The Student Becomes
From Inner-city Los Angeles to Olympic Dream Maker
Leigh Hawley’s experience growing up in inner-city Los Angeles inspired her to give back to her community – and she did just that. She started her legal career as a public defender on the frontlines of the justice system. Everything changed when her Dad suggested she consider sports law. Hawley has been an athlete her whole life. Sports law would allow her to combine her love of sports and entertainment with her legal expertise.
Her Dad was right. Hawley now works for the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee. She credits her volunteer work with the Sports Lawyer’s Association (SLA) and networking with helping her get her current position.
As the U.S. continues to prepare for the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, we thought it was a good time to catch-up with Hawley.
: What’s a typical day at the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee like for you?
: I am in the audit department. I audit the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee National Governing Bodies (NGB), specifically I review their legal processes. In a typical day, I review how they apply the procedures to conflict of interest, due process in grievances and complaints, athlete representation, background check completion, as well as safe sport education and training. I also assist our Staff Auditor of Compliance with reviewing some of the bylaws and use arbitration precedent that has been decided for some of our Section 9, Athlete’s Rights, and Section 10, Complaints of Non-Compliance Against an NGB, matters to determine whether the bylaws for a NGB are compliant.
: Have you met anybody from the U.S. Olympic or Paralympic teams?
: We do get a lot of Olympians and Paralympians on site. I’ve had the opportunity to hear from Michelle Carter about her journey to Rio as well as Sofia Herzog, who is a resident Paralympian here at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado. It’s inspirational to have them here as they drive the culture and remind us daily who our work is benefiting and whose dreams we are helping come true.
: You have volunteered a number of times with SLA. Why and what is the benefit of being an SLA volunteer?
: Volunteering has provided me the opportunity to meet so many wonderful attorneys that helped my growth as a professional. They took an interest in what I was doing and were able to provide advice on what events to go to, how to follow-up with people, and just general guidance as I moved through the industry. I’ve also been lucky to make a lot of friends with other volunteers from different states and law schools which has been equally important. Today, with the SLA, my role is to act as a volunteer mentor to other volunteers. This is my opportunity to give back to the organization and share what I learned by advising new volunteers on how to network and build relationships.
How has your educational background helped you in the industry?
My sports law background began at the University of Oregon with the Summer Sports Law Institute, a six-week sport law intensive program. At the Institute, they brought in professors, guest speakers, and experts from the industry who instructed us in the fundamentals of the sports law field. From there I went on to get my Master of Law (LL.M.) in Sports Law and Business from Arizona State University. My course of study involved a number of business courses which I have found to be very helpful in my job. These courses helped me to think “outside of the box” and have, to a great extent, mirrored my real-world experiences.
: What one piece of advice would you give to someone looking to break into the field?
: Make sure that the industry you’re breaking into is what drives you. What you are passionate about – what drives you day-to-day – will be the most rewarding aspect of your career so focus on it and develop it.
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