For someone who isn’t really into football, Northridge partner Ian Lynam is certainly hiding it well.
In recent months the Northridge co-founder has become something of a power broker in the game, advising on high-profile sales talks involving AC Milan, Chelsea and Everton football clubs.
They are mandates that set the sports law boutique apart in a market where several others are trying to do something similar. Launched in 2017, by Charles Russell Speechlys partner quartet Lynam, Jonathan Ellis, Jon Walters and James Eighteen, the firm has become one of the best-regarded outfits in its sector.
But dealing with the world’s top football clubs hasn’t swayed Lynam away from his main sporting passion: rugby.
“I was born in Limerick, which is famous for two things – its reputation for being the knife crime capital of Ireland and rugby. Luckily I was more interested in the rugby!,” he joked.
While he played pre-teen rugby, his desire to go into sports law was more influenced by the impact of working as a trainee under M&A partner Nigel Boardman at Slaughter and May.
Boardman, who advised on numerous matters for Arsenal football club over his career, left a significant mark on Lynam when he was a junior lawyer.
“Working under Nigel Boardman had a huge impact. To be brutally frank, working with Nigel you just realise his brilliance and that you may never be able to reach this level. It made me want to carve my own path”.
He was able to wet his whistle on sports law when a more senior associate was on their honeymoon and he was able to work on an exciting Arsenal deal as a result. That experience cemented it clear to Lynam that his future lay in sports law, leading him to complete a post-graduate diploma at Kings College London. Lynam would then move to the sports practice at CRS in 2007, making partner in 2010 and being appointed co-head of the team in 2014.
It is here that Lynam and his colleagues began to build the foundations that would allow them to spin off from CRS and establish their own firm, netting prime deals such as the £200 million sale of Everton and footballer Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s £35 million transfer to Liverpool.
“Jon and I had built up the CRS practise to be a Tier 1 sports practice over the 6 or 7 years we led it. Sure it’s always a gamble with the clients, any one of them could decide not to follow but they all followed.”
Lynam puts down the success to a combination of tight-focused, boutique-style expertise as well as a “big law” approach to client care.
“When the stakes are highest, industry knowledge and expertise alongside general legal ability, rigour and efficient turnaround time are what the client wants”.
He highlights the recent Chelsea transaction, which Northridge lead on with Simmons & Simmons, as a particularly unique experience.
“The web of regulations (e.g. FA or FIFA regulations) all impact how a deal can be done. Anyone looking up a football club needs lawyers who are fully conversant with the regulation including their junior lawyers. The Chelsea transaction especially was very unique, because the time table, environment (sanctions) and auction process all required specific expertise.”
Lyman also puts part of his success down to good old fashioned word-of-mouth, comparing this to how one might recommend a decent plasterer to their neighbour, except sub the kindly neighbour for multi-million pound footballers and their clubs.
Although the firm is more focused on acting for governing groups and clubs, they also boast an impressive list of players on their client list including: Thierry Henry, Raheem Sterling, Bukayo Saka, Phil Foden and Marcus Rashford.
As well as major football clients, the firm has also covered rugby work, such as advising on the restructure of the Super League in 2018, horse racing—they advised the British Horseracing Authority on a rewriting of the rules of racing in May 2021—and golf.
The firm has also branched out to work in gambling, hiring partner Melanie Ellis in 2019 and advising gambling heavyweights Betway on a U.S. sponsorship expansion in 2021.
Northridge has grown to 28 lawyers, but Lyman doesn’t envisage it expanding to a “100-man” outfit, citing a fear of “diluting focus”.
In his view, the key to their success is partly down to this concentrated pool of expertise, though the firm is currently looking for associate talent in M&A, adding: “The future looks bright and busy, and sport shouldn’t be going away anytime soon.”