up-and-comers take a class in marketing, or major in that topic if they go to college. I’ve frequently opined that they should add to that some basic-but-intense efforts to become a better public speaker. Based on my recent experiences, I’d furthermore suggest that they take at least a basic community college class in business law. Or ask an attorney friend to decipher a basic contract for them so that they’ll know what to look for. You are your own best advocate, and in some aspects of career development the pen may be mightier than the flipping stick.