Today on the podcast Jim and Tyson sat down with Sivonnia DeBarros – the Protector of Athletes. Sivonnia is a first-generation lawyer and law business owner, woman in business and a former track and field Division-I College athlete. DeBarros graduated from Chicago-Kent College of Law with her J.D. in 2013, received a M.S. in Criminal Justice from Everest University in 2010, and her B.S. in Political Science from University of South Florida in 2008.
DeBarros has represented pro athletes from the NFL, MLS, NBA-G League, and Pro-Table Tennis sports; 7- figure National Brands and NY Times Best-Selling Authors by helping them to properly set up businesses, put proper agreements in place and create legacies that will pay dividends in the future.
DeBarros’s practice areas are Business, Employment, Sports, and Entertainment. DeBarros is passionate about helping athletes, women, and first-generation business owners because she understands the peculiar struggle many have faced by not having the necessary support and guidance to be successful.
3:21 who are your people
4:51 writing a book
12:05 an agent vs lawyer for athletes
21:01 eyes on everything
Jim’s Hack: Developing delegation muscle, it takes practice, and you have to keep using it!
Sivonnia’s Tip: Be authentic and everything else will fall in line.
Tyson’s Tip: Monitor your GMB listing on high alert with accounts being hijacked.
Watch the interview here.
MaxLawCon tickets are on sale now! Join us Tuesday October 12th and Wednesday October 13th in St. Charles, MO at the Ameristar Casino, Resort + Spa.
Run your law firm the right way.
This is The Maximum Lawyer Podcast.
Your hosts, Jim Hacking and Tyson Mutrux.
Let’s partner up and maximize your firm.
Welcome to the show.
Jim: Welcome back to The Maximum Lawyer Podcast. I’m Jim Hacking.
Tyson: And I’m Tyson Mutrux. What’s up, Jimmy?
Jim: Tyson, I just flew into your favorite airport yesterday, LAX, and–
Tyson: Yeah. Your favorite one to say, yeah.
Jim: Yep, I love to say I was dropping into LAX and I pull a total audible. So, I’m here today. I have an interview at 8:00 a.m. Pacific Time and one at 1:00 p.m. Pacific Time. And then, that guy who pitches for the Angels who’s really, really good, Ohtani, and who hits the homeruns, he’s pitching tonight. So, my son was so excited about me getting to go see him, but I decided to bring him with me. And then, his brother’s going to drive up in a little bit, from San Diego, to pick him up. They’re going to hang out all day while I’m at Immigration. Then, we’re all going to go see the Angels. And then, tomorrow, we might hit Universal. So, it turned into a total fun trip after something that was going to be sort of boring,
Tyson: Nice. And Amany’s going to be like, “What the hell’s going on? You’re out there having fun and I’m back here at the office working.”
Jim: That’s usually how things go but this was actually her idea to bring him and to actually spend an extra day here and have fun. So, I’m actually quite in shock.
Tyson: Very nice. Very nice.
All right. Well, we’ve got a guest waiting. Do you want to introduce her?
Jim: Yes. Her name is Sivonnia DeBarros. She’s an entertainment and agent-lawyer. I’m really excited to have her on the show. It’s so funny because that son of mine, in San Diego, he gets really excited about things. And his newest kick is that he wants to be an agent. So, I’m really happy to have Sivonnia on the show.
Sivonnia: Thank you. And just one clarification. I’m not an agent, but I am a business lawyer and I do represent professional athletes.
Tyson: And I was going to get into that too because your nickname is “the protector of athletes” which is really, really cool. But before we get to that, tell us about your journey and then how you finally got to that point where you’re called the protector of athletes.
Sivonnia: Oh, my journey is a long one. So, I am first-generation lawyer and law business owner. So, everything, getting to this point, has all been trial and error. If you were the first to ever do anything, right, you’re figuring it out for yourself.
Right after law school, I applied for some jobs and I just wasn’t willing to wait for people to give me an opportunity so I decided that if, in several months, I didn’t have a job offer, I would go out and create my own opportunity which was extremely scary. But it was something that, you know, when you come out of law school, you think you know some stuff but you don’t really know. Law school was just a setup to that.
So, actually, about three or four years, prior to now, athletes had always been someone, you know, a demographic that I wanted to represent but I found myself just kind of feeling lost in the legal world representing people, that it was okay but it still wasn’t really driving me or moving me and, you know, fulfilling my particular purpose. And it was around about 2017 where I just received like this “aha!” moment of who were my people. And that derived from me taking a deeper look inside of who I was as an individual. And so, that’s how I ended up saying, “You know what? Let me lay the groundwork. I’m going to get my tribe.” And so, that’s how I got here.
Jim: That’s fantastic. Tell us how you went about starting to build that tribe.
Sivonnia: Well, the first way was removing fear because, as a new lawyer– I passed the bar in 2013 and 2014 was when I opened my firm. And I remember seeing a 30 for 30 gone broke on– I think it was on ESPN. And that was my first inclination like, “Oh, my God. I need to speak to these athletes.” So, I tried to. You know, you try to go in and connect with people who are already in your network. And I just feel like it flopped.
And so, it made me– the rejection part. That’s what was hard, right? And so, how I was able to do that was removing fear because, years later, that inclination was still there. It was still ringing so strongly but it was something in me where I didn’t want to face that rejection again which I feel like a lot of people deal with. You know, I had to get past that. “What would other people say? What will they think? Has she ever represented a professional athlete before? Is she an agent?” You know.
At the end of 2019, actually, I had always wanted to write a book for athletes and I was just terrified. “What would the critics say?” You know. Is it going to be exactly– you know, is it going to be right? Or are people going to nitpick every single thing in the book?” I said, “Okay. I’m done. I’m done with fear.” So that was the very first step to get me to where I am. And finding my tribe was, you know, you may be afraid of some things, but you have to still move in spite of it. And that’s what I did.
Tyson: This is actually a pretty good segue because I wanted to ask you about this book. I guess, when you came up with the book, what was the purpose of the book? Why did you think that this was going to be something that was going to connect with athletes? And then, what’s the book about?
Sivonnia: Which one. What Are You Sporting About?
Tyson: Yeah. What Are You Sporting About?
Sivonnia: Yeah, What Are You Sporting About? That was my first one for adults, technically. So, that book was to speak to athletes who are in business. And that is my niche, around sports, because that same drive in 2014, I wanted to talk to athletes, because they were losing everything for bad business relationships or bad personal relationships that led to a downfall in their financial stability. And so, as a business lawyer, I wanted to help these individuals build and create sustainable businesses. So, that book was dedicated primarily to professional athletes.
However, I speak to each level of the athlete. So, the collegiate, professional, and the retired. And what I love so much now is with the name, image, and likeness, it’s so relevant for them now. I’m so glad that I included them in there because the whole purpose of the book is you can’t even really be a successful businessperson if you have no idea what you’re doing or why you’re doing it. And a lot of athletes, they go into sports, and they may be successful in sports for a few years, but they even forget why they’re there. And so, it’s just like, you’re grinding the wheels but you’re not using it to your benefit. You’re not getting 100% out of what the platform should be for you because you’ve gotten lost along the way.
And so, What Are You Sporting About? takes people from the journey of being a dreamer, initially, breaking down some barriers, also pulling out some issues – what I call the pro victim, right? We have to understand why you’re constantly allowing yourself to be in the same position. Well, that’s because you possibly have not dealt with some things from your past that’s showing up in your future. And if you’re owning a business, guess what happens, our personal issues show up in our business if we don’t tend to ‘em, right? And so, then, I take them forward into the business aspects, the legal aspects of business and how to set things up. And, you know, I just try to create and present things in a real life way so that people get it. But, yeah, I was extremely happy with that book. And it ended up becoming an Amazon bestseller. And it also led to my podcast. So, we know it was something great. And because I stepped, from behind fear, I moved in spite of fear, that led me to my tribe.
Jim: Sivonnia, my daughter is a soccer player and a softball player. We were watching a collegiate soccer game the other day and she said to me, “Dad, do those ladies get paid to play soccer?” And I was like, “Noor–” that’s her name. Her name is Noor. “Noor, that’s a very long story.”
Can you talk a little bit about sort of the racket that the NCAA has and, you know, taking advantage of college athletes, and maybe give us your spin on that?
Sivonnia: Yeah, absolutely.
So, I don’t know if you guys are familiar with the case that was at the Supreme Court. Yeah, so NCAA vs Alston. The NCAA was saying that if they are not able to leave that barrier, they’re eliminating the ability for college athletes to be paid, it would remove that label of amateurism of the college athlete. But, for years, people were like, “Okay. These athletes are not amateurs. Like, they practice and play so hard.” And for a lot of sports, athletes are– like their athletic advisors, people who are around them, are moving their courses to a different way just so that they will have more time to dedicate to sports.
So, for instance, what I heard from one college athlete– and I know this to be true because I ran track in college. And the football players, especially, they were always in the athletic facility. They were either in the gym working out, lifting, they were constantly on the field running plays. I mean, it was like three or four days for them. But a college athlete I spoke to before was taking finance in college. And I think it was up to about his senior year, his academic adviser said, “Oh, we need to move you down into another major so you’ll have more time for football.” And this individual was like, “Well, I busted my butt for three years in finance. I don’t want to just technically go and take basket weaving now, you know, just to fit football.” And thankfully, he didn’t because he was injured so bad in college and all they were doing was giving him shots to basically numb the pain so he can play. And he wanted to go pro. His brother had been pro.
Now, I’m talking about my family. These are people I know, personally. But because he stuck to his academics, he was able to create a life for himself and has created a beautiful family, has a beautiful career. I mean, he’s making bank, okay?
But the NCAA does not want athletes to have the ability to make money from their name, image, and likeness. The problem I have with that is everybody else is making money on them. And, yes, there are going to be a lot of issues that we have to, you know, iron out the wrinkles for but still why should college athletes work their butts off and then technically be thrown to the wolves if they don’t have the right network or connections to help them get certain internships or jobs?
And then we’re looking at some of the most successful athletes are coming from marginalized communities. The only reason why they’re there in college is because they’re hoping to go pro so they can help their family, you know? And then, if they’re injured, what’s going to happen after that, right?
So, I definitely don’t agree with that. And I’m happy that the NIL era is up and moving. There are several states that went live and acted their NIL, July 1. So, those athletes, in those particular states, have the opportunity now to go and get those third-party contracts to start building and receiving compensation from their name, image, and likeness.
So, the athlete that your daughter was looking at, depending on what state she’s in, she will have the opportunity to receive compensation now.
Tyson: Sivonnia, you made the difference between an agent and what you do. And so, Jim, and I got a friend, John Meehan. He’s actually an agent. And so, I’ve always wondered, like, what he does versus like what– it seems like there’s a lot of overlap. So, maybe you can answer the question in this. How can you to refer each other?
Sivonnia: Awesome, awesome.
Well, my first question for your friend would be, is he a lawyer and also acting in that role? Yes?
Tyson: Yes, he is.
So, I know some agents who are lawyers, but I think the difference between myself and that agent lawyer would be “What is your day-to-day? How do you actually represent your clients?” Because, as you know, anybody can be trained to look at what the numbers are in a, you know, collective bargaining agreement and go and negotiate that for their clients.
The difference with me is I’m also a litigation attorney. You know, I have been in trial, litigating cases – contract cases, business issues. I’ve helped clients set up businesses. I’ve helped people to actually fill the gaps in their business for greater protection. And so, that’s one of the differences that I know from myself and certain agents. I know that your friend is a lawyer but some agents aren’t.
What I’ve also realized is that some attorneys, if they don’t have litigation experience, some things in a contract will escape them. It will go straight over their head because, I think, being a transactional lawyer, that’s fine. But also, having litigation experience puts another layer of protection on top where you know. “Okay, if a provision like this, or if this type of language has been litigated over and over again, well, then we know we got to go in here and make sure that this language is clean. That it’s, you know, leveled out. That everybody understands what’s happening.” So that your client is not looking up later and saying, “Well, why didn’t you tell me about this?”
I didn’t want to be an agent because, technically– and I don’t want anybody like, get on me for saying this, but I don’t feel like babysitting nobody. You know, I do that already. I don’t want to babysit anyone. And I also wanted to separate myself from the fact that I believe a lot of athletes saying, “Okay. Well, if I have an agent, all they care about is the digits in the CBA.” Do you know what I’m saying?
So, for me, as your lawyer, I want to have a clear distinction between what I do for you. And I don’t want any conflicts of interest because if I’m your agent and your lawyer but your CBA says that I’m only entitled to a percentage of whatever that contract is. Now what will be the conflict later if there’s additional things you want me to do for you? So, I just want to keep a clean break on that but also be able to come in and be sort of that checks and balances for the other professionals that are coming in to help my athlete client.
I mean, that’s kind of ways that your friend and I could refer back and forth, you know, depending on what type of agent he is. I may have folks that are looking for an agent. But, yeah, I’m just straight up business lawyer helping my athlete clients.
Female: Have you heard? MaxLawCon is back, live and in-person, this fall, at the Ameristar Casino Resort and Spa in St. Charles, Missouri. We can’t wait to gather with hundreds of you, to reunite with OG maximum lawyers and finally meet the newer community members. This event is for you if you’re searching for the best ways to scale your law firm and you’re craving connections with like-minded legal entrepreneurs.
MaxLawCon 2021 has a full-day exclusive Guild member mastermind day on Monday, October 11. With the two-day General Conference on Tuesday, October 12, and Wednesday, October 13. These two days will be full of actionable, proven, strategic content from experts that have been in your shoes. There’s no conceptual thought or theoretical strategies behind any of these sessions. Everything you hear at MaxLawCon 2021 are tested, proven tactics to get more clients and maximize your firm. That’s why we put people on stage who have actually done it.
Hear the latest ideas, strategies and insights from our speakers. To learn more and grab your ticket today, head to maxlawcon.com.
Jim: You’re listening to The Maximum Lawyer Podcast. Our guest today is Sivonnia DeBarros. She is not an agent. She is a business lawyer for athletes. She’s the protector of athletes.
Sivonnia, when I was a baby lawyer, one of the first cases I ever worked on was on behalf of a former hockey player here in St. Louis. His name was Tony Twist. This is a sort of a strange little case. There was a comic book maker named Todd McFarlane, out in Arizona, and he had a whole series called Spawn. And Todd McFarlane is a huge sports nut and he loves baseball. He actually got Mark McGwire’s 62nd home run. But he created a character in his comic book called Antonio Twistelli who he said, in interviews, was modeled after Tony Twist. Tony Twist was the kind of hockey player who scored one goal a year but beat the crap out of all the other players on the other team. So, he made a whole character, a mafioso, a criminal, out of Tony Twist’s likeness. And he flat out admitted that that’s what he was doing. So, the whole case was over that.
And I only bring that up, because of that Supreme Court case that you mentioned with the name, image, and likeness, I think it’s such an exciting time. And my question for you is, on the business side of that, it seems to me that you are perfectly situated as the wise person on the mountain top. When it comes to NIL, how are you going to take that Supreme Court decision and run with it?
Sivonnia: Already am.
Before there was even a decision made from the Supreme Court, I had already been in the middle of writing my next book. And I told myself, I was like, “Oh, my God. Are you crazy?” because it’s been a year since publishing What Are You Sporting About? But I knew that this time was coming and I needed something where I can pretty much talk directly to student athletes around this whole phase.
And it’s also happening so fast. So, you know, we all see that and everybody’s trying to catch up and keep up with what’s already happening. But what I was able to do is go ahead and start writing a book so I can speak directly to these college athletes. And that has, I want to say, probably put me in the front of everything instead of having to try and play catch up later, like a year later, when everything is already settled, you know? So, that’s what I’ve done. That’s what I’ve done.
Tyson: So, I’m really curious as to how you plan to grow this or if you do plan to grow this firm that you’ve got. And I don’t know if you call it a firm. I’m assuming you do. I don’t really hear a lot of firms that represent athletes. So, do you want this thing to become huge and a gigantic firm? Do you want to stay just you and a couple of people? What are your plans?
Sivonnia: You know what? In terms of how big I want my firm to be, initially, I always had that idea that I would have this large firm. But I also think there’s something beautiful about being boutique because you know how much you can deal with, handle, at one time. But there’s also this special touch that you can give your clients because you’re not trying to do too much.
I think the jury’s still out on that a little bit. I’ve been praying about it because I’m a spiritual person. So, I’ve been praying about it to kind of figure out where I want my firm to go. I just know that I want to be able to do the work that I’m doing. And however my purpose unfolds, you know, in the future, I want to grow and to be able to scale to support that.
Now, I can tell you, I definitely do need like two or three lawyers but I don’t know. I don’t know if I want to be the firm where it’s like I have 500 lawyers. But, in the future, that could be a situation where maybe that’s just what it is.
And to answer your question, I do have a firm, a law firm. So, I have the sports brand which is What Are You Sporting About? That’s derived from the book. But my bread and butter, my baby, is the SL DeBarros Law Firm. And so, when I connect with sports individuals, they may connect with me through the sports brand, but I service them through my actual law firm.
Jim: What is your favorite thing about running that firm? And what is your least favorite thing about running that firm?
Sivonnia: My least favorite thing is having to keep my eyes on every single thing. I’ve gotten a lot better, through the years, to delegate. So, I have a few interns and I have a legal assistant. And I know I keep them super busy. But, yeah, I mean, when you are the leader of it, you have to keep your eyes on every single thing. And that can be so challenging and exhausting.
What I love about it is that I don’t have to run every single decision up to management that I feel will support my client. So, for instance, creative things that you may want to do in your business or changing software so that you can move and be more efficient for your client, I don’t have to worry about that. If I see that something is not running as smoothly as I thought it was and there’s another tech that can help me to do that and fill the gap. Well, then, “You know what? All right, guy. Let’s go ahead. We need a meeting. Let’s figure out what we can do to move.” And, honestly, we’ve been in that space for the last few weeks is, you know, just moving software which has been hectic. Maybe I’ll put that on my list of things that I don’t like but I know that it’s necessary. So, that’s my answer.
Tyson: Very good stuff.
All right. Sivonnia, we’ve got to wrap things up. Before I do, I want to remind everyone to join us in the big group, the Facebook group. There’s a lot of great activity going on there. If you’re interested in the Guild which is a little bit more of a high-level group, go to maxlawguild.com. If you’re interested in going to the conference, make sure you go and get your tickets because we’re going to sell out, maxlawcon.com.
And then, while you’re listening to our tips and hacks of the week, make sure you give us a five-star review. We will greatly appreciate it.
Jimmy, what’s your hack of the week?
Jim: Actually, I have two. One’s sort of a joke and one’s not. It took me about a half hour to get down to the asylum office today and I saw a lot of lawyer billboards. And, you know, lawyer billboards always stand out to you more when you’re in another town. And there’s some firm out here, they must be pretty big because all the billboard said was, “Jacoby & Meyers, Injury Lawyers, voted #1 in LA.” There was no call to action. No phone number. No website. No nothing. And I saw the same billboard four times and I was laughing to myself. There’s no indication or way for anyone to contact these people. And then, I pull off on the side of the highway to get to where I’m going and they even adopted that little bit of highway and they didn’t have their phone number. So, have your damn phone number on your advertisements.
Tyson: Real quick, Jacoby & Meyers is like this national firm where they come and they try to absorb up smaller firms. They’re sort of like a Morgan & Morgan but a little bit different, so–
Jim: Got it.
So, my true hack of the week is I’ve been talking to a lot of law firm owners, as we often do, and I’ve been talking to them specifically about developing their delegation muscle. And I really view it as a muscle. And I know that a lot of people really have a hard time delegating because they want to control everything. They’re not sure if they have the cash flow to hire the person to delegate to but it really takes practice.
And I really do think it’s like a muscle that you can either use or, if you don’t use it, it atrophies. And one of the things that occurred to me that you can do, to develop that muscle, is just think about things in your day that you could delegate. Like, for instance, you don’t necessarily have to cut your grass anymore. You know, cutting grass is maybe a $40- or a $30-an-hour cutting, you know, hourly rate. But if you’re working and you can make $200 an hour, then you should be working instead of cutting the grass or cleaning your house. There’s all these things we tell ourselves, we have to do, we should do.
When Instacart first came out, my wife thought it was almost amoral that a mother wouldn’t go to the grocery store for herself. And we sort of have to get past that. And if we want to delegate things in our firm, maybe the right way to do it is to start small, with little things that we don’t necessarily need to be doing.
Tyson: I like it. That’s a good one, Jimmy.
All right. Sivonnia, we always ask our guests to give us a tip or a hack of the week. Do you have a tip or hack for us?
Sivonnia: Absolutely. My tip would be sign up for my book launch this July 31 at 1:30 Central Standard Time, Athletes Making Moves. That is the title of my next book. All on name, image and likeness. Athletes Making Moves: Secure your future by protecting your name, image, and likeness. So, folks can go to that by going to athletesmakingmoves.com.
And here’s my other tip, just be authentic, be yourself. And when you do that, everything else will fall in line.
Tyson: Completely agree. Authenticity is so important. Absolutely.
Go get the book, too. Get the book, for everybody.
So, my tip is compliments of David Haskins who just put out basically a bulletin everybody in the Facebook group about people’s Google My Business pages being hijacked. So, these scammers are coming in requesting, basically, authority over this Google My Business page. And then, what they’re doing is they’re taking it over, right, and they’re scamming people. So, monitor yours like a hawk. You should be doing that anyways because it does help with your rankings. You should be updating it constantly if things change. But make sure you just keep an eye on it because, apparently, it’s really, really hard to reverse it once they take control over it. So, just be very careful.
Jim: I’ve gotten two of those emails, Tyson, and they look very official. So, I can see how someone might just click on it. Now, you just have to ask yourself, “Do I know this person? Why are they asking for my Google My Business credentials?” But it looks like came from Google.
Tyson: So, be careful. Be careful out there, so.
All right. Sivonnia, thank you so much for coming on. This has been a lot of fun. This is interesting because it’s something that we don’t normally do. It’s a different type of practice of law that’s on here. I think you’re the first person to come on that’s done this area of law. So, thank you so much.
Sivonnia: Thank you guys so much. This was very fun.
Tyson: Lots of fun.
Jim: Have a great day. Good luck with your book.
Tyson: Good luck with your book.
Sivonnia: Thank you. Have a great day, guys.
Tyson: You, too. See ya.
Thanks for listening to The Maximum Lawyer Podcast.
To stay in contact with your hosts and to access more content, go to maximumlawyer.com.
Have a great week and catch you next time.