Well, this amazing opportunity all came about quite suddenly. One day I was a trainee in the employment team at Penningtons Manches Cooper, then the next, after a couple of calls from Helen Lewis, head of early careers recruitment and Andrew Haywood, an employment partner in the London office, who mysteriously asked ‘Do you like sport?’, I became the in-house legal support at the British Athletes’ Commission!
I’ve been with the BAC just over a month now and have learnt an astonishing amount about the world of elite sport, the lives of our country’s top athletes and the trials and triumphs they face, as well as the unpredictable, wide-ranging nature of legal work in-house. The BAC essentially acts as a union for its athlete members - those primarily on World Class Programme funding. It forms a crucial bridge between athletes and their individual sporting National Governing Bodies (NGBs) to ensure athletes’ voices are heard and respected, to step in as an intermediary where relationships have broken down, and to protect and safeguard athlete welfare.
It became clear to me from the outset that my legal training would stand me in good stead for tackling the challenges that lay ahead - whether they involved reviewing selection and appeal policies to suggest improvements, assessing the merits of an athlete’s appeal for non-selection against specific selection policy criteria and appeal grounds, reviewing the terms of a contract with an NGB, or guiding an athlete through a grievance.
The pace of work is fast but exhilarating and I have already been fortunate to be involved in some fascinating but challenging cases. One example, which in fact happened to be my first case, was an athlete’s appeal against non-selection for Team GB that turned into the ‘most complicated appeal the BAC had ever dealt with’. Lucky me!
Having submitted the athlete’s Notice of Appeal, the case was listed for a full day hearing and, through the incredible pro-bono support given to the BAC, I managed to secure the services of a top QC! The hearing itself was an experience I will always remember and my role was to support both the athlete and counsel throughout. As is often the case, there was of course a final twist – with some last-minute disclosures over the weekend. Fortunately, we got the result we wanted and the athlete is going to Tokyo! The late nights and hard work had all been worth it in the end.
My training contract has provided me with great quality work and high levels of responsibility that have been invaluable while working at the BAC. Penningtons Manches Cooper’s core values in client service have also provided me with the ability to take responsibility for and be directly accountable to a client, albeit from the other side. Never has this seemed more important than when I felt as if I held an athlete’s future in my hands. Indeed, and if I am being honest, I was initially daunted by the trust placed in my abilities, but with the support of the amazing team at BAC and input from my colleagues back at Penningtons Manches Cooper, I have found the experience empowering.
I am incredibly grateful for this opportunity to work with the BAC and to be so closely associated with phenomenal events such as the Olympics and Paralympics, and can’t wait to see what’s next in store. I will be sure to keep you updated in my next blog.
Mary-Clare Palmer, a trainee solicitor in the employment team at Penningtons Manches Cooper, is working on secondment at the British Athletes’ Commission until September 2021.