Member spotlight: Ross Wenzel
Ross attended RGS between 1990-1998 and has become one of the leading experts in his field of sports law, with a focus on doping and football-related disputes, as Partner of Kellerhals Carrard in Lausanne, Switzerland. Ross was recently recognised as one of the Top Ten Sports Lawyers in Who’s Who Legal (EMEA).
We are delighted that Ross, still a keen sportsman, has taken time out of his busy schedule to feature in this edition of the RGS Professionals Member Spotlight series.
Could you talk a little about your journey from RGS to where you are today as Partner in the sports law group of Kellerhals Carrard based in Switzerland?
After leaving RGS in 1998, I studied Modern Languages (French and German) at St Edmund Hall, Oxford. I decided to study languages on the basis that I had no clear idea at that age what I wanted to do professionally, so thought it would be best to stick to the subjects that I enjoyed the most and was strong in. Whilst I was at Oxford, I applied to (and was accepted for) a training contract at the corporate law firm Slaughter and May. My time at Slaughter and May gave me an excellent grounding in the nuts and bolts of legal practice – from research, through drafting and negotiation – but I knew after a few years that it was not for me in the long-term. I had the opportunity to work on one or two sports law matters whilst I was at the firm, which led to me reading more widely around the subject. I felt a sense of interest and engagement with sports law that I simply did not have for corporate law.
Sports law is an extremely competitive market and it was not possible as a young Associate with little or no practical experience of sports law to land a job in that area. I therefore decided to take a Masters in sports law and management; the one I chose was the “FIFA Masters” in which you study the humanities, management and law of sport in three different partner universities in Leicester, Milan and Neuchatel respectively. After the course, which certainly opened my eyes up to all facets of the sports industry, I was offered a job at a sports marketing agency in Zug (Switzerland) called Infront Sports and Media; I worked there for a couple of years, mainly on commercial contracts for FIFA and certain other rights-holders.
Whilst at Infront, I continued to be fascinated by sports disputes and would read in my spare time all of the case law that came out of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne (Switzerland). In the Summer of 2010, I applied – somewhat speculatively – to a Swiss law firm that had a renowned sports law practice: Carrard et Associés which has since become Kellerhals Carrard after a merger in 2016. Fortunately (and perhaps surprisingly as I was an English lawyer), they took me on as they felt it would be useful to have a native English speaker in their sports disputes practice (the vast majority of the cases before CAS are in English). Since starting at the firm in 2010, I have had the opportunity to work for some of the most prominent sports organisations in the world and to attend various editions of the Olympic Games as external counsel for the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). The majority of my time is spent doing cases before the CAS in areas such as anti-doping, football, governance etc. I was made a Partner in 2014 and have been head of the sports team since that time.
Who has played the biggest influence on your professional career?
The person that has been most influential in my career is one of the other Partners in the sports team at Kellerhals Carrard: Jean-Pierre Morand. When I joined the firm, I had little practical experience in disputes and was not familiar with the political workings of sports organisations. In the first couple of years at the firm, I worked very closely with Jean-Pierre and learned a great deal from him, in particular in terms of case strategy.
What skills would you say are most relevant to your role?
I think my recognition in the Top Ten Sports Lawyers on Who’s Who Legal (EMEA) is mostly to do with my work in anti-doping. I am lucky enough to be involved in a significant proportion of the anti-doping cases that come to CAS. I handle the appeals for the World Anti-Doping Agency and also represent a number of International Federations (e.g. athletics, weightlifting) with respect to their anti-doping disputes. The fact that I spend a significant amount of my time in this very niche area means that I am privy to the latest case law and trends and have an in-depth understanding of the relevant regulations. I have also been able to forge very good relationships with some of the world’s best anti-doping scientists whom I often call to provide expert evidence. That knowledge and network may not be a skill per se but they are certainly an asset in my practice area. More generally, my training at Slaughter and May instilled in me an acute sense of attention to detail and perfectionism in the work product; I will not file any submissions until I am satisfied that I have considered every angle and put across my client’s position in as clear and forceful a manner as I can. Nothing leaves my desk (or outbox) with being read over and over again and without me understanding and being ready to defend every sentence in it. Finally, I very much enjoy the advocacy side of my role. Although I qualified as a solicitor (not a barrister), I enjoy arguing my own cases and believe that it is one of my biggest strengths; it is certainly one of those skills where one continues to improve with experience.
What has been your biggest career achievement to date?
For me, it was a huge honour to become a Partner at Kellerhals Carrard. I am also proud to have gained and kept the confidence of certain major sports organisations who continue to consult me. In such a competitive industry, I do not take that work for granted and continue to try to excel in what I do and achieve the best results for my clients.
What advice would you give to your 18 year old self leaving RGS?
If you do not know what you want to do in life, try to take a path that does not close too many doors. Study a subject that you enjoy and are good at and take time to work out what you want to do. Do not just fall into something but research the various options and, in particular, speak to as many people as you can that are in the industry you are considering before making any final decision. By way of example, I believe that if I had spent more time researching law before taking the City training contract, I would have probably decided to go down the barrister route. If you realise along the way that you are on a path that you do not want to continue down, make the change earlier rather than later as it does not get any easier….
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