People compare litigation to all sorts of things, depending on their style and that of their opponent: chess matches, for the studious and logical; boxing rings, for the confrontational and bold; and even war, for those prone to extremes. For Robert Latham, former Stanford athlete and now the Dallas area 2018 “Lawyer of the Year” award winner in Litigation - Sports Law, litigation is like a game of rugby.
“It teaches you [that] preparation is critical—that there’s somebody on the other side who’s going to be equally prepared and to expect that and respect it,” Latham says, when asked how his time playing rugby has influenced his work in the courtroom. “And when I do litigation, I like the competition. I like the feeling of going in and not knowing if you’re going to win or you’re going to lose, and having to get your game face on and put your best effort forward.”
For Latham, a partner at Jackson Walker, rugby is much more than an old college hobby. Previously chairman of the board for USA Rugby, he has also served on the U.S. Olympic Committee, the International Rugby Board Council, the IRB Executive Committee, and the IRB Regulations Committee. Latham is the author of Winners & Losers: Rants, Riffs & Reflections on the World of Sports and writes a regular column for SportsTravel magazine.
Despite all that might keep him busy—the chairmanships, the writing, the public speaking, and the Masters Rugby games he still occasionally plays—Latham maintains a thriving legal career. At Jackson Walker, his firm of 33 years, Latham practices media, first-amendment, and entertainment law, along with sports law and other areas of litigation.
While Latham’s practice combines his two great passions, the intersection of sports and the law can be rife with challenges—particularly from fans who resent being confronted by the darker realities of the industry, like player discipline or doping.
“People like sports to be about the athletes,” Latham says. “And they like it to be pure, and they like it to be joyful. They don’t like people in suits coming in and telling people in uniforms what to do.”
But if Latham sometimes has to deliver a bitter pill, it’s only to strengthen the health and the integrity of the game he loves.
“Law touches everything,” Latham says. “Including sports. People tend to think that sports is a game— and it should be. It’s fun, it’s exciting, but you need structure around it and rules. And I think being a lawyer and having legal training is part of that.”