Minnesota Law

Spring 2022
For the Record

Law School to Launch Sports and NIL Clinic

Students with name, image, and likeness needs, including athletes and social media influencers, will now have a place to turn for help

Tarun Sharma, 3L, Fredrikson & Byron attorney Chris Pham, and Colton Messer, 3L, at Huntington Bank Stadium. Working together, the three succesfully advocated for a Sports & NIL Clinic at Minnesota Law. (Photo: Tony Nelson)
Minneapolis sports & entertainment attorney Chris Pham flanked by 3Ls Tarun Sharma and Colton Messer
Photo: Tony Nelson

A new clinic Minnesota Law will launch next fall will offer name, image, and likeness (NIL) legal assistance to students with NIL needs, including college athletes and social media influencers of all types.

 Created in partnership with the law firm of Fredrikson & Byron, the Sports and NIL Clinic will help its student clients navigate the tricky legal waters of sponsorships, endorsement deals, and image licensing. 

“NIL is a rapidly evolving area of law, and students, especially those participating in athletics, may be able to profit on their NIL rights,” the recently approved clinic proposal states. “The Clinic will represent students for whom paid representation is not feasible in their circumstances.”

The clinic will be open to any collegiate student in Upper Midwest region with NIL-related needs.

The impetus for the creation of the clinic was a rule change by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), which last June passed an interim regulation saying that college athletes may benefit from their name, image, and likeness. This NIL regulation opens up previously unavailable opportunities for student-athletes as well as a wide range of other social media influencers to take advantage of their publicity rights by signing endorsement deals and gaining other means of income. 

The Sports and NIL Clinic was in part the brainchild of two 3Ls—Tarun Sharma and Colton Messer—the vice president and the president of the Law School’s Sports Law Association, respectively. Emily Buchholz '10, the director of the Law School’s Business Law Clinic, offered advice and support in creating the new clinic.

“We thought it would be good to have more of these experiential opportunities,” explains Sharma. “The school offers a lot of clinics, but we wanted to create even more opportunities for transactional learning.”

Professor Bob Stein ‘61 served as a source of inspiration when he spoke to law students about his work on the Uniform Law Commission to draft a NIL policy for states to adopt. “We talked amongst ourselves and with Mike Fadden, 1L and thought, why not try to make this a reality?” Sharma says.

How the Clinic Will Work

The new clinic will be headed by Fredrikson shareholder Chris Pham, who will run it as an adjunct professor. Pham co-chairs Fredrikson’s Sports & Entertainment Group. In his practice, he has represented NBA players, recording artists, sports merchandising companies, and professional athlete and entertainment management companies, among others. 

Pham, who got to know Sharma while Sharma was as a summer associate at Fredrikson and worked closely with the students on the clinical proposal, sees the clinic as an important educational tool.

“There’s a significant shift with this change in the [NCAA] rule. Because it’s so fluid and so new, it’s an opportunity for us to get in front of these students and help teach them what the rules are and what the opportunities look like.”
Fredrikson shareholder Chris Pham, who will direct the Sports and NIL Clinic

“There’s a significant shift with this change in the [NCAA] rule,” he says. “Because it’s so fluid and so new, it’s an opportunity for us to get in front of these students and help teach them what the rules are and what the opportunities look like.”

Students who participate in the year-long clinic will learn about the growth of college sports in the United States and about the court decisions that led to student-athletes gaining NIL-related rights. 

Professor Prentiss Cox '90, co-director of Law Clinics at Minnesota Law, says the Sports and NIL Clinic will let students participate in a transactional representation setting.

 “We hope it will help make our law school a destination for students interested in sports law and a law practice working with clients who seek legal help with name-image-likeness market opportunities,” he says.

Evolving Laws, Changing Policies

Nearly 30 states have passed laws regulating image and likeness rights. but so far Minnesota isn’t one of them. The lack of a specific law does not mean that Minnesotans don’t have NIL rights—and athletes and others are entitled to take advantage of those rights.

“The Big 10 and specifically the University of Minnesota, among other institutions, have policies that student-athletes have to abide by in making any sort of endorsement,” says Sharma. “The Clinic is about helping students to take advantage of the rights that they currently have.”

 Student-athletes have used the new NCAA rules not only as a source of income, but in other ways as well. Players from the University of South Florida used NIL funds to sponsor a youth football camp, while University of Iowa football center Tyler Linderbaum donated $30,000 in NIL earnings to the school’s Stead Family Children's Hospital. 

Part of the hoped-for outcome of the Clinic is to give students, including student-athletes from throughout the region, the chance to make the dedication to their respective sports or influencer work pay dividends, either for themselves or for others. But the main idea is to give law students the tools they need to help students with NIL interests reach their goals.

“We hope that the law students enrolled in the course will learn about the client representation process,” says Cox.

 Messer says he could not be happier to see the clinic approved after all the collaborative work with Pham and law faculty to take the proposal through the necessary steps. “To finally be at this point is pretty wonderful.”

Dan Heilman is a Twin Cities-based freelance writer