Included among the clients served by Alonzo Llorens and Shayla Wright, a corporate attorney and a litigator, respectively, are those in the sports and entertainment industry. But getting involved with the Southern University Law Center (SULC) Sports & Entertainment Summer Immersion Program was about much more than their legal practices — it was personal.
"I'm originally from Louisiana," where Southern University, a historically Black university (HBCU), is located, said Alonzo. He is a partner in Parker Poe's Atlanta office who earned his law degree from Howard University, an HBCU located in Washington, DC. "I have a ton of family, including my mother, who have attended or graduated from Southern University, including its law school."
Shayla, an associate in Parker Poe's Atlanta office, also comes from a family of HBCU graduates.
"Both my parents and my sister and my brother all graduated from HBCUs," she said. "To the extent there are opportunities for me to engage with HBCUs, I always try to do so because I am a very, very big proponent of them."
In late July, Shayla and Alonzo were among a group of attorneys and business professionals at Parker Poe who hosted SULC students for a full day. It was part of SULC's weeklong program to expose students to various career paths in the sports and entertainment industry. The program was in Atlanta this year.
"Atlanta really has become an important part of the sports and entertainment industry — not just regionally but at a national level," Alonzo said. "And our firm, both within Atlanta and in our other offices, has played a role in the industry."
Attorneys in Parker Poe's Sports & Entertainment Industry Team have advised on the development and construction of a pro sports arena in Washington, DC, represented a national leader in motorsports entertainment in Charlotte, and provided counsel to actors and film production companies on corporate transactions in Atlanta, as a few examples.
The program for the students at Parker Poe included Shayla teaming up with Nina Gupta to discuss evolving legal issues impacting collegiate sports. Shayla, a former senior captain of Georgia Tech's women's basketball team, talked about her work with clients involving NCAA name, image, and likeness (NIL) issues.
"It is always really special when your passions meet," Shayla said. "To be able to speak to an audience that I am personally very fond of and talk about something that I love and have a huge passion for, it doesn't get better than that."
The program also included:
- Alonzo explaining how films are financed.
- Ellen Smith discussing the intersection of real estate and the entertainment industry.
- Brian Cromwell detailing what to do if the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) calls your client.
- Managing Partner Tom Griffin, Chief Talent, Diversity & Inclusion Officer Shalanna Pirtle, and Manager of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Crystal Jones visiting with the students.
Additionally, the firm brought in Tirrell Whittley, CEO of LIQUID SOUL marketing agency, to offer best practices on building a professional and personal brand, as well as Traci Bransford, an attorney, to provide an overview of the entertainment industry.
"The program today was a wealth of knowledge," said Barbara Foster, a third-year student at SULC. "For up-and-coming attorneys, to hear how we can manage and navigate the legal realm, and that there's more than one way to be successful in this field, is reassuring."
Throughout the day, the Parker Poe team was intentional about offering advice that went beyond the legal specifics of sports and entertainment. In that way, it was similar to the firm's long-standing THRIVE program, which is designed to help minority students navigate law school, make a successful transition into the practice of law after graduation, and thrive as they pursue the different paths a legal career may take.
"Similar to THRIVE, we wanted to give the students food for thought in terms of how to succeed in law school, what the practice of law is all about, and other pointers that, really, would be just as important as what they learned about sports and entertainment," Alonzo said.
Third-year SULC student Tony Black described how grateful he was for the program at Parker Poe.
"Some firms will talk about how much they value diversity and inclusion, but it really means a lot more to see it in practice, to see it in action," he said. "It really makes you have a greater appreciation for those people who are willing to give students, who aren't a part of the summer associate class, the opportunity to come here for a whole entire day and fully immerse themselves in the culture."
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Tony continued. "You don't get this anywhere and to be able to have that makes me really appreciate the firm, Parker Poe, and then also Southern University Law Center."
He and several others said how much it resonated to hear from attorneys like Alonzo and Shayla who have direct ties to HBCUs.
Barbara, the third-year student, said, "This is a humbling experience. To know that I am not the only one on this journey, and to see the success stories, is amazing. It is a testament that I'm on the right path."
William Wallace III, a third-year student in SULC's JD/MBA program, said the value of the program was "indescribable."
"It actually hits different when I can see somebody who's doing it, not my parents or my teachers," he said. "For them to take the time to pour into us, it was really eye-opening for me."
"One day, I will pay it forward when it's my turn," William said.