Our latest Industry Insider sees us sit down with Nicola Wilburn-Shaw, a fixed share equity partner at JMW Solicitors LLP who co-head’s the sports law teams.
Tell us about yourself, what is your current role and what roles have you done previously?
Hi – thanks for having me! My name is Nicola Wilburn-Shaw and I’m currently a fixed share equity partner at JMW Solicitors LLP, a Tier One, national full-service law firm. My role sees me co-head the firm’s sports law teams and manage a team within our family law department.
Prior to joining JMW I was at Shoosmiths LLP and have also held various legal roles at firms throughout the country, having entered the profession almost two decades ago.
What do you do in your current role?
It’s something of a unique role in that it crosses over two different areas of law but, in reality, that’s the nature of sports law. There is arguably no such jurisprudential concept that you can call ‘sports law’ – it is really ‘sports and the law’ insofar as how sport encapsulates everything from commercial law to employment law to family law and immigration law, for example.
Sports lawyers will have a background in a specalisation and then apply that to the world of sports, which in my case, is family law. With that in mind, my role sees me act on behalf of high net worth clients, many of whom are sports, business or media personalities, with matters related to family law.
“Normal” isn’t a thing in sport so what does an “average” week look like for you?
One word: BUSY! The average week sees me spinning several big plates at a time, but I wouldn’t change that for the world.
I will have a meeting with my family team at the start of the week so I can check in with my juniors and make sure we are on top of all of our cases.
I usually have a business development event once a week too – that is often an evening at the boxing, a football match or a networking coffee with one of women in sports groups.
I have a lot of client meetings and, depending on the week – and the case – I can be in court anywhere from an hour to the full week too.
Beyond my work at JMW, I’m currently studying at VSI Executive Education on the CEO of a Sports Organisation course as one of the two Siobhan Chamberlain Female Scholarships awarded for the degree.
I try to fit in course reading wherever I can which often pertains to sports governance, leadership and best practice at the top.
Away from work and further education, I’m also mum to a nine-year-old and balance that with an active sports life – most mornings you will catch me down the boxing gym super early!
How did you end up where you are right now? When did you know you wanted to work in sport?
With a lot of hard work I ended up co-heading a sports legal team and I’m comfortable that I’ve earned my stripes, in that regard!
Being absolutely honest, I never really set out to work in sport.
I’m probably part of the exact demographic to which the women in sports movement can make, and are making, a difference: I always saw sport as something not for me when I was growing up, it was what the boys did unless you wanted to do netball or hockey, and those sports just never appealed to me.
I never watched football for that same reason, but I did watch boxing with my late dad and the odd Spurs game – he took me to Brands Hatch when I was about eight or nine too!
I’m glad sport is now more inclusive, even if there is a long way to go, but rewind just a few years and young girls really weren’t encouraged to get involved.
My introduction to sport in a professional sense started when I ended up working on a big divorce case where one of the parties was a football club owner.
The case was pretty complex and attracted a lot of media attention, which meant I ended up having to find my way around the club accounts and understand the inner business mechanics of a football club fairly quickly whilst following what was happening in the league.
It really went from there – and quickly too.
I ended up getting more footballers as clients from anything to prenups to divorce, all the way through to child arrangements and even surrogacy.
Then I moved into other areas of sport and – voilà – I guess you could say my destiny found me!
During that time, I discovered women’s boxing and started training in the sport myself and now my daughter does too – the sport fascinates me from both a grassroots and professional perspective, and speaking legally, there is a lot to be done there in terms of the rights fighters have.
This is something I am looking to push and get involved with at the highest levels.
My journey into sport perhaps has not been orthodox, but I do often think about the young me who didn’t think she was supposed to watch football or get in the ring, let alone now being absolutely obsessed with sport.
What is your number one focus when it comes to your work?
To do the best that I possibly can and be the best that I can possibly be.
When you’re acting across family law matters this will likely involve the most important things in life: your kids, your home, your livelihood, and for my sports clients, their reputations.
Mediocre just isn’t going to cut it.
I’m fiercely ambitious and extremely passionate about my job and the combination of these two attributes means I’m always striving to do better and bring out the best in my team to do the same – you’re only as good as the workforce around you.
Can you tell us about a time you failed and what you learned from it?
I’ve not gone through life achieving everything I’ve ever set out to do, far from it.
I felt that I started my career on the back foot because I wasn’t from the type of background we generally assume lawyers to be: I wasn’t privately educated, I was the first in my family to go to university and I funded myself throughout; no handouts.
In reality though, I see that now as a blessing, it has created precisely the woman I am today and I like to think I can adapt to all walks of people and life – something that is never more prevalent than in sport.
I firmly believe that we all have a path we are destined for and when a door closes in your face, it is usually for a reason.
Believe me, it has happened a few times when I least expected it and we don’t always know why, certainly not at the time, but failure can be a positive experience if you’re learning from it and learning is growth – I view that as the key to success in whatever it is you want to do.
What are you excited about in your industry at the moment?
The women in sports movement, particularly in football. Just look at what our Lionesses have achieved in the last two years, and it has been far from easy – it astounds me how far things have come in a short amount of time. We’re on the cusp of something big as an industry and one that I hope will change the landscape for women in sports forever.
If you could change one thing about your Industry, what would you change?
This is a no brainer for me: the lack of females in the most senior roles. We’re still such a long off from parity with our male counterparts and we need to really push on this. Attracting the best in female talent through marketing and clever PR is the easy part; keeping them is the hard bit. Women need more role models at the top to learn from and aspire to and we really need to focus on that, particularly in the sporting world.
Taking that one step further, and it pains me to say it, but football is one of the worst industries for underrepresentation and it’s time for change.
Sport is a hectic industry, what do you do to switch off?
I’m yet to learn how! Joking aside, I love nothing more than kicking back with my little family at home and watching a movie all cozy on the couch. But, for my ‘me time’ I go to the amateur boxing gym and train, although you can also find me out on the court having recently taken up Padel.
What is the one piece of advice you would give to someone wanting to work in the sports industry?
Network, network, and network. I think that probably applies to trying to get ahead in any industry, but I believe that your network is your net worth. You never know who you might meet and how they might impact your life – that’s the exciting part.
How to connect with Nicola Wilburn-Shaw…
My Instagram: @nwilburnshaw
And our JMW socials: