From time to time, I see big events that appeal to the sports law crowd. Conferences, meetings, panels, seminars. They draw a lot of students and often have impressive speakers, by any standard. They’re a place to start if you’re looking at a career in football. But know the weaknesses of such gatherings.

There are a lot of people who regularly speak at these events that aren’t going to give you a lot of practical guidance. Oh, you’ll get ethics, and you’ll get people raging against the machine (the NFL, the NCAA, or whatever the perceived monolithic exploiter of the day is), and that’s all well and good, but are you getting practical guidance? Are you getting the answers to your questions? Are you in a setting where you feel confident seeking guidance on a specific area of the job search? Do you get closer to knowing what you really want to be?

Here’s one example. Every year at the combine, a company that is a semi-rival of ITL holds a big event for their clients. They bring in several people holding NFL jobs in evaluation, and they bring in a handful of agents and others from across the industry, and it’s a very impressive, star-studded list. For a day, all of those clients get to feel like big shots, hear war stories, tell their friends about who they’re rubbing elbows with, and maybe take a few cool selfies. But do they really directly benefit from this? The organization has lots of members, but I haven’t seen a record of success that indicates they’re giving any real value beyond entertainment.

I’m not discounting networking. That’s important, especially at an early stage of your career, and you’ll find no shortage of places to go if you want to wear an official-looking nametag, shake lots of hands, and sit in rooms with people with lots of Twitter followers. However, there is no substitute for actually working in the business.

As you attend these events, make sure you’re aggressive, direct, and mission-focused. You want to come away with leads, especially if you’re attending an event in the next 2-3 weeks. Make sure your goal is to go in without an opportunity, but to come away with one. If you are mostly sure there won’t be such opportunities at an event, maybe your time is best spent somewhere else.

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