Rich Hawkins enjoys the opportunity to stay connected to an industry he has always loved
Rich Hawkins has always been a sports guy. As a child, he spent much of his time playing team sports—something that he said gave him “a sense of identity and confidence” that has continued to fuel him ever since.
While he didn’t end up playing sports for a living, he received a word of advice that led him to law. Today, as a partner in Bird & Bird Sydney’s sports group, he has been able to marry his career with his passion as he works with sports clients.
In this interview, Hawkins discusses being able to work with other passionate people, strengthening the sports practice in the APAC region, realising the need for empathy with a client’s position and looking forward to seeing packed sports stadiums again.
What made you choose a career in law?
At a formative stage of life, someone explained that a legal career would be intellectually challenging and provide the opportunity to be valued as a trusted adviser. Most of my role models at the time were people who I admired and respected for always being there to provide me with good counsel. So this was definitely a big part of it.
What do you love most about your job?
I work mainly for sports clients and I love sport. I spent most of my childhood playing team sport and this gave me a sense of identity and confidence which I have drawn on ever since. So I truly believe in sport as a force for good, and love that I am still involved in sport in a professional capacity a long time after hanging up the boots.
Saying “it's all about the people” has unfortunately become clichéd, but sharing a passion with smart, motivated work colleagues is a great thing about the job. I also love working with people who are passionate about the different sectors they work in, whether that's tech and comms, life sciences or media—it brings a real energy to the workplace.
What is going on at the firm? Are there any new programs and initiatives that you’re particularly interested in?
Bird & Bird's Sydney office continues to grow and attract excellent people. It has more than doubled in size since it opened in 2014—we are now at over 100 people—and more growth is planned for the next five years.
I am particularly interested in a number of initiatives we have in place to assist our global sports and media clients doing business in this part of the world. Despite COVID-19 and geopolitical tensions, the appetite to engage with the 4 billion sets of eyeballs and potential fans in the Asia-Pacific region remains strong.
What has been your proudest accomplishment in the last year or so?
We have started to build profile and recognition for our new Asia-Pacific sports practice, so I am certainly proud of that. I am also increasingly excited about the opportunities for our team in this region, particularly in Asia which remains a relatively under-developed sports market compared to the US and Europe.
What should the profession and law firms focus more on?
This is nothing new, but the massive impact which COVID-19 had on the sports industry reinforced to me the importance of external lawyers having empathy for a client's position (particularly the pressures on in-house lawyers). In crisis situations, law firms need to back their expertise and experience to provide robust advice in short timeframes, including being prepared to say “this is what I would do in your situation.”
What has been the biggest challenge you and your practice has faced amid the pandemic?
We were involved in a number of major projects for sports clients which were stopped dead in their tracks by the pandemic, and dealing with the level of uncertainty surrounding the future of sport was a serious challenge for everyone connected to the industry.
The darkest days were during the March/April period, and my own view is that the outlook has improved considerably since then. A lot of good people who worked in sport have lost their jobs and this is no consolation for them, but a number of positive changes which were already in the pipeline for sport (e.g., the capacity for remote production of matches) have been fast-tracked as a result of COVID-19, and the way most stakeholders pulled together to deal with the challenges will make their long-term relationships much stronger.
What are you looking forward to the most in the coming year?
The crescendo of noise in a packed-out sports stadium—hopefully as James Tedesco scores the winning try for the Roosters in a third consecutive NRL Grand Final!