A University of Tennessee College of Law student had no way of knowing what was in store for the Nashville Predators hockey team when she applied for an internship with the organization’s legal department.
Katie Yoches, a self-described networker and third-year law student at UT, has combined her love for sports and the law. She spent the spring semester living in Boston, Mass. while completing an externship with Spartan Race – an organization that encourages fitness through running, and hosts obstacle course race events. There she helped monitor the organization’s trademark rights – tracking down those who attempted to sell unlicensed merchandise that bore her company’s logo.
While still in Boston, she began reaching out to a number of other sports-related organizations seeking summer internship opportunities that would help her enhance her resume.
“I contacted lots of teams, agents, Nike, UnderArmour,” she said, “but Tennessee has always been home.”
Yoches’ persistence, her experience with Spartan Race, and her second-year law school training with trademark and contract law gave her the advantage she needed to land a full-tme legal internship the Nashville Predators.
Competition is stiff, says Predators Counsel Jill Ormandy, and it’s a rare opportunity for the law student who lands the job.
“The professional sports industry is extremely difficult to break into given its extreme popularity and the number of applicants, especially considering that each team typically has very few opportunities and positions,” Ormandy said.
But Yoches started work in Nashville in late May, there wasn’t much time for on-the-job training as the Predators had just eliminated the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks to become the NHL Western Conference champions.
“It was pretty hectic at first,” Yoches said. “Everybody was running every which way. I was given projects but not detailed instruction or direction because everyone was getting ready for the games and customers and those who attended the games.
“It was a headfirst dive in.”
But Ormandy said Yoches was well-prepared for the challenge.
Her “prior work experience allowed her to understand our structure immediately, which is a great attribute,” Ormandy said.
Yoches filled those first days on the job in Bridgestone Arena reading through legal files and agreements from prior years to better learn how the organization operated. As the Predators’ success on the ice continued, office momentum increased.
“We started planning watch parties downtown and wanted to get more and more people to enjoy them and be involved,” she said. “We worked at making things bigger and better.”
Even after the Predators’ Stanley Cup series loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, Yoches’ commitment to the team did not waiver, she said, in part – because those in the organization’s top positions extended gratitude for her efforts.
“Our General Manager (Jim Rutherford), Coach (Peter Laviolette) and COO (Travis Williams) were all very kind and thanked us for being there and wanting to help. The (Nashville) Mayor (Megan Barry) even thanked us,” she said. “I think lots of times people imagine team coaches and owners to be too busy for the front office, but that wasn’t the case here.”
In the last few weeks, Yoches’ work has evolved into monitoring trademark infringement and helping enforce licensing agreements. And when Yoches’ unforgettable summer affiliation with the professional sports team comes to an end, the girl who entered college on a track scholarship says she’ll return to Knoxville with the same drive and determination that made her a successful an athlete.
UT Law Professor Doug Blaze says he looks forward to seeing what comes next for Yoches.
“She is so incredibly bright,” said Blaze, who supervised her field placements. “I have never seen anybody like her. She is so well organized about how to move toward her dream job.”
“It’s so fun to watch Katie succeed,” Blaze said. “She will have a series of jobs and manage that path through the legal sports world to have major impact virtually everywhere she ends up.”
Yoches said she will spend the 2017-18 school year studying for the bar exam as she seeks out her first job with a law firm. Eventually, she’d like to work as general counsel for a professional athletic organization.
“Graduates aren’t hired into general counsel positions right out of law school,” she said. “And I’m not sure how far this experience will take me, but I know I want to be in the sports industry.”
“We’ll see how it goes.”