Managing Partner and Co-chair, Collegiate and Professional Sports Industry Group, Jackson Lewis LLP
As a New Jersey native, Gregg Clifton ’85 grew up rooting for the New York Giants and the New York Mets. But life as another New York sports fan didn’t quite satisfy his love for the industry. Clifton always knew he wanted to work in the professional sports world, even if he couldn’t play in it.
After completing his undergraduate studies at Harvard University, Clifton enrolled in Hofstra Law. He knew that going to law school would give him an edge over competitors also looking to become sports agents and saw a pathway that would allow him to hit a home run professionally. “I wanted to find a way to combine my love of sports with a career and a profession,” he says. “Becoming a lawyer gave me the best opportunity to get into the sports field.”
Clifton now co-chairs the newly created Collegiate and Professional Sports Industry Group at Jackson Lewis LLP and is managing partner of the firm’s Phoenix office. He advises professional sports teams, colleges and independent sports companies, providing them with counsel and information on everything from wages and salaries to athlete eligibility. “Anything you can think of that comes up in a labor and employment context, we now handle those issues for them,” Clifton says. Much of his work involves salary arbitration, collective bargaining negotiations and immigration, areas in which, he says, Hofstra Law had “course offerings at a time when most other schools did not have them.”
Clifton’s position at Jackson Lewis is a homecoming of sorts — the firm was his first employer after he graduated from Hofstra Law. In the intervening 25 years, he forged a successful career as a sports agent.
During that time, Clifton was president of the Athlete and Entertainment division at Boston-based Woolf Associates, working alongside Bob Woolf, a man often regarded as the founder of the modern sports agency. “It was a tremendous opportunity to work with him,” Clifton says. “Through his firm I got a chance to work with some of the most famous athletes and entertainers in the world.”
After his time at Woolf Associates, Clifton became the chief operating officer and vice president of team sports for Gaylord Sports Management, where he worked for six years before returning to Jackson Lewis.
For most fans sports are a pastime, but for Clifton they are lifetime career. “I never had the desire to be a classic litigator type, but I do think law school was incredibly helpful because it gave me a degree that has really helped me with my awareness and sense of caution when it comes to doing deals and creating opportunities for my clients,” he says. “It was an incredibly valuable three years of education that I have been able to use for the last 30.”