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September 4, 2008 5:23 PM

KICKOFF: Former Am Law Associate Enjoying Fantasy Sports Game

Posted by Brian Baxter

Marcedelmancolorheadshot

If you're like us here at The Am Law Daily, you're extremely excited about the Super Bowl Champion New York Giants kicking off the National Football League season tonight against the Washington Redskins. (We think Eli is going to continue to build on his late-season success from last year and really come into his own in 2008.)

So we were especially pleased to hear about Marc Edelman, a former associate at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom and Dewey Ballantine [now Dewey & LeBoeuf], who is a fan after our own hearts.

Edelman, who currently teaches at Rutgers School of Law-Camden, has managed to turn his longtime hobby of fantasy sports into a side business.

In 2004 Edelman founded SportsJudge.net, a precursor to SportsJudge.com, a Web site dedicated to resolving disputes--over, say, a lopsided trade or an interpretation of league rules--between owners of fantasy sports teams. Edelman now supervises a small staff that writes opinions for customers who pay $15 a pop.

The Am Law Daily caught up with Edelman to discuss associate life, sports law, and, of course, all things fantasy.

I guess things are ratcheting up this time of year?
This is by far the busiest time of the year for two reasons. We have the early trade disputes and other issues coming out of fantasy football drafts. And then we have everything going on in baseball with it being the final month and teams being accused of tanking, colluding, and doing all kinds of things to get to the top or bottom of the standings. So this hits us on both sides, and September is always by far and away our busiest month.

So tell me how SportsJudge.com began.
The sports thing really began while I was in law school [at the University of Michigan]. I would get phone calls all the time from friends and acquaintances about legal issues related to fantasy sports. Beginning from about the first year of law school up until when I graduated, I was doing favors for friends. The word just spread that 'Marc Edelman is the guy to talk to if you have fantasy trade disputes.'

And soon people I didn't even know were sending me e-mails asking about trades and help with rules using legal and fantasy sport principles together. And I always did it for free because it was fun. But within a couple years after law school I had so many random people who were using me as their outside commissioner that it seemed to be the right time to put up a Web site.

What were you trying to create?
What I really wanted to do was develop a standard set of principles where whenever there was a hole in fantasy [league] constitutions, there would be default rules that would go into place.

I love fantasy sports. I've met so many fantastic people along the way. But there are also sad stories--of people who have been great friends or close relatives until they play fantasy sports. Disputes arise over things that happen in the games, trades that are made, undeserved attempts to take prize money, all of which ruin friendships and relationships. And by being the outside person, our real goal is to be the people making decisions so people can play fantasy sports without risking a relationship along the way.

How many people do you currently employ?
Right now we have over 30 people who are part of the SportsJudge team. Among those we have three lawyers that resolve disputes. I am one of the dispute resolvers, and the other two are both people who have experience in fantasy sports, but they're attorneys as well. The rest of the [nonlegal] staff is involved occasionally writing articles for us, and they'll also do background research on players. They kind of act like law clerks for us gathering statistics, but they also do it for the love and passion they have for fantasy sports.

So for the lawyers, do they do this full-time or do they also work as attorneys?
Everyone works as lawyers. Probably the big misnomer here is this is not a big-money business. I've never seen it being one. We charge $15 for an opinion. In real legal practice, I can do that work for up to about $350 an hour. So writing an entire opinion for $15 is really a labor of love.

Has the fantasy sports gig helped your career? I see that you've already worked at some fairly large firms.
I spent three-and-a-half years at Skadden in the antitrust group and from there I went to Dewey Ballantine, where I worked for Jeffrey Kessler, the head of the firm's sports practice. I did a lot of work for the NFL Players' Association during my time there, as well as general litigation. Right now I'm a full-time visiting law professor at Rutgers here in Camden. I teach sports law and property, and I publish extensively on sports. I also am an adjunct at New York Law School. So I do this because it's fun and also because it's another avenue to get my name out there in the sports field.

Why did you decide to leave private practice?
There were some issues as to whether I should be running SportsJudge and at the same time practicing for a sports firm. The real reason I left was because I wanted to teach. I've always wanted to change the way the law is applied to sport. And while I really loved every moment of every day being a practicing attorney, especially in the area of sport, we always had a client whose interests we had to litigate on behalf of. Being in academia, not only do I get to work with students, which I love, but it also gives me a real opportunity to write articles that push and change the law.

Have you been cited anywhere?
Yes. One of my articles for Fordham Law Review, which explained why the NFL should never be construed as a single-entity business under antitrust law, was recently cited by Jones Day in a brief where they were representing Madison Square Garden and the interests of the New York Rangers in a case against the NHL, who were represented by Skadden. That was a real thrill to me to see that I could take my understanding of the law and, while I'm not practicing myself, see it be used in documents that go to court.

What do you see as the future for sports law?
The biggest change I see in the field of sports law is that in the early days it was never viewed as a separate discipline. The thought was, you could look at contracts, torts, antitrust, and labor and apply sports to it. Nowadays there really is a growing discipline of cases that come out of sports, because we have over 100 years of history of courts reviewing them. There are definitely distinctions in the way each of these laws apply to sports. So it's becoming more and more common for a lawyer to actually build an expertise in sports law.

So I have to ask, what's your favorite fantasy sport to play? I'm a baseball man myself.
Well, the first fantasy sport I played was baseball back in 1989, when I was a co-owner of a team with my father that won our division. This was back in the old days of fantasy sports, before the Internet, when you would get your weekly results in the mail. But I was the only one in the league under 21, so being asked to pick up the phone and call an adult helped me learn negotiating skills. That year I traded Kirby Puckett for Scott Garrelts and Bret Saberhagen, so I got a Cy Young Award [winner] and another starting pitcher, both with sub-2.30 ERA's. Baseball is a marathon, not a sprint like football, so it's what I like best.

What about SportsJudge? Where does it go from here?
Ideally we would like to partner with one of the larger sports sites and handle disputes for that site overall. We currently have several partnerships that we are building. Our goal in the next year or two is to get all opinions that we've done available online, if not for free, then for subscribers. Down the road we'd like to build a book of case law with our solutions and help people structure and run [fantasy] leagues more successfully.

Thanks Marc. Good luck this season.
You too.

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