Industry Profile: Action Sports Law Attorney Becky Mendoza
30 Jul, 2009
Shay: What is your job title?
Becky: Attorney at Law/Owner Action Sports Law Group.
Shay: What type of law is your focus?
Becky: Sports, Entertainment and Athlete Immigration are my focus, but I handle all types of transactional matters.
Shay: Did your parents question your job choice?
Becky: Not the lawyer part, just the opening up my own firm part, naturally, the economy is bad so they were concerned, plus the action sports part always kind of seemed like a shenanigan to them, they are mainstream sports people.
Shay: What was your first set up?
Becky: 149 LTD Betty with Lamar Bindings and DC Phantoms
Shay: What is your current set up?
Becky: It’s time for a new one, but it’s still the same as the first…5 seasons strong.
Shay: What was your first job?
Becky: My first job ever was as a legal document translator at a law firm when I was 18 years old and came home to Miami for summer break from college. This firm represented a bunch of banks that did credit card services for big companies like Home Depot and Pep Boys. The clients wanted to go bilingual and I speak and write perfect Spanish so I translated all the fine print and all of their form letters from English to Spanish. It sounds pretty boring but that’s how I fell in love with contracts.
Shay: What’s a great day of snowboarding to you?
Becky: Blue skies, powder, no lines
Shay: Who are your influences?
Becky: Snow-Eddie Wall, Tara Dakides, and Hannah Teter.
Shay: How long have you been snowboarding?
Becky: 7 years
Shay: How many days do you get to ride a year?
Becky: This year was the first year I got 11 days in…I’m from Miami, Florida, I didn’t even get to see snow until I was 22 years old, so I just did yearly trips to Tahoe, Colorado and Utah. This year, I was all Bear and Mammoth back and forth, it was a good season.
Shay: How did you get your start in the industry, what opened up more opportunities for you?
Becky: I was in my second year of law school and was reading an article on Dave Mirra on EXPN.com and saw that Steve Astephen was his agent/publicist. I googled his name and he pretty much represented every major athlete in moto, bmx, skate and snow. I found out that he had his own company (The Familie, LLC, at the time). I sent him a lengthy e-mail expressing my interest in an unpaid internship that would count as credits towards my Master’s degree and explaining my legal knowledge. He asked me when I could start and I pretty much came out to California the day after my last final of the term. I went in to meet with him for the first time and on that day met Bucky Lasek at the office, which left me speechless. I was like “Wow, I’m working here!” Then I introduced myself and spoke to Steve for a while, and mentioned that I brought a business suit with me just in case we had any meetings, then he said “If you ever wear a suit to this office, you’re fired.” I was so amped!! From that day on, I knew that this was the industry for me.
Shay: Is Action Sports law getting more recognition?
Becky: I would say so. There are a few law firms that have dedicated sections to action sports. Action sports really started becoming a business in the 80’s and 90’s and now, it is a multi-billion dollar industry. Since there are more people and more money involved, inevitably, people are becoming keen on getting representation, to make sure they are protected, and I’ve seen enough people get screwed to say to any action sports athlete that it is worth the minor expense of having someone handle your contracts and to give you advice to make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into.
Shay: What prompted you to start Action Sports Law Group?
Becky: Well, the economy was tough and I wasn’t making enough at my old job to cover my expenses and I was also limited to Immigration law. I have enough contacts and connections in the industry that I built since working with Steve Astephen at The Familie (WMG) in 2004, that I figured it would be worth the risk. I could not find a law firm out there that is dedicated to action sports professionals, and since I am so familiar with the industry, I figured there would be no one better than me to get it started.
Shay: How will Action Sports Law Group be beneficial to athletes?
Becky: Action Sports Law Group is an alternative law firm, familiar with the needs of action sports professionals and companies, which provides a broad range of quality legal services, in order to keep the focus where it belongs: on the sport. We do this by keeping our rates economical and being readily available to our clients 24/7. Our goal is to provide action sports professionals, athletes and companies with a one-stop shop for all of their transactional legal needs.
Shay: How are you looking to expand your business?
Becky: I have been attending action sports networking events. I just joined a group called Women in Action Sports, which is an amazing networking group focusing on women in the industry and how we can work together to excel in this male-driven industry. I have been actively contacting people and responding to people through Linkedin as well. It’s just a matter of time before I do the Twitter thing too. Also, my clients have been great about referring people over to me, as well as, other action sports agents and industry professionals helping me get my name out there. I’m also just finishing up the website, which should be pretty informative, so hopefully that will help me expand. I have also been travelling to different events and will be travelling to different companies to get my name out there.
Shay: Do you have any snowboard specific clients?
Becky: My major snowboard specific client is Eddie Wall but just handling general legal matters that he needs help with. His agent, Steve Astephen of WMG, LLC, is my former boss of mine and friend of mine, so he hooked Eddie up with me when Eddie was looking for a lawyer. I currently do not have any snowboard specific Visa clients, though, but I am very familiar with the field and I am working hard to get snowboard visa clients.
Shay: What work do you do for action sports athletes?
Becky: I do Athlete Immigration (O and P Visas), as well as Sports and Entertainment Transactions like Contract Negotiation, Drafting, Review; I handle personal transactions like promissory notes, security agreements, real estate transactions, loan modifications, quit claim deeds, family law transactions, and wills and trusts; I also do business transactions, like the purchase and sale of business assets, corporate loans, security agreements and promissory notes, partnership agreements, operating agreements, employment agreements and representation agreements;
Shay: Is it difficult for athletes to get visas?
Becky: This is a tricky question because if the athlete is qualified, and they hire me, then yes, I would say it’s fairly simple. I would think it almost impossible to do it on your own because this visa requires so much evidence and the USCIS looks for certain language in the evidence that I am very familiar with. The visas I work on are O and P visas, but mostly P visas. The P visa, for example, is designed for foreign professional athletes to enter the US to work and participate in their field of specialization. The length of this visa can be up to 5 years, with the possibility of another 5 year extension, so potentially 10 years, which is typically the career span of an action sports athlete. The first thing the athlete would need is a sponsor to offer them work. The athlete needs to show that they have achieved international recognition in the sports based on his or her reputation. The documentation required is an advisory opinion from the governing body of the sport, a company letter from the sponsor supporting the athlete, an itinerary of events, a contract signed by the sponsor and athlete summarizing the terms of the agreement, letters of recommendation from peers and experts in the field, and finally, photos and articles evidencing the athlete’s and the sponsor’s recognition in the sport. Once all of that gets submitted to the USCIS, then there is a waiting period before you get the approval. I prepare all of this paperwork, so all the client does is sign a few documents and provide their personal information and some names and contact information for their letters of recommendation. Once the approval notice comes in (usually 2 months, but you can get a response within 15 days if you pay a fee), then the client is able to go to a US consulate outside of the country, with the necessary documentation that I provide them with as well as a quick briefing on the kinds of questions that they may be asked in the visa interview. Then they have their visa interview if everything looks good, they are granted their visa and can come in and out of the country for the next 5 years (or contract term) without a problem. So the short answer is yes it is difficult for me to prepare the paperwork since it requires lots of research and creativity, but no it is not difficult for the athlete to actually get the visa stamped on his/her passport if he/she is qualified and approved.
Shay: How difficult is legal work and writing?
Becky: I would say that legal work is more challenging and exciting than it is difficult. As attorneys we are trained to try to find the best solution to a problem. I love when clients come to me with a question that I know the answer to, because it means less work for me, but it also means that I’m not learning. When a client comes to me with a question that I don’t know the answer to, it’s awesome, because it forces me to research and answer and it makes me more knowledgeable at the end of the day. As far as legal writing, I think it is more of an art form than anything else. Every time I finish a memorandum or a demand letter, I have the same feeling of accomplishment that I get when I have just finished a painting or when I’ve caught a really good wave.
Shay: What’s your take on lawsuits against ski resorts for when people get injured?
Becky: I think that people should take responsibility for their own actions, if it is something that the ski resort could not possibly have known or had control over, I think people should just suck it up and stop looking to blame the ski resorts so that they can keep their costs low. If you can’t understand that you may get injured snowboarding or skiing, then you shouldn’t be on the mountain, and if you do decide to go on the mountain, then you’re assuming the risk.
Shay: What’s your education and law experience?
Becky: I went to the University of Florida in Gainesville for my undergrad, where I graduated in 3 years with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a minor in Education. Then I took a year off and went to a small law school in Miami, St. Thomas University School of Law, because they had a great dual degree program offering a Juris Doctor and a Masters Degree in Sports Administration, so I did law school by day and master’s by night. In total, I have a Bachelors in Psychology, a law degree (Juris Doctor) and a Master’s in Sports Administration. I graduated in 2005, took and passed the Florida Bar and practiced in Miami, Florida until I moved out to San Diego in November of 2007. Then I took and passed the California Bar Exam and started working for a sports agent/attorney who an Immigration firm specializing in obtaining visas for Equestrian athletes.
Shay: What other jobs/companies have you worked at?
WMG, LLC (The Familie)- action sports agents- Carlsbad, CA
World Sports, LLC- major league baseball sports agents- Solana Beach, CA
International Law Group, LLP- immigration firm specializing in equestrian athlete visas- Solana Beach, CA
Alfredo Garcia-Menocal, P.A.- general civil litigation and transactional law firm -Miami, FL
Bogert & Rembold- construction litigation firm- Miami, Florida
Shay: What’s your average day like?
Becky: I wake up in the morning and make some breaky…go straight into e-mails, usually read that day’s Shop-eat-surf articles and try to keep up with the industry news, check the USCIS website for the status of my pending Visa cases, work on website content and other administrative matters, go down my list of clients and see what is pending and if anything can be resolved. Make phone calls to make progress on my cases. Work on Visa Petitions (if there are any pending). Check for possible networking opportunities or contact industry people who I’ve recently met at events or just randomly. I usually fit surfing somewhere in there, whether it’s in the morning, after I’ve read through all the e-mails and if there is nothing pending, or if it’s a busy day, I’ll paddle out in the afternoon or go for a jog if the ocean is flat. I do have to say that every day is different. Some days, I sit at my desk taking care of business all day long from 7 am to midnight, but other days I’ll pound a day’s work in a few hours and then I get to lay on a raft in my pool and read a book and just relax.
Shay: What are some memorable experiences from your work?
Becky: I only started Action Sports Law Group a few months ago, but I would say seeing my clients in a social setting, not really talking business but just hanging out with them and getting to know them is pretty awesome.
Shay: How is working as an attorney (any cool work events, work environment, job perks)?
Becky: Working as an attorney in a regular setting is not my cup of tea. You generally have to wear a suit to work everyday, which is not for me. Working as an attorney in action sports, it’s beneficial for me not to dress up, ever! The words “lawyer” and “attorney” generally carry a negative stigma for action sports athletes. It scares them and makes them feel commercial. If I were to show up to a meeting with a skater or snowboarder dressed up in a suit, they would probably start sweating and feel very stuffy. I show up to meetings with clients in flip flops and jeans, and immediately they are comfortable with me, then I start talking to them in general and loosen them up so that they see that I am not a typical “stuffy” attorney and they start to open up to me, then I get into the legal matters and they see that I know what I am talking about, so that makes them trust me. Every time I have left a meeting with an athlete, they have been stoked on me because they can tell that I’m real and that I’m going to do everything in my power to help them.
As far as work events, a big networking event for me is ASR, which is just as much business as it is pleasure. I also went to the Roxy Chicken Jam in Mammoth this spring and to the Nike 6.0 Lowers Pro at Trestles to see some clients… just another day at the office. Like I mentioned before also, I have joined some action sports networking groups like Action Sports Connect, SoCal Action Sports Group and Women in Action Sports, and they have some pretty good events.
I am currently a solo practitioner, so my work environment is awesome, I don’t have to rely on anyone to get things done, that way I don’t have to worry that I’m not giving my clients the best service they can get. The job perks are that I have time to do the things that I love, like surf and snowboard, and I have to travel in order to get Visa clients, and those trips are expensed. For example, this summer I am going to Treblecone in New Zealand for their winter to meet with some potential snow clients about Visas and Australia to see some clients and meet some of their contacts as well and since it is all for business, I will be able to see these countries, which I have not seen before and I will be doing business at the same time. My clients also tend to hook me up with free gear, which is another perk.
Shay: What’s the best perk you’ve gotten from your job?
Becky: Honestly, getting to do things that I love, like surfing and snowboarding, as part of networking and entertaining clients.
Shay: Any disadvantages of your job?
Becky: Well, financially, I have good months and I have bad months, but the lifestyle I can keep and good budgeting makes the bad months easier to get through
Shay: What’s the busiest time of year for you?
Becky: It will probably be this summer working on getting international snow athletes and employee visas for our winter season.
Shay: Education vs Experience…which do you think is more important?
Becky: I definitely think that both are super important. The thing is that education is useless without experience and experience educates you, so ultimately, although I have lots of education, I think that experience is more important.
Shay: What advice would you give to people wanting to work in the industry?
Becky: If you really have your mind set on being in the industry, find a way to get into it and you usually have to start at the bottom and work hard, but it’s worth it because once you’re in, it’s a great place to make a living, meet great people and live an amazing lifestyle.
Shay: Final Thoughts?
*Photos courtesy of Becky Mendoza and Action Sports Law Group.