Amanda Fowler On What It’s Like To Be A Sports Lawyer

This profile of sports lawyer Amanda Fowler is part of Street Meet, FLEETSTREET’s series, where we meet up with trailblazers and thought leaders to deliver unique insight and inspiration into issues we all care about.

Being a lawyer is goals. Being an athlete is goals. So, based on this evidence, Amanda Fowler is goals. Exhibit A, her work has made a difference for Canadian and international athletes. She represents them to protect their human rights. You may have read about the banning of a high profile coach because of her treatment of Canadian gymnasts – Fowler was the lawyer for one of the athletes. At the Invictus Games in Toronto in 2017, she served as a pro bono lawyer. This former varsity soccer player is also an award-winning lawyer. In 2022, legal website named Fowler Client Choice Lawyer in Sports and Entertainment Law. But behind all this hardware and accolades, what’s it like working as a sports lawyer in Canada? Fowler tells FLEETSTREET.  

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FLEETSTREET: Why did you pursue a legal career?

Amanda Fowler: I went to Queens University for my undergrad, and I was really drawn to human rights [studies]. And, I’ve always had this connection to human rights and advocacy. I didn’t really know at the time that law was going to be my direction. I took politics and the expectation was after you graduate, you either go into government or law. I felt I had to choose one of those two paths. I ended up picking law, and it turned out to be the best decision ever. It comes naturally to me. I think it suits my personality. And I can’t see myself doing anything else. 

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FS: What about law makes you feel like it comes naturally to you?

AF: I love the high stakes that come with law, especially if I’m working on a complicated matter. I love the problem-solving aspect. I love working with people. I love negotiating. And I really just like doing the best job I can for a client. What I discovered is that I can get good results and I can win. Being an athlete growing up, I had that identity and was very attached to it for a long time. I don’t consider myself an “athlete” anymore because I don’t play at the level that I did. But I still have that connection through law.

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FS: What are your top tips for negotiating? Whether it’s for a better price or a higher salary, what are the basics we need to know?

AF: You have to know your strengths and your weaknesses in your case or situation. You want to minimize your weaknesses and enhance your strengths. And the cool thing about negotiating – it’s not a win-loss. You’re always going to find some sort of compromise, but you want to walk away feeling like you’ve won. Chances are, the other side wants to feel they’ve won, too. So, if you know your strengths and your weaknesses, you know where to push, what your non-negotiables are, what your must-haves are, and you’ll move in that direction to get a deal. At the same time, you know what to give up, and you’ll be OK with it. It’s a bit of a game in a way. 

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FS: How do you humanize the going back and forth of negotiations? 

AF: You want to collaborate with the person you’re working with, especially if getting a good deal is the objective. With selling something or negotiating, you have a genuine interest in achieving an outcome. It’s important to be collaborative and to work with whoever is on the other side. Building a rapport with them, I think, is helpful. The way I do that is to get on the phone with them and have a chat. It’s OK to be honest with some limits. Being honest is really helpful. Along with that collaborative approach. Chances are you might see that person again. You want to make a good impression.

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FS: Do you see yourself as a competitive person?

AF: I do, I do. I really like to win. I hate to lose more than I like to win. That pushes me forward.

FS: Nobody likes to lose, though. 

AF: I’ll use sport cases as my example. It’s important to win because it helps to solidify a reputation. If you’re known in the community as someone who knows how to win a sports arbitration that speaks volumes. There’s the perception you’re a no-nonsense person. And when it comes to settling [a case before it would go to court], it also gives you credibility, too. Settling may be in someone’s best interest if they know going to an arbitration or a trial could mean they may lose if they’re up against you. 

So, yes, I do have this naturally competitive attitude. I play to win. And you’re right, most people do have that. But I think it has to be paired with skill, too. Anyone can “like to win” and “hate to lose,” but I think it’s another thing to deliver.”

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FS: How has sports and being an athlete affected you?

AF: With sport, you’re either winning or losing. [That experience] helps you respectfully handle both. As much as I love winning, I know how to be respectful and peaceful about losing. It’s good to learn. Sport has taught me some valuable skills that I’ve carried on into my practice. Teamwork is also really helpful because on a team you’re full of different personalities. You don’t necessarily get to pick the people on the team with you. So, being able to work with different people and learning how to get the most out of them, especially if perhaps you’re a captain on the team, is also really helpful. That ties into virtually every aspect of my life. Sports show you how to be on time for things, which is surprising. Some people don’t necessarily learn how to be on time, Punctuality is important. Even just performing at a high level and learning how to balance different priorities, while figuring out a way to do them all with excellence are a few more.

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FS: Losing with grace takes self-care. What’s your self-care routine?

AF: I think it’s acknowledging that I would be OK, figuring out where I went wrong. And, to be fair, it takes a day or two if we’re talking about a decision I lost. Mind you, if I lost at Catan, I’m OK with it. But with a case, for example, I take a day or two to see where exactly I went wrong. I don’t want to make that decision or that mistake again if there was a mistake. Sometimes, honestly, it’s unavoidable. When you lose, you don’t always have the facts or the law on your side. So acknowledging that I’m not bulletproof and I’m not perfect, that’s a huge thing. And then learning from that experience for the next time. And, in terms of self-care, I don’t know if I have a specific ritual but I do like to keep things in perspective. At the same time, I do realize that a decision could affect an athlete and their career. So, I have to manage that side of things. It’s not really about me, it’s more about them.

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FS: How do you feel about women’s sports in Canada? 

AF: I’m excited about women’s sports in general – I think there is a lot of growth. In the last few years, we’ve seen a rise in professional sports for a variety of sports. We’ve seen the Women’s World Cup, for example, really take off. We’re also going to see a professional team starting in Canada relatively soon. So, that’s very cool. The PWHL kicked off this year. And I think they’ve done everything right there. One of the cornerstones of the growth that I’m particularly excited about is in professional sports. That’s where a lot of girls in particular get to see their mentors play. Now they see that they can take that sport somewhere and earn a professional salary and see a viable career option moving forward. That will allow the game to grow because then a greater volume of athletes are going to be moving up the ranks, from house league and rep to provincial teams and national teams. And so that’s all exciting for me to see. And so I think the future looks bright. 

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FS: You obviously have a high-stress job. and it sounds like you thrive off of it a bit, but what do you do when the stress starts to feel negative and it’s not motivating?

AF: I’ve learned this the hard way a number of times. I get so excited by opportunities but sometimes I take on too many. And, when it gets overwhelming and it feels like I’m on a hamster wheel that never ends, I start to notice my health decline first. That could be that I’m not eating well, sleeping well, or don’t have the chance to go outside to get fresh air or be with my family as much as I think I should. Those are key indicators that my main priorities in my life are not being met, and I need to take a step back. So I’ll evaluate all the stuff I’ve got going on and figure out what I can get rid of immediately or what project is going to end soon. And I remind myself, “Amanda, don’t take on something else.”

It’s difficult to set these habits. I set a boundary with myself, and then something exciting will come up, then I’ll get to that point where it’s way too much and I need to reassess. 

It’s an ongoing learning experience for me, but at the moment, in the last year in particular, I’ve figured it out for the most part. I know that I’m going to make mistakes in the future. But for right now I’m in a decent place and I’m really happy with it. I’m always mindful that I can only take on so many things. Now that I have my son, he fills a section of my life that work used to fill, and I don’t have the same capacity I once did. That’s always at the top of my mind when it comes to priorities. 

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FS: Final question, what’s next for you?

AF: One thing that’s been on my mind a lot lately is my work deals with sports arbitration. When I first entered into this world, it was taken out by a handful of lawyers. Now, there are a lot more lawyers coming up the ranks doing the same kind of work, which is really exciting. But it’s also making me realize: How do I then take my career to the next level? How do I grow it? How do I expand it? I don’t think there’s really anyone I can really look to as a mentor. At this moment, I’m not quite sure, but I’m excited to figure out how to pave the way. The sky’s the limit, and it’s up to me to figure this path out. It’s scary but exciting.