Colorado law firm Holland & Hart’s newest local attorney, Matthew Barnett, is bringing his sports law expertise to a city known internationally for its athletic culture. The move was meant to be, Barnett said, as is his coaching of local athletics, his fascination with sports ethics and his acquisition of two pigs. Barnett touched on all of the above from his new downtown office.
Did you always want to get into sports law?
I went to law school with the design of being a sports lawyer. I had a college athletic career at Dartmouth and was coaching at Dartmouth. I wanted to continue that in a legal sense. I was fortunate enough to get accepted into Tulane, which has a sports law program. I transferred to NYU and finished up there.
Where did you work first out of college?
I went to work for the sports law group with Skadden Arps [in New York], which is one of the biggest law firms in the world. I was able to do work with the NFL, NHL and the NBA. That was a great way to grow as a lawyer before I moved to Colorado Springs in 2002.
How did you end up in Colorado Springs?
I moved here to work for HRO [Holme Roberts & Owen], which is now Bryan Cave. They were just starting to represent a newly formed agency, [the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency]. I did quite a bit with USADA over the years, from cases involving [Tour de France competitor] Floyd Landis to [Olympian] Marion Jones.
How were you involved in such high-profile cases?
I was there at the beginning when the BALCO [Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative steroid] syringe was delivered to USADA, which started all the BALCO cases. I was involved with strategizing how to tackle the problem of doping. I was part of the trial team and represented USADA. I’ve been fortunate enough to have interesting work from the day I sat down at Skadden as a young associate.
What do you like about sports law?
Law can be challenging and it’s long hours. So, with apologies to my tax law partners, I’d rather be reading sports documents at 1 a.m. What’s developed my fascination is sports ethics. Doping is an ethical problem. Penn State was an ethical problem. Sports are a central part of our society. It’s where our children learn ethical lessons. A lot of those ethical issues end up being litigated and influenced by the law.
Ethics in sports grab headlines these days. Concussions in the NFL and whether the Redskins should change their team name are a couple. Do you have personal opinions on these issues?
I do. I was running my own sports agency, which was fascinating, but what drew me back into law was the desire to be involved intellectually in these ethical debates. … I’m not sure there’s ever been a more fascinating time in sports. My personal view is trying to find a balance that preserves the integrity of sport, but also fairly compensates those involved.
Tell me about your work with Holland & Hart.
I’ve been talking with Holland & Hart off and on for the past eight years. … Holland & Hart was a great fit for me. I’m really excited about their commitment to excellence for clients, but also their commitment to treating their employees well. They stress community service so much that when I coach football [at Rampart High School], I’m able to enter that as pro bono time. … I’m here to expand the sports law practice and, hopefully, attract more sports attorneys to grow into a full service.
Tell me about your own athletic background.
I played college football at Dartmouth. Other than five or six knee surgeries, I really enjoyed that. I still have kept my hand in coaching. I coached football at The Classical Academy for a while, spent a year at Colorado College, was at Cheyenne Mountain High School for a while. I just joined as assistant coach at Rampart. I joke if there’s an orphanage that needs a head coach, I’m up for it.
What do you think of the sports scene in Colorado Springs?
I love Colorado Springs. I’ve had opportunities to leave and haven’t wanted to. There’s no other place I’d want to raise my family. We talked about it being an interesting time in sports generally. I think it’s a very interesting time for sports in Colorado Springs. When you look at all the plans and possibilities, I hope they cement Colorado Springs as a big player in the international sports scene.
What do you do in your free time?
I have three kids — Sofia, Lilia and Zach. We also have seven horses, two pigs and various other animals. So between dance and sports and my coaching, that’s about all we have time for.