SBJ/March 20 - 26, 2006/Forty Under 40
Published March 20, 2006
WILLIAMS & CONNOLLY
By Liz Mullen
• Age: 37
• Title: Partner
• Company: Williams & Connolly
• Education: B.A., University of North Carolina, 1990; J.D., University of Chicago, 1993
• Family: Wife, Alison; son Evan, 7; daughter Lauren, 4
• Career: Corporate finance and mergers and acquisitions attorney for Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom from 1993-1997; briefing book coordinator for the Clinton/Gore Re-election Campaign in 1996; joined Williams & Connolly as an associate in 1997; named partner in 2003.
• Last vacation: Cabo San Lucas
• Last book read: "The Last Juror" by John Grisham
• Last movie seen: "Good Night, and Good Luck"
• Pet peeve: Disloyal people
• Greatest achievement: Winning the Morehead Scholarship at the University of North Carolina
• Greatest disappointment: Realizing that, as a parent, you can't fix everything
• Fantasy job: I have a passion for movies, so anything related to the motion picture industry, like a studio executive, director or even a movie critic
• Executive most admired: Lon Babby, who has been a tremendous mentor both professionally as well as personally
• Business advice: Produce consistently excellent work and spend an equal amount of time developing and cultivating your network and business relationships.
Nearly a decade ago, in 1997, Jim Tanner was just one among the many, a name in a stack of resumes at venerable Washington, D.C., law firm Williams & Connolly, hoping to work under veteran sports agent Lon Babby. That soon changed.
"I knew as soon as I met him that he was the right guy," Babby recalled of his interview of Tanner, who has become heir apparent to Babby's practice of representing sports superstars.
Babby said he knew he needed someone "with the appropriate academic credentials and legal credentials." Tanner was a Morehead Scholar at the University of North Carolina, had a law degree from the University of Chicago and worked as a corporate lawyer at what Babby called one of the country's best corporate law firms, Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom.
But, because he was going to work with millionaire athletes, "he had to have a scintillating personality and be kind of charismatic," Babby said. Tanner had those qualities as well.
Babby hired Tanner in 1997, primarily because at the time he envisioned athlete representation moving way beyond player contracts and endorsements, and more into outside business interests and financial planning. Tanner's background in corporate law would help the firm's clients who were starting their own businesses, as well as be helpful in negotiating large endorsement deals.
Williams & Connolly's sports law and athlete representation practice is known primarily for two things: A different fee structure and clients who have high-quality personalities to match their enormous athletic skills. Clients include NBA stars Tim Duncan, Grant Hill, Shane Battier and Marvin Williams, as well as WNBA stars Chamique Holdsclaw and Tamika Catchings, among others. But instead of charging a percentage of a client's contract value, like most agents do, Williams & Connolly charges clients by the hour.
For years now, Babby built his basketball practice by focusing on recruiting just one or two very highly rated basketball players a year. Over time, Tanner has taken the lead in recruiting those clients. Last year Tanner recruited Williams, the No. 2 pick in the NBA draft, without Babby's help, and signed PGA Tour player Tim Clark and promising female golfer Perry Swenson.
Babby and Tanner have almost a father-son mentor relationship in which "the son has moved up and is now poised to take over the business," said Len Brown, a senior counsel to the PGA Tour, who worked with Tanner and Babby at Williams & Connolly from 2000 to 2004.
Babby and Tanner are involved in "every aspect of their clients' lives, from buying houses to buying businesses to family matters, divorce and custody," said Brown, who is a close friend of Tanner's.
"I like wearing a number of different hats over the course of a day — attorney, negotiator, mentor, marketer, big brother, adviser and friend," Tanner said.
Tanner was instrumental in helping Hill set up what is now a "thriving" commercial real estate business in Florida, and worked on numerous endorsement deals for him over the years, according to Hill's mother, Janet. "There isn't a deal that Grant does that Jim doesn't review," she said. "I bet he has signed 60 contracts, and in every way possible Jim Tanner looks to protect Grant's interest."