Sara Clark discovered her interest in representing athletes during her first year at the University of Colorado Law School. Through networks she cultivated and a mixture of preparation, opportunity, and luck, Clark obtained her dream job as Associate Athlete Ombudsman for the United States Olympic Committee before graduating. She took on the commitment of traveling to Colorado Springs every Tuesday and Thursday while in school, and she now travels to places like Rio and Sochi doing the work she loves.
Tell us a little about your work. What do you do, and what might a “typical” work day look like?
Enacted by Congress in 1998 in the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act, the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) Athlete Ombudsman position is a federally mandated role to serve as a resource for athletes to understand all the various Olympic sport laws and rules and [to] mediate disputes.
A typical day in the office consists of answering and following up on inquires—we work on about 600 “cases,” or inquires, a year—and assisting in drafting and reviewing policies to ensure athletes’ rights are protected.
However, we are not always in the office. This past summer, I attended the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio to serve as an onsite resource for athletes should an issue arise. For the Paralympics, I even lived in the athletes’ village. I served in the same role at the Sochi Winter Paralympic Games. I also went to Houston this past summer for nearly a month to give a presentation to every single Olympic and Paralympic athlete headed to Rio regarding the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and International Paralympic Committee (IPC) rules that they would be required to comply with while at the Games. I’ve traveled a fair amount around the U.S. to give presentations to athletes, so they better understand their rights at Olympic Trials events, National Championships, and training camps, for example, and I attend various and numerous conferences throughout the year, such as a yearly conference in London called “Tackling Doping in Sport,” to build my knowledge base regarding various rules and current trends in sports law in order to provide the most competent advice.
How did you find your job?
Through Colorado Law! My former boss used to lead an informal clinic for Colorado Law students to provide pro bono representation to athletes under the supervision of a professor/attorney. I went to one of his meetings and instantly knew that was what I wanted to do. I helped assist with a case and was hooked. At the end of my 1L year, a part-time position opened up at the USOC under my boss that I had learned about through Professor Hartman. I knew that it wasn’t just an internship over the summer—this would be employment, meaning I would have to continue working while finishing up my next two years at Colorado Law. It was a commitment I was willing to make, even if it meant driving to work in Colorado Springs on Tuesdays and Thursdays and filling my course load full on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. I applied online and then personally contacted my boss to emphasize my interest. I couldn’t have been happier after landing my dream job.
What skills do you utilize on a daily basis, and how did your experiences or courses at Colorado Law help you develop these skills?
Learning about legal research, interpreting laws and rules, writing informal and formal memos, contract drafting, negotiation, and mediation at Colorado Law helped provide me with the skills necessary to perform the functions of my job in a competent manner.
Please talk a little about “people skills” and networking specifically. How has your professional network made a difference in your career?
I work with so many different constituent groups on a daily basis—many individuals in various departments at the USOC; nearly every National Governing Body, which are sport bodies like USA Swimming and USA Boxing; and I work with CEOs, Inside Counsel, or High Performance Directors; the US Anti-Doping Agency, and many outside counsel. I interact with so many individuals on a daily basis that it is essential that I have the people skills to conduct my job effectively and develop a strong network. If there is an attorney working within Olympic sports law, I am quite sure that I know them.
What advice would you give to current students with respect to finding a job?
It takes preparation, opportunity, and luck. Every person needs to have put in the work in order to show that they can competently handle the work. They need the preparation. Second is opportunity. They need to jump at opportunities when they present themselves, even if it means working while in school or driving to Colorado Springs or even moving. Third is luck. It’s the truth. There is a little bit of luck to all of it. For one, the timing has to do with it, and secondly, there’s just unexplainable reasons why you might get a job. For example, my boss had just gotten back from a trip to Thailand. He saw on my resume that I had worked in Thailand as a teacher for English as a Second Language. I probably was not the top choice academically and experience-wise, but he knew that I was the type of person he would get along with, which was a huge reason I got the job. It’s more than just professional experience on a resumé that can highlight you.
If you were to recommend Colorado Law to a potential law student, what would you say?
You can’t go wrong! CU provides the academia to succeed professionally, a welcoming culture, a gorgeous campus, and a remarkable environment within the thriving atmosphere of Boulder.
Why did you choose Colorado Law?
I wanted to move to Colorado more than anything. My father and younger brother both attended CU for (part of) undergrad, and they absolutely loved it. I would visit Colorado and Boulder frequently and knew that it was a place I would fit in and wanted to be. CU offered what I was looking for: a great law school in an extraordinary place. I applied to only one school—CU.