Tulane Law grad steers NBA D-League’s Grand Rapids Drive

Professionals from across the National Basketball Association, in New Orleans for the All-Star Game, gave Tulane University students a behind-the-scenes view of the league Feb. 17. But the most picture-perfect perspective came from Tulane Law alum Jon Phelps, a 2012 graduate who’s already risen to general manager of the Grand Rapid Drive, the NBA Development League team of the Detroit Pistons.

Jon Phelps (L ’12), general manager of the Grand Rapid Drive in the NBA Development League, advises Tulane students on landing a job in pro ball during a day of All-Star Game-related panels Feb. 17.

Phelps enrolled at Tulane for the Sports Law program and took the classes required for a Sports Law certificate, including antitrust, intellectual property and labor law. He also served as a research assistant for Professor , director of the program, and a nationally known authority on some of the high-profile issues in the industry.
When both the NBA and the National Football League had player lockouts during Phelps’ second year, he said, “my classmates and I were able to study many of the legal issues surrounding these professional sports leagues in real time,” he said.
During his third year, he was symposium editor for the Tulane Law Review’s symposium issue on the role of antitrust law and labor law in shaping the landscape of professional and intercollegiate sports.

Professor Gabe Feldman (far right) leads a discussion with Jason Hillman, Cleveland Cavaliers senior vice president and general counsel, Ben Lauritsen, Portland Trailblazers senior vice president, and Melissa Goldenberg, Phoenix Suns general counsel.

His first job after graduation was a two-year stint at New Orleans civil litigation firm Irwin Fritchie Urquhart & Moore, where he focused primarily on scientific expert witnesses in cases involving complex medical device claims. But in 2014, the Grand Rapids Drive was hiring in its basketball operations department, and Tulane graduate Andrew Loomis (TC ’02) encouraged Phelps to apply.
As director of basketball operations for the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons, Phelps handled tasks from washing team uniforms, organizing team travel and driving players to and from practice in a 15-passenger van, to helping prepare for the draft and scouting opposing players for potential trades and NBA call-ups.
“Because the staffs in the D-League are smaller, everyone has to do a little bit of everything to help out, and so I got exposure to how a D-League team is organized and how it should be run,” he said.
Phelps was promoted to Drive general manager in summer of 2016 and now manages the staff, scouts, handles personnel work and generally oversees the operation, regularly updating the Pistons on the team’s progress.

Bleacher Report writer Jonathan Abrams (center) describes his route to becoming an NBA beat writer, along with Howard Beck of Bleacher Report (left) and Sports Illustrated’s Ben Golliver.

“I absolutely love my job and am incredibly thankful for the opportunity that I have,” Phelps said. “The D-League is the best place for me to learn, grow and develop, and I’m hopeful that I continue to get the opportunity to help run our team in Grand Rapids.”
The Feb. 17 panels, sponsored by Tulane University, Tulane Law, the Sports Law program and the English Department, drew students from across campus. Phelps’ advice for breaking into the league was straightforward: “Position yourself.”
Get experience in the field you want to work in. Show potential employers the kind of work you’ve done. Demonstrate ways in which you can add value to a franchise.
“Teams are going to assume you are passionate, hard-working and very intelligent, as are the hundreds of other people applying for the same sports-related job,” he said. “Taking the time to try to answer a question facing the organization, or putting together a project that demonstrates your understanding of the league as a whole can give you an edge to stand out.”

Student summer work reflections: Part two

In our second installment on summer jobs, 2L students share accounts of their work in environmental law, maritime law and college sports compliance.

Jae Sung Shrader (L ’16)

Jae Sung Shrader (L '15) | Tulane Law School

Jae Sung Shrader, pictured with Kevin Koskovich (both L ’16) at Tulane’s Summit on Environmental Law & Policy, worked on the largest environmental settlement in history at the EPA.

Environmental settlement clean-up:
Jae Sung Shrader interned with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 4 office in Atlanta, tackling issues involved in the largest settlement in environmental law history: a $5.15 billion agreement between the EPA and Anadarko Petroleum Corporation originally related to fraudulent asset conveyance claims.

The parties announced the settlement in April, and the EPA created a multistate environmental response trust to manage the funds, Shrader said. After creating the trust, the EPA evaluated how its policies, including the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and Superfund, were implicated in the settlement.

“This is where my science background came in handy,” Shrader said. “Having already taken environmental sciences, organic chemistry, geology and other courses, being able to identify issues on the fly during conferences with the Department of Justice, various attorneys and consulting scientists was invaluable. When briefs and memoranda needed to be edited, it was easy for me to go through them without tripping on the scientific jargon.”

“After the large litigation was done, the next stage was to figure out the exact percentages that were going to sites around the nation from the trust,” she said. “We focused on the sites in our region, which manages the Southeast – Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky and the Carolinas.”

As a legal intern, Shrader worked closely with EPA officials on the settlement administration. “My mentor always tried to include me when he could: Editing DOJ documents, getting my opinion on certain outcomes, bringing me to every meeting with different attorneys and scientists, listening to my questions and incorporating my suggestions into his work,” Shrader said. “It was such a good experience to be in the middle of the process and helping when I could.”

Environmental issues are Shrader’s longtime passion, she said. Before law school, she chaired the Energy and Conservation Organization at the University of Miami, where she managed a $100,000 budget to reduce the university’s carbon footprint. She earned a dual degree from Miami in biological sciences and environmental law and policy.

Shrader spent the second half of her summer working in the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic, focusing on clean air issues. During the school year, she is actively involved in planning the Energy and Environmental Law Summit.

Jeffrey Notarianni (L ’16)

Jeffrey Notarianni (L '15) | Tulane Law School

Jeffrey Notarianni (L ’15, third row, third from left) participated in Tulane’s study abroad program in Rhodes, Greece before interning with the Rhodes Academy of Oceans Law and Policy.

Navigating the law of the sea: Jeffrey Notarianni completed an externship coordinating the Rhodes Academy of Oceans Law and Policy, an international maritime course for attorneys and scholars.

“I had an incredibly interesting summer externship in Greece. While there, I met diplomats, international judges and very high-powered people from around the world,” said Notarianni, who helped prepare and run the three-week program.

“The participants were either attorneys (JDs, or their country’s equivalent) or academics (PhDs), and about 70 percent of them were Permanent Mission to the U.N. or Ministry of Foreign Affairs for their country,” he said. “I’d visit with all of these powerful people, casually drinking coffee with them over breakfast in the morning or having dinner with them at night.”

Notarianni also got to observe a meeting between the Prime Minister of Greece and President of China in his office courtyard and watch the World Cup with Academy students who collectively rooted for all 32 teams.

“Another great thing about working for the Rhodes Academy was that the courses focused on cases that were being litigated in real time,” Notarianni said. “One attorney lectured on maritime delimitation, and he also happened to be the head attorney in the delimitation litigation between Bangladesh and India. Around the time of his lecture, the U.N. arbitration tribunal issued its ruling in his side’s favor. It was great to see him win the case while he was lecturing on the same subject.”

Before the externship, Notarianni took classes in Tulane’s Rhodes summer study abroad program. He learned about the Rhodes Academy opportunity through Professor Günther Handl, who organized two law student positions there this year.

Notarianni, who is working toward a maritime law certificate, said he aimed to practice in that field long before starting at Tulane. During one summer, he crewed a tall ship from Erie, Pennsylvania, and he has been interested in the industry since.

Ben Trachman (L ‘16)

Ben Trachman (L '15) | Tulane Law School

Ben Trachman (L ’15) studies in the law school courtyard after finishing a shift working in Tulane’s athletics compliance office.

Playing the college sports field:
Ben Trachman, a Tulane sports law student, completed an externship with
the NCAA’s enforcement team in Indianapolis, helping to make sure regional college teams complied with regulations.

“As an extern, I received and reviewed self-reported NCAA bylaw violations of institutions and conferences,” Trachman said. “I had an opportunity to use the legislative database (LSDBi) to ensure correct bylaw citation and that proper penalties were imposed by the institution. I also corresponded with institutional contacts regarding the NCAA’s stance on reported secondary violations.”

Trachman also helped police scouting and recruiting of high school athletes. “During my time with the NCAA, I was able to attend various basketball certification events throughout Indiana and ensure that there were no recruiting violations by college coaches of top high school prospects,” he said.

Trachman found the job online through Tulane’s Career Resources Interactive System. He learned more about the position through other Tulane alumni who have worked with NCAA, including Renee Gomila (L ‘00), an associate director of enforcement.

Trachman, a University of Michigan graduate, said he chose Tulane for the sports law program. He’s working toward a sports law certificate, is a junior member of The Sports Lawyers Journal and has worked in Tulane’s athletics compliance office the past two years.

Student summer work reflections: Part one

How did you spend your summer? We’re highlighting six Tulane Law students who gained valuable work experience in environmental and energy, maritime, international and sports law. In our first installment, learn what students in their 3L year did on the job, how they landed these opportunities and what their post-summer plans hold.

Gillian Saltz (L '15) | Tulane Law School

Gillian Saltz sported a hard hat while touring a Valero refinery during her internship. (Photo courtesy of Gillian Saltz.)

Gillian Saltz (L ’15)

Exploring in-house oil & gas law: Gillian Saltz interned at Valero Energy Corp., a top 10 Fortune 500 company, working alongside in-house counsel at the company’s headquarters in San Antonio, Texas.

Her internship exposed her to the variety of legal issues faced by energy companies. “I helped draft contracts, completed research projects for litigation, regulatory and labor and employment lawyers, and learned more about the actual business side of operating refineries,” Saltz said.

“They also took us to see a refinery, probably the highlight of my summer, especially since I got to keep my hard hat.”

Saltz also saw first-hand what it’s like to work in a major corporation. “They had a huge intern symposium for all their interns across the company, many of whom were engineer undergrads, where the CEO and many vice presidents came to talk to us about professional development, joining the workforce, and the future of Valero. It was a pretty extensive event spanning three days,” she said.

After her experience at Valero, Saltz plans to specialize in oil and gas law. “There are a lot of opportunities for growth, and it is a fascinating area of law,” she said. She also hopes to return to in-house practice later in her career.

At Tulane, Saltz works as a student attorney in the Civil Litigation Clinic and is senior articles editor of the Tulane Journal of International & Comparative Law. She’s a graduate of St. John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Janet Kearney (L ’15)

Janet Kearney (L '15) | Tulane Law School

Janet Kearney toured the Northern Irish coastline on a weekend trip during her summer at the U.S. Consulate in Belfast. (Photo courtesy of Janet Kearney.)

Mastering international diplomacy: Janet Kearney interned for the U.S. Consulate in Belfast, Northern Ireland, an operation with five American Foreign Service officers and 20 locally-hired staff where she was able to work closely with officials.

“I was able to perform a range of tasks because the internship though the Department of State is not solely legal,” Kearney said.

Her work included legal, historical and policy research and writing, plus compiling daily news summaries. “I did a little bit of everything, from filing and helping organize events to detailed research and writing projects and meetings with the consul general and government officials. The writing projects focused primarily on issues specific to Northern Ireland, like their unique shared governance institutions and the legacy of the Troubles,” she said.

“I really had a wonderful time there; the work was interesting and varied, and everyone was so friendly. Plus Northern Ireland is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited,” she said. She also explored the region, attending a charity event uniting children from Protestant and Catholic backgrounds to play sports together, traveling to the Northern Ireland coast and adventuring in Dublin.

Kearney landed her job through the U.S. Department of State’s student internship program, which hires students each semester. She is senior research editor for the Tulane Journal of International & Comparative Law and former president of the Law Women’s Association. Before law school, she worked as a legislative aide for Jefferson Parish while earning her B.A. at LSU.

Jonathan Jordan (L ’15)

Jonathan Jordan (L '15) | Tulane Law School

Jonathan Jordan interned with the Washington Wizards, handling the NBA draft preparation, execution, and aftermath.

Shooting hoops with the NBA: Jonathan Jordan, a former high school basketball coach and college hoops player, interned with the Washington Wizards in Basketball Operations. He landed the position by seizing an opportunity to meet the Wizards president at an NBA All-Star Game event in New Orleans.

“Last year, I worked for Stephen Howard, who does color commentary for ESPN College Basketball and is a studio analyst for the Pelicans,” said Jordan, who found that position through Tulane’s Career Resources Interactive System. “I also worked for a former NBA player researching intellectual property rights through the Tulane-NBRPA program that Professor (Gabe) Feldman started. These internships gave me the opportunity to attend the Legends Brunch during the NBA All-Star Game. At the brunch, I saw Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld, and I had to introduce myself because I am from the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. After the brief conversation, he told me to send him my resume. I then had a phone interview with his executive assistant, and I landed my dream internship.”

While working for the Wizards, Jordan was instrumental in helping team officials evaluate prospective players before the NBA draft. “In preparation for the NBA draft, the Wizards, like all teams, had workouts. I was responsible for researching and compiling college and overseas statistics of all the prospects,” he said. “I also helped create the binders that Mr. Grunfeld and the rest of the front office used on Draft Night.”

Draft day proved to be the busiest, Jordan said. “On the day of the draft, I configured and disassembled the Wizards’ ‘war room.’ Basically, I set up all of the different draft boards they maintained throughout the draft, which you might see on TV when they show the team’s war room after a selection is made.”

But the work didn’t end there. “After the draft was over, I was responsible for continuously updating the depth chart boards when signings were announced for all 30 teams,” he said. “Lastly, after free agency calmed down in August, I updated the Wizards’ list of agent contact information. I was calling and speaking to agents, some being lawyers, to make sure the Wizards had their proper phone numbers and emails for the future.”

Jordan also completed the sports law track at the Great Lakes Sports & Entertainment Law Academy during the summer. He is a member of the Sports Law Society and The Sports Lawyer’s Journal and plans to earn a Tulane sports law certificate.