Dr Despina Mavromati, LLM, MBA, is an attorney-at-law (Swiss Bar Association/Bar of Thessaloniki) with many years of experience as counsel, expert witness and arbitrator in international sports law and arbitration. She was managing counsel at the CAS from 2008 to 2017 and authored The Code of the Court of Arbitration for Sport: Commentary, Cases and Materials (with Matthieu Reeb). Despina teaches sports arbitration and sports contracts at the Law School of the University of Lausanne. She also sits as an arbitrator for the UEFA Appeals Body, the IAAF Disciplinary Tribunal, and the Doping Hearing Panel of the International Powerlifting Federation.What inspired you to pursue a legal career?
Law gives me the opportunity to widen my intellectual horizons. Similarly to mathematics, law teaches a methodology to resolve problems.
Even though some areas of law are more or less technical and repetitive, law offers a unique opportunity for intellectual stimulation. Notwithstanding the evolution of legal technology, contractual and regulatory interpretation and strategic thinking in litigation have always been, and will continue to be, qualities reserved to humans.
The legal field is so diverse and offers opportunities in so many areas. I never actively pursued a career in sports, but feel incredibly lucky to have found an area that I am truly passionate about.
What did you find most challenging about establishing your own practice?
Constantly “shifting gears” from 100 kilometres per hour to zero and back again! In a single hour, I can be working on an appeal brief under Swiss law, then receive a phone call from a client in another continent regarding a football transfer agreement and review a decision on a disciplinary matter. Being able to change direction seamlessly with the same attention to precision and detail, without confounding distinct issues, is not only one of my greatest challenges – it’s also one of my best attributes.
How does your work as counsel and expert witness enhance your approach when acting as arbitrator?
It is obviously extremely complementary. It comes in particularly handy to know and anticipate the reactions of an arbitrator when acting as counsel or expert witness, and vice versa.
Before I began practising as an independent attorney, I had intra-institutional experience that helped me grasp the mechanics of major sports arbitral tribunals and courts dealing with sports-related cases. During all these years, I have noticed clients become more demanding and less willing to settle with the other side. Finally, I have seen a growing trend among clients who are willing to enter into a sports dispute questioning the legality of sports regulations.What do you enjoy most about your role as founder and board member of Women In Sports Law (WISLaw) and how important are such networks for lawyers in the industry?
First, I take pride in witnessing a project becoming bigger and gaining in importance. WISLaw filled an important gap in the international sports law industry by offering visibility to numerous female colleagues. Professional networks such as WISLaw are important not only for women but for everyone, as sports law is a small and very protected industry. That said, and beyond diversity-related arguments, my proudest WISLaw moments have been when I heard female voices speaking up for some of the most delicate and yet crucial challenges of the sports industry, as those voices may have remained silent and those views would have been unheard in the past.How have you seen the sports legal market develop since you began your career?
Since I began my career, the sports industry – specifically arbitration within the sports industry – has become more and more specialised. Gone are the days of the generalists being able to quickly adapt their skills to our field; we now have an entire industry of experts whose whole practice consists of sports arbitrations. This, of course, leads to the increasing polarisation between federations and athletes (and the attorneys who represent each side), as well as the creation of specialisations even within the field of sports arbitrations. For example, there are those who primarily or even exclusively work in the “niche” field of anti-doping, or football. All this specialisation has increased the importance of having a network of experts that can support my practice, in Switzerland and internationally.
As founder of the firm, what are your priorities for its development over the next five years?
My short and medium-term goals regarding the development of SportLegis have remained the same since inception: have a wide variety of cases within this specialised field; offer high-quality and tailor-made services in a flexible and personalised way; and have institutionalised collaboration with my international network of colleagues. In our first two years, we have been able to achieve these goals, notably through collaboration with great clients on important cases that are constantly reshaping and expanding the legal landscape of this area of law.
What is the best piece of career advice you have received?
The best piece of career advice I received was to never hesitate to ask for help. Being an expert in one field does not mean that you are an expert in all fields. And, although clients look to me for advice, they also appreciate knowing that I can pull together a team of experts to answer any questions they may have.