Welcome to the Career Design Talks interview Series where I speak with successful professionals across industries to uncover their unique strategies and lessons learned on their journey to building a personally and professionally fulfilling career.
Take the time to explore your interests and pay attention to what you enjoy doing.
Look for ways to combine your passions with your work.
Use informational interviews to learn about career paths and connect with the right people.
Early in your career, act like a sponge so you can learn as much as possible.
Actively seek to grow your professional network and build your reputation in your industry.
Many of those who go to law school dream of becoming an attorney in the sports and entertainment industries. However, despite valiant efforts, most never make their dream a reality due to the high level of competition for the small number of roles in these coveted practice areas.
Fortunately for Alex Praschma, Corporate Counsel of U.S. Operations for Spartan, the journey to enter the sports industry has been a successful one. If you have not heard of Spartan before, it is the obstacle course racing industry’s premier brand on a mission to “rip 100 million people off their couches” and attempting to secure a spot in the Olympic Games.
In our conversation, Alex and I discussed his journey from law student to in-house counsel, what he does for Spartan, and how he invests in his career development.
Q: Did you always know you wanted to be an attorney?
A: It all began when I went to Ithaca College and majored in Legal Studies – a program integrated into the Business School. During my time there, I took every opportunity to expose myself to different areas of law, so I could determine whether the practice of law was for me.
I began my legal experience with a semester at the Tompkins County District Attorney's Office, where I sat in on various proceedings and conducted extensive legal research. From there, I was poached by a small civil practice and assisted in cases ranging from tort law to entertainment law. Through these experiences, I learned that I loved to “think like a lawyer” and knew that attending law school was my next goal.
After visiting Suffolk University Law School and learning about the school’s extensive network filled with government officials and in-house counsel for global companies, I knew Suffolk Law was the place for me to launch my legal career.
Q: How did your law school journey lead you to Spartan?
A: While I was in law school, I knew I needed to gain a better understanding of a variety of legal settings in order to refine my career goals. I did so by diversifying my experience through internships with the local and federal government and several law firms.
Surrounded by Boston’s influential sports culture, I soon realized working in-house for a sports brand would be a great opportunity for me to combine my passion for sports with the practice of law.
After some initial searches on LinkedIn, I found multiple Suffolk Law alumni in the sports industry, including Spartan’s [former] General Counsel. Intrigued by the growing-brand and his role at the organization, I messaged him and requested a brief informational interview. He was more than happy to support the Suffolk Law network and invited me over for a tour of Spartan’s headquarters. Fortunately, our conversation turned into an internship offer, which I happily accepted.
As an intern in Spartan’s Legal Department, I made it a point to take on as many tasks as I could and stayed for as long as they would let me. At the time, the Legal Department was comprised of a small team, which afforded me the opportunities to ask a lot of questions and engage in interesting business development meetings. After graduating from Suffolk Law, I received an offer to join the team as “Contracts Counsel” – a new position for Spartan’s Legal Department.
Q: How did you approach starting your career as in-house counsel?
A: At the time, Spartan was extremely fast-paced and consistently breaking new ground, so I had to hit the ground running (no pun intended). With over 60 events in the U.S. and operations in over 40 countries, there were plenty of contracts to review, draft, and negotiate and there was a pool of internal clients in need of counsel.
Initially, that meant I had to become a “sponge” and take every opportunity to learn from my co-counsel when it came to issue spotting, educating and managing internal clients, assessing business opportunities and risks, and advising the C-suite. This learning was crucial because before I knew it, I found myself negotiating with seasoned attorneys representing high-profile organizations like MLB and NFL franchises.
Q: What do you do for Spartan?
A: Generally, I provide counsel on commercial transactions, marketing strategies, business development, brand protection, and risk management, all of which are vital to Spartan’s overall business. However, my day-to-day commitments typically revolve around event operations and sponsorship.
My primary role in the event planning process is negotiating the venue agreements, which allow Spartan to utilize a variety of different properties to host the events. This often requires negotiating with sophisticated parties around the country for the use of major ski-resorts like Aspen Snowmass (CO) to racetracks like Michigan International Speedway (MI) to iconic stadiums like Fenway Park (MA).In addition to negotiating the venue agreements, I continuously support Spartan’s Event Production Team throughout the life cycle of each event. This often includes providing risk management advice on event construction, reviewing permits, and negotiating agreements for rental equipment and hired services.
When it comes to event sponsorship, I draft and negotiate many of Spartan’s local, regional, and national sponsorship agreements, which play a crucial role in the customer experience. These sponsorship deals often include brand collaborations with partners ranging from popular beer brands like Sam Adams to financial services groups like USAA to hydration companies like BODYARMOR.
Q: How were you able to learn everything you had to know?
A: There was a lot I had to learn “on the fly” when I first started. To overcome the learning curve, I found ways to supplement my on-the-job training by attending Boston Bar Association and Association of Corporate Counsel events to learn about contract negotiation, civil litigation, intellectual property, product liability, and corporate risk management. After each event, I always introduced myself to the panelists and welcomed their perspective on topics relevant to Spartan’s business.
To this day, prioritizing networking, finding and learning from mentors, and asking lots of questions allows me to fill knowledge gaps.
Q: What important lessons have you learned from your mentors?
A: Unanimously, all of my mentors have emphasized the importance of (1) creating a reliable network, (2) maintaining awareness of your reputation, and (3) dedicating time to gain experience and connections.
Q: What career advice do you have for young attorneys?
1. When you are thinking about the next steps in your career, take the time to formulate your short-term and long-term goals and visualize where you want to be.
2. Do your research and refrain from jumping into a role blindly.
3. Do not allow your career moves to be influenced by money or status.
4. Set networking goals – the more you do it, the easier it becomes.
5. Use your mentors as sounding boards.
6. Embrace failure and view your mistakes as learning opportunities.
Big thanks to Alex Praschma for sharing his time and knowledge with me during this interview. It is clear he is someone who is proactively thinking about how to grow his career. What direction do you want to take your career? What skills or areas of professional development do you need to develop in order grow your career?
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mo Chanmugham, Esq., CPCC, ACC is a former entertainment lawyer turned executive career coach and the founder of MGC Coaching. He helps ambitious professionals who are feeling stuck gain the clarity and confidence they need to create more fulfilling careers.