Athletes to Adjudicators: Why You Want Your Attorney to Be a Proven Competitor

Richard Purtz playing basketball as an undergraduate at Tulane University.

Michael Versnik, a personal injury trial attorney at Goldstein, Buckley, Cechman, Rice and Purtz, never intended to practice law. A baseball player in college, he graduated with a degree in sports management from Webber International University and became a manager of a YMCA in Ohio and then Jacksonville.

In Florida, he started to think about taking his career in another direction by becoming a sports agent. To do so, he went to law school at Florida Coastal School of Law where he received a sports law certificate. He never became a sports agent after an internship at a firm in Pensacola introduced him to personal injury law.

“I never grew up with any lawyers and didn’t know anything about law,” he said. “I didn’t have any desire to spend time in a courtroom, but it was a path that chose me.”

Looking back, he’s not surprised that he ended up practicing personal injury law.

“Competitors thrive in the world of personal injury,” he said. “The transition to the legal field felt good to me. Being competitive aligns attorneys to go about doing what we do.”

Other lawyers who started as athletes include NFL player Steve Young, who after retiring from the NFL, received his law degree from Brigham Young University. Major League Baseball manager Tony La Russa earned a degree from Florida State University College of Law. NFL Champion Alan Page became Associate Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court. Pittsburgh Steelers player Dwayne Woodruff was elected to be a judge in Allegheny County Pennsylvania.

Versnik is also in good company with athletes turned attorneys at Goldstein, Buckley, Cechman, Rice and Purtz.

Partner Richard Purtz played college basketball at Tulane University and pro basketball in Europe as well as volleyball in middle school, high school and college. When his 14-year-old daughter went to a tryout for a volleyball team, he ended up being recruited to coach volleyball and did so for about 10 years. He was also involved in the administrative side of sports as a co-founded and Club Director of USA South Volleyball. For the past 10 years, he’s been a board member and General Counsel USA Volleyball-Florida Region, the governing board for Olympic and Junior Olympic teams.

“One thing you learn from sports it that to be competitive, you have to follow the rules,” Purtz said. “The positive effect as an attorney is the desire to be ethical and follow procedures, especially when the envelope is really being pushed by lawyers today as far as following the rules.”

Attorney Jeff Rice’s athletic career is also about following the rules as well as enforcing them. As a referee for the NFL since 1985, he has refereed three Super Bowls. He officiated high school, college and European games for 22 years before reaching the top level, even though his father was also an NFL referee.

While an undergraduate student at Northwestern University, Rice played varsity baseball. He began officiating while a law student at Case Western Reserve University.

Partner Christopher Smith played football while attending college at John Carroll University, which was often ranked in the Top 10 for Division 3 Schools. When he was a junior playing safety, the team was ranked No. 2 in the country, and made it to the final four teams of 32 in the playoffs.

“I played football and baseball practically my whole life,” Smith said. “Both taught me to be a fierce competitor, disciplined, responsible and accountable to my teammates and coaches. I learned how to manage time as a student athlete.”

He and other athlete-turned-lawyers find the desire to win helpful in their post-sports careers. “Athletes hate to lose,” Purtz said. “Competitiveness in us is at the root of our beings, which is good for lawyers, especially in litigation.”