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An unconventional career

In a profession that is largely filled with those of a scholastic academic nature, Stephen stands out.  Leaving school aged 16 with qualifications in woodwork, technical drawing and engineering, he took the path of a commercial apprenticeship in an engineering business, studying in his spare time to get further qualifications. This proved his academic potential when his interest was aroused and spurred him on to go to university.

After gaining his first degree in Law, he went on to achieve a Masters degree at UCL in Company and Maritime Law. He took his Law Society exams and was articled to the senior partner of a prestigious City of London Shipping Law practice. But rather than sit out his 2 years training at a desk, Stephen convinced the Law Society that 3 months working as one of the crew on board a state-of-the-art commercial container ship as it travelled from Scotland to Holland and then to several US ports should count as relevant experience for a trainee solicitor!

Having duly qualified, Stephen was itching to get back into industry rather than follow the expected law firm career path.  He became in-house counsel for one of the Hawker Siddeley companies before answering an intriguing advert in the paper for a lawyer to join a sports marketing agency – a novel business in 1979.  West Nally was creating from scratch the sponsorship, merchandising and broadcast models for most of the major international sports events we all know today and Stephen’s role was to devise the legal framework for these and to work within the business to deliver the long term relationships with the clients and their partners.  Increasingly these came to Stephen for help on other legal matters and so in 1983 he began Townleys, designed to be quite different to a traditional law practice.

The firm grew rapidly, with Stephen recruiting lawyers who shared his approach of getting the job done without clock watching, understanding the client’s objectives and working as part of a team with the client. Some were misfits within traditional law firm structures, some had a passion for sport & entertainment and some had an entrepreneurial spirit.  Together they all helped the firm achieve a no 1 status in its field and a global reputation for being at the cutting edge of defining Sports Law best practice.

By 1998 Townleys had grown to over 70 staff and Stephen was looking ahead at the digital revolution that was coming straight at sport & entertainment.  He recognised that this raised much more than legal challenges.  He responded by creating Active Rights Management, a consultancy to help clients manage the change to their business model through a combination of commercial and technology expert advice and practical help.   ARM led some of the most innovative projects in the market over the next ten years sometimes on a JV basis, creating along the way valuable businesses like NetResult that helped manage digital piracy internationally using technology rather than lawyers.

In parallel, Stephen foresaw the problems facing sport & entertainment as these sectors moved to a more litigious environment as the business models matured.  These industries are based on relationships and operate in a time sensitive environment where live events are at their heart and their ability to raise revenues depends on their IP.  Stephen knew that lengthy and expensive litigation was rarely the best way to deal with problems in these sectors, again setting him on a different path to most lawyers.  He returned to study and became a qualified Arbitrator and Mediator to further his efforts to find alternative and early dispute resolution options.  

As sport & entertainment have become increasingly valuable economic sectors, the regulatory and political landscape has changed, especially for sport.  This has brought a whole new level of corporate responsibility for international sports administrators and the businesses involved.  This has generated a sizable risk of legal problems including criminal allegations and politically influenced proceedings where a level playing field is sometimes just not available to those caught up in it.  Stephen has been able in the last decade to help individuals and businesses involved in these situations using his abilities to understand, analyse and plan.  He has project managed the execution of complex multidisciplinary strategies across the globe involving specialist teams (including legal, investigatory, forensic accounting, tax, insurance, PR, lobbying). 

Once described at SportAccord by the president of GAISF as “a friend of sport”, Stephen continues to enjoy the friendship of many he has worked for or alongside over the years and he continues to stand ready to help them when needed using all his formidable experience and his relevant legal and business skills.

To get a copy of Stephen's CV click here

Return to Stephen's page here. 

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