Rebecca Parkin is a ULaw alumna and Senior Contracts Specialist for Nike. She spoke to us about her remarkable career journey, which has seen her cross continents and disciplines.
My current title is Senior Contract Specialist. I work on the Sports Marketing Legal team at Nike. I negotiate and draft athlete/club/federation sponsorship agreements. I also advise and train our business colleagues on a range of matters associated with potential and existing sponsorship agreements.
My career spans two continents. I am American and started my professional career in the US in international customer service. I then progressed into marketing. When life brought me to the Netherlands, I applied for a customer service position at Nike Golf and became a Senior Customer Service Specialist. I managed the process and orders for customized golf apparel and golf balls for Nike Golf. That was only ever meant to be a temporary, foot-in-the-door type of role, but then the financial crisis came in 2008. The company went through a reorganisation and there were not as many opportunities as there had been previously. This meant I ended up staying in that role for approximately three years until I saw an internal job posting for a role in the legal department for a “Contract Specialist”. I did not know what that was but the job posting did not specify that a legal degree was needed and I desperately wanted out of customer service so I applied. I was one of three candidates for the role. I was also the third choice for the role out of the three applicants but luck was on my side and the first choice declined Nike’s offer and the second choice could not get a work visa for the Netherlands.
I was given the job despite having no legal knowledge or experience. I had never drafted a contract before, nor had I ever negotiated anything. There was a steep learning curve to say the least but I had amazing colleagues who were patient and incredible teachers. I was constantly being a sponge and absorbing all the knowledge that I could (and still do today). Eventually, I got to a place where I could draft and negotiate agreements without enlisting the support of the lawyers on the team. In a performance review three years ago, my manager said to me that he thought I was bored. This really bothered me. I was working so hard and I felt like I was learning new things every day but ultimately, I realised he was right. Things had become too easy, and I had (nearly) reached the ceiling of where I could grow without a law degree. I had been doing this job for seven years. Could I do the same job for another seven years? If not, what else would I do? I love my job, my team and Nike. I did not want a different job but I needed to know that I could advance further in my role. I also needed a new challenge, so I decided, with enthusiastic support from my manager and my team, to enrol in law school.
I have taken a non-traditional route with my education. I was a very young mum. So, after graduating from high school in the US, I took some part-time courses at a local college while also working. Ultimately, after doing about half of my bachelor’s degree, I dropped out of university because I needed to work full-time to support myself and my children. This was before online education was a possibility. As my 20s were ticking by, I set a goal that I would finish my degree before turning 30. When I was around 27, I discovered that a university was offering an online degree programme. After doing some research and meeting with this university’s guidance counsellors, I enrolled in a hybrid on-ground and online programme. This meant I had in-person tuition at the beginning and end of a module (which were six weeks long), but in between, the lessons were all online. This meant that I could complete my degree in approximately two years while I worked full-time. I had three children, so it was important that I could still work while going to school. After just over two years, lots of sleepless nights, and a move to the Netherlands, I graduated just after my 30th birthday with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration.
I loved my job and I knew that if I were to study law and become a qualified solicitor, I could do my job but on a higher level; I could continue to grow and my career would not stagnate. Unfortunately, that would not be possible in the Netherlands. To qualify in the Netherlands, I would have had to study in a traditional way - on campus and full time. I would also have to do my period of recognised training at a Dutch law firm. This would have meant giving up the job I love (not to mention a decent income). I had to find alternatives. I was lucky that Nike is an approved training provider, so I was able to secure my training contract before I even enrolled in law school. This led me to ULaw. Several colleagues had studied at The University of Law and one of my colleagues had mentioned that she thought ULaw had an online programme. I looked into it further and I discovered that I could study online and only had to travel to England to take exams – this was pre-Covid, of course. This was a great solution and it would fit in nicely with my home and work life.
My early ambition was certainly not to become a lawyer. I come from a long line of lawyers and so to be a lawyer did not seem rebellious enough when I was growing up. It was too expected. I wanted to be a Broadcast Journalist. That is where my passion was but life took me down a different path. I then wanted to be a teacher. That was followed with going into marketing - something that I actually did for a short time. I guess I spent a lot of time figuring out what I wanted to be when I grew up. It was only when I was a few years into my current role that I decided being a lawyer was for me.
I am a Senior Contract Specialist, which does not actually explain a lot. The closest explanation is probably that I am a Paralegal, except the duties I perform are closer to what an associate Solicitor would do. Ultimately, I am part of a very close-knit team. As part of the team, I draft and negotiate sponsorship agreements. I advise and train business clients around all sorts of issues related to those agreements, acting as a “thought partner.” I help manage processes within our team to ensure we are all working as efficiently as possible. I help to manage our portfolio of templates and clause library to, again, ensure we are an efficient team.
I have so much admiration and respect for the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She was the second woman to serve on the US Supreme Court. She faced so many challenges in her personal life and her career. She was remarkable. She had great success and was fundamental in changing US policy for equal rights and women’s rights and she did it all with kindness. She is my hero, so as I study and as my career grows, and when I find things challenging, I just think of RBG and know I can power through.
I had been with the legal team for about three years. There have been so many challenges and ups and downs and there were many times when I really thought I was in over my head and that I was never going to be good enough. One of our sports Marketing Directors was trying to sign the next big football star (at the time), and he asked our Managing Attorney to travel to London with him for the final (heated) round of negotiation. The managing attorney (my boss at the time) had a conflict as did all of the other lawyers on our team. I was the only one available. I flew to London and helped him negotiate and sign the deal. It was the first time that I spread my wings and negotiated a contract on my own. It was a turning point in my career because, not only did I realize I loved doing that work, but I also realized I was more than capable of doing it. Every time I see that athlete on pitch, I am reminded of that moment and that feels pretty great.
I have worked at least one day from home for the past 10 years or so. I have always found that I get more done at home than I do in the office. I do not have to commute or have multiple distractions. I am able to put my head down and focus. Not to mention the fact that you can get a lot done in the house. I can run simple errands, clean, shop, etc., without it impacting my workday. It gives me more freedom on the weekend to do nicer things or study. My goal (pre-Covid) was to work two days from home and three days in the office. Covid accelerated that for everyone.
Nike is all about flexible working. When I first started at Nike, the hours were flexible (you could come in anytime from 6am to 9am and leave at the corresponding time eight hours later…of course, this depends on team requirements. That was a game-changer for me since I had always worked nine-to-five jobs where you had to be ready and at your desk precisely at 9am and could not leave a minute before 5pm or 6pm, generally. Having the flexibility to determine my schedule opened up so much freedom for me. There is a real focus now at Nike in trying to ensure the right work/life balance trying to combat Zoom-fatigue, ensure people are taking enough time off and truly disconnecting. It is refreshing to have an employer who seems to really care about rest and recovery.
Nike is a very “work hard/play hard” setting. When I onboard new employees on our team, they sometimes struggle to adapt at first, especially if they have come from a law firm where things are more rigid. We have a lot of work to do but we are given the freedom to decide when and how we get the work done. It’s liberating.
To be a successful trainee be open to learning. Look for challenges. Ask questions, lots of questions and be curious. When given a task, do not just do the bare minimum. Think about ways you can take the work a step further. Finally, do not be afraid to make mistakes. We all make mistakes. That’s how we learn.
In terms of how ULaw set me up for success, the challenge of online learning means you have to be self-motivated. It teaches you how to prioritize and plan and to stick to a schedule. That sets you up for the real world. If my manager gives me a project and a deadline, he will not check to see how the project is progressing. He will simply expect results. If I am struggling with something, I need to be proactive in solving the issue. It is similar in an online environment. My tutors will not chase me for work. They will not verify that I am studying for an upcoming exam. That is up to me. If I am struggling, I need to be proactive in reaching out to the Tutor or I will not pass. It is more of a real-life experience than traditional education and I think that only prepares students for success in the real world.
In the future, I would say that AI will replace much of what I did early on in my career. Contract generation software has come on in leaps and bounds. As my manager has always said to me, you need to ensure you are valued for your brain and not just your ability to fill-in templates – a computer will be able to do that and he is right. Technology in the legal industry is incredible, so we all need to ensure we bring something that a computer cannot replace.
I had a rough start to my adult life so if I could go back in time I would probably tell my 18-year-old self to stay strong, stay focused on “me” and do not get distracted by others. Focus on education, have fun and it will all work out in the end. If I were to give advice to someone wishing to work for Nike, I would say - be persistent. Learn about the law, but also learn about other areas of business. Our jobs are essentially supporting our business colleagues so think outside the box. Our colleagues frequently want us to be their thought partners – meaning they want us to help them in their decision-making and not just advise them about the law. Critically, do not wear Adidas clothes to the interview.
Nike does have an internship programme. Any available positions would be posted on https://jobs.nike.com/internships. All open positions are posted on https://jobs.nike.com/. If someone has an interest in a position, I encourage them to apply.
I can only speak to what my team would look for when thinking about recruitment. Of course, any recruit would need to be a competent lawyer, if that is the position we are looking for. They would need to be good at what they do - drafting, negotiating, advising, etc. But that is only part of the necessary requirements. We also want someone who will fit in with the team. We want someone who can build relationships and is basically a nice person. A lot of what we do is about relationships, so an ability to build those relationships is key.
For more information on how ULaw can set you up for success, please visit our Online Campus page.