Posted 9/30/2013 12:00 am
Updated 11 months ago
During college football season, Judy Henry keeps her eye on the players.
As a partner with the Little Rock law firm Wright Lindsey & Jennings LLP, Henry is one of only three sports agents in Arkansas certified by the NFL Players Association.
Since Henry received her contract adviser’s certification in 2010, she has been growing the firm’s sports law practice, which now has five attorneys in the group.
Henry said she has handled contracts for players with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and San Diego Chargers. She declined to say which players she’s represented, citing attorney-client privilege, or how many contracts she’s negotiated.
The NFL Players Association wouldn’t release the names of the players who are under contract with each agent.
In 2011, though, Wright Lindsey & Jennings said in a news release that former Arkansas Razorback Wade Grayson signed a three-year contract with the Jaguars and was represented by Henry.
Henry said the firm is building the sports law practice to “represent players, not only with the NFL team, but also … life after the league.”
She said the average NFL player’s career lasts only a little more than three years.
And after the NFL career ends, players still will need legal advice on everything from real estate transactions to estate planning.
The firm, with its nearly 70 attorneys, could also assist the player with endorsement and licensing negotiations and protection of trademarks.
“We can not only meet [the players’] agency needs, but also all the other legal needs they have,” Henry said.
The firm had NFL players as clients years ago, but the number of players declined over the years.
To expand the sports law practice, Henry, an avid football fan, decided to apply to the NFL Players Association to become a licensed sport agent. The association’s program takes about a year to complete, and anyone representing an NFL player must be certified.
Henry said representing athletes is like a dream come true for her. She said she’s always wanted to be an advocate for players.
Henry received her law degree from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville in 1984.
“This is a new practice area for both Judy and the firm,” Ed Lowther, the firm’s managing partner, said in an April 2010 news release. “We’re excited by the opportunity to expand our scope of services.”
The strategy to get players to sign with Henry is “all about relationships,” she said.
Henry attends college Pro Days and the NFL Combine “each year to increase exposure and to support our athletes,” the firm said on its website.
The firm, she said, will not skirt the various rules about meeting players. And those rules vary among different states, colleges and coaches.
“We are committed to compliance,” Henry said. “But not everyone is committed to compliance. Sometimes you might not get picked because of that.”
Henry said the firm wants to build a relationship with players who have the potential to play in the NFL and players who will be a good match for the firm.
She said she quizzes the athletes about what they want from an agent and what their priorities are.
“When a player answers those two questions, you typically see where not only their head is, but where their heart is,” Henry said. “And part of it is intuitive.”
She also wants to know that she can work with a player.
The firm turns down more players than it agrees to represent. The key is getting the player on a team’s 53-man roster because that’s the only way an agent will get paid, she said. And an agent can only make up to 3 percent of a player’s contract.
When Henry agrees to represent a player, it becomes a blitz to get him on a team. She said the firm sends marketing material to all 32 teams and can arrange for a player to have a workout with a scout.
“It gives them the best opportunity to be viewed after their college play and to have an opportunity to take the next step toward the draft and playing in the league,” Henry said. “We’ve gotten players into camp, and sometimes they’ve gotten a contract tendered, and sometimes they don’t.”