Jim Tanner, a partner at Williams & Connolly LLP who represents some of the biggest names in basketball, including point guard Jeremy Lin of the Houston Rockets, is leaving the Washington-based law firm to start a sports and entertainment management business.
Tanner, who turned 45 yesterday, said in a telephone interview that he’s taking all of his clients with him to Arlington, Virginia-based Tandem Sports & Entertainment, which opens for business tomorrow. The company’s name, he said, portrays how his team will operate.
“We chose Tandem because collaboration is our hallmark -- collaboration with clients as well as each other,” said Tanner, whose last day at Williams & Connolly was Oct. 11. “Our vision for Tandem is to combine the best elements of an agency with the best elements of a law firm.”
Tanner said changes in the National Basketball Association landscape, ranging from team management to the top job of commissioner, where Adam Silver will replace David Stern in February of 2014, convinced him to leave the law firm he’s worked for the past 16 years.
“It felt like the right time,” he said.
Leaving the firm known for its litigators enables Tanner and his colleagues to place more of a focus on the non-legal, non-negotiation parts of the practice, such as marketing and communications, he said, adding that Tandem will add new agents.
“The singular focus will be on sports and entertainment,” he said.
Besides Lin, Tanner’s clients include former NBA Most Valuable Player Tim Duncan, 10-time All-Star Ray Allen and Shane Battier of the two-time NBA champion Miami Heat, and retired player Grant Hill, who last month was named the co-host of NBA TV’s “Inside Stuff” program.
Williams & Connolly, whose lawyers represented Bill Clinton in his impeachment trial and Oliver North regarding his role in the Iran-Contra scandal, was among the pioneers in the practice of charging its athlete clients an hourly rate rather than, as most sports agents do, a percentage of the playing and endorsement contracts. The firm also represented Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush on their book deals.
Tanner said Tandem will offer the hourly rate. Other billing models will be available, too, he said.
Senior Partner Robert B. Barnett, a member of Williams & Connolly’s Executive Committee, in a telephone interview said the firm would continue to represent athletes, coaches and sportscasters in whatever role is required. He praised Tanner as “a first-class lawyer and a first-class person.”
“He is following his dream and I can only admire that and wish for its success,” he said.
Joining Tanner in the new venture are former Williams & Connolly colleagues Helen Dooley (senior vice president of talent representation and general counsel), Terese Whitehead (senior vice president of marketing and brand development), Shana Martin (senior vice president of client and business operations), Graham Boone (director of basketball operations), and Kenyon Redfoot (Director of brand strategy). Derrick Powell, who previously worked for Excel Sports Management, the firm whose clients include golfer Tiger Woods and New York Yankees captain Derek Jeter, joined Tandem as vice president of player representation.
“It’s not just about me,” Tanner said. “It’s really about the incredible team that we’ve put together.”
Additionally, Meredith Geisler and her independent sports communications practice will be integrated into Tandem. She’ll serve as the company’s senior vice president of communications.
Tanner, who has been recognized by Sports Illustrated as one of the “101 Most Influential Minorities in Sports,” also represents a number of corporate executives and professional and college coaches in contract negotiations.
While Tanner’s practice has been basketball-centric, he said Tandem seeks the right clients irrespective of their sport.