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The many hats of sports lawyer Peter McCormick

McCormicks’ senior partner tells Matthew Rogers how modern technology has helped him combine his work at the Football Association with running his own law firm

14 August 2017

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Peter McCormick OBE, senior partner of McCormicks Solicitors, has just been unanimously elected as the new vice chairman of the Football Association, a role the sports lawyer can only combine with the day job, he tells Solicitors Journal, thanks to modern technology, agile working, and efficient succession planning.

McCormick is one of two equity partners at the Harrogate-based law firm that he formed in 1987, and one of the UK’s leading sports lawyers. His appointment to the upper echelons of English football is just the latest in a string of notable positions he has held in the sport over the last 30 years.

The solicitor is chairman of both the legal advisory group of the Premier League and of the league’s football board, both executive positions. In August 2015, he was unanimously elected to be a director of the FA, a member of the governing body’s council, and a member of the association’s professional game board. Prior to these appointments, he was chairman of the Premier League in 2014/15.

Last March, he was elected by the Premier League and the professional game board of the FA to the Football Regulatory Authority, which performs the regulatory, disciplinary, and rule-making functions of the game’s governing body. He is also an FA ambassador, representing England and the association at international matches abroad.

In May 2016, he was appointed chairman of the FA international committee and a member of both its committees appointment panel and protocol committee. A few months later he was made chairman of both the FA group remuneration committee and judicial panel monitoring group. Becoming chair of the FA Premier League Medical Care Scheme Ltd, a company providing private health care to 95 per cent of football professionals, followed soon thereafter.

Already wearing more hats than most lawyers would have a chance to don in their entire careers, McCormick’s new position will see him play a key role in overseeing a period of change at the FA after it received stinging criticism from politicians in February.

A parliamentary vote of no confidence in the FA’s ability to govern football and reform itself was embarrassing for an organisation that was described as “both unrepresentative of the people that play and support the game,” by Tracey Crouch MP, the sports minister.

A month later, the FA board unanimously agreed reform proposals to its corporate governance, which included a focus on diversity and inclusion within the association, and term limits for board members and council membership.

As FA vice chair, McCormick now sits on a new streamlined board, which has reduced in size from 12 members to ten and designed to enable the association to run more efficiently and effectively and to include greater diversity in its membership. But with so many demands on his time, just how does McCormick do the day job of running a law firm and servicing his clients?

“These roles have impacted on the time I spend at the firm,” he admits, “but the new role itself won’t impact on my absence. Since 1 August 2015, I have been working four days a week in London where I’m based as an executive at the Premier League. Then I head back on the train on Thursday evening and become a Harrogate lawyer on the Friday.”

With the journey between York and London less than two hours either way, and due to modern communication, McCormick finds he is able to successfully juggle all his roles.

“Although I’m at the Premier League’s offices, there’ll be an hour or two today when I’m doing legal work and doing one or two conference calls. Most of my clients are either based in London or are in London regularly. For them, it’s actually quite a selling point me being here – they have coffee in front of the Premier League trophy.”

Two decades ago it would have been impossible to combine the roles of operating a successful legal business and running English football. But now, thanks to the wonders of agile working, McCormick is able to spin all his plates at once. “When you were absent you really were absent. Here it’s second nature to everybody that I’m in London, but I’m available. It’s a matter as well of being the individual. [Lawyers] have to make themselves available. If they’re committed, it works, as long as you’re reachable.”

To deal with his lengthy absences, the North Yorkshire firm appointed five new salaried partners in August 2016. All are in their 30s and each specialise in one of the firm’s core work streams: corporate and commercial, commercial property, private client, litigation, and criminal.

“They’re developing very well indeed and taking on more and more responsibility,” says McCormick, who extols the virtues of a pyramid structure when succession planning. “When you get too flat, like some of these firms who’ve expanded for the sake of expansion, you suddenly find yourself with a tier of partners, all of whom are the same age and all of whom want to retire at the same age. You’re much better having a pyramid where people can see the path to the top.”

Looking ahead, McCormick explains that his firm is focussed on organic growth with the new partners expected to take equity within the next two years.

McCormick’s specialism in sports work accounts for 20 per cent of the firm’s business, he explains, adding that there was “no doubt” his involvement in the football world has been “a great selling point” for the firm, while also playing a major role in the succession planning.

“Even if clients have nothing to do with the world of football, they get excited if they start talking about it. They take a pride in it because they’ve seen me on the telly at Wembley. It’s also been a good means of me releasing the reigns and has developed the succession planning of the business. When your name is on the window, it’s very difficult to let go but in the last two years I’ve had to, and empowered these individuals.”

Matthew Rogers, reporter | @lex_progress

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