By Darby Daly, Co-President of the Buffalo Sports & Entertainment Law Society
As a young associate attorney for the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), Lacey Mencl has proven that she is already a force to be reckoned with in the sports industry. Mencl entered law school with the goal of becoming a sports law attorney, and now, just two years out of law school, Mencl has already been immensely successful in achieving her goal.
Prior to attending law school, Mencl grew up as an athlete – she participated in a variety of sports over the years, but soccer had always been her primary focus. Mencl continued to play soccer through her freshman year of college, where she played for Lake Erie’s DII women’s team before transferring to Kent State to finish her undergraduate degree in Sports Administration with a minor in Business. Once Mencl learned that working in the sports industry was a career path, she was sold and did everything she could to pursue that dream. Mencl explained that she has “always loved sports, the camaraderie, and how [sports] connected people.”
Mencl kicked off her career in sports by working for the football recruiting office at Kent State and working on various tasks for the athletic department. Upon graduating from Kent State, Mencl’s success in the sports world continued as she took a job in the Cavaliers’ sourcing department. Although she was unsure of what working in the sourcing department would entail, Mencl knew that it would be a great way to get her foot in the door and make strong connections within the sports world. Little did Mencl know that it was here she would actually be exposed to the sports law realm.
Since Mencl’s time at the Cavaliers occurred long before the pandemic and working from home, she befriended the team’s associate legal counsel, whose cubicle was located right next to hers. Through this relationship, Mencl found herself becoming more interested in the legal work being done for the Cavaliers. As soon as she had the opportunity to shadow her work colleague and experienced his daily responsibilities as an attorney, she knew that’s what she wanted to do, prompting her to begin her law school journey.
Mencl began law school at Cleveland Marshall with “the full intent of staying true to sports.” Though this proved to be difficult at times, Mencl stayed true to her goals as she held various athletic related externships and served as the President of her law school’s sports and entertainment law society. Mencl also stayed true to her origins with the Cavaliers, as she continued to work part time with the team throughout her legal education and was even brought on as the team’s legal assistant during her 3L year.
While her goal was ultimately to end up in sports, Mencl made sure to become a well-rounded attorney by gaining experience in both family law and corporate law. Although she enjoyed these experiences outside of sports, she still knew that she saw herself in the sports world. Once she had finished law school and passed the bar exam, Mencl kicked off her legal career as a corporate lawyer; however, as soon as she saw the job opening at the National Women’s Soccer League for a paralegal, Mencl jumped at the opportunity.
For most people, working as a paralegal is a position that is held prior to law school and often encourages many to pursue a career as an attorney. Mencl, on the other hand, took a step back from her role as an attorney because she knew that getting her foot in the door with the NWSL as a paralegal could be extremely beneficial to her personal and professional goals. Turns out, she was right. Though it took some convincing to get the NWSL to take a licensed attorney as a paralegal, she pleaded her case and showed the League that she is exactly who they needed for the job. Mencl explained that she began the paralegal role with the caveat that it could turn into a junior staff role sooner rather than later, which ended up happening even quicker than expected.
Not only did Mencl take a step back in regard to her roles and responsibilities, but she also had to make the decision to make the move from her hometown in Ohio to Chicago in order to join the NWSL. Knowing that this would be a critical point in her career, Mencl trusted her gut and made the career decision that would ultimately see her become in-house counsel to a professional sports league just two years after graduating from law school (a feat that is not commonly heard of).
Now having some experience as an attorney for a professional sports league under her belt, Mencl said that her daily routine consists of a wide variety of responsibilities and tasks. As an NWSL attorney, Mencl is responsible for answering any legal questions asked by teams within the league, onboarding new coaches, handling immigration paperwork for players, reviewing penalties given during games, working on contracts, and much more. Mencl noted that working on the league’s new (and first) collective bargaining agreement has been one of the more rewarding parts of her job. She also enjoys hearing the players’ input and seeing her contributions to various contracts come to fruition.
Having gone through the process herself, Mencl is very aware of the difficulties that arise when pursuing a career in the sports industry and particularly in sports law. This has prompted Mencl to share her own story and provide advice to aspiring sports lawyers on TikTok, where her most viewed post consisted of her explaining what she does as an attorney for a professional sports league and received 30,000 views. Though humble when ask her TikTok account, Mencl’s use of this platform to discuss her career has encouraged viewers (such as myself) to reach out to her and feel more confident in their own goals in the sports industry.
While she has already accomplished a significant amount in her short legal career, Mencl still has some “moonshot goals,” which she will likely be able to reach at the rate at which she’s succeeding. Mencl explained that she would love to be a commissioner or president of a team one day – but her next step is to become general counsel, wherever that may be. Mencl explained that she “would ultimately love to see a significant change in women’s sports and how they’re respected,” and she hopes to be able to take advantage of the interesting point we are at as a culture. Although Mencl would have happily accepted a job in any league, the NWSL appears to be the perfect placement – and what better way to make a difference than working in-house for a women’s professional sports league.