It was a professional honor he'll never forget. It was a chance to help blaze new trails in the practice of law. And it all started with one yellow balloon, welcoming him across a crowded airport.
Martin Silfen, an adjunct professor of sports and entertainment law at the William & Mary Law School, spent the month of July teaching at the Austral University Law School in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on a grant from the prestigious Fulbright Senior Specialists program. The program pairs American experts with their professional counterparts abroad, fostering new developments in educational programming.
Silfen's mission, as he saw it, was to promote a "new book of business" in sports and entertainment law in Argentina - a country where, until recently, individual athletes and entertainers haven't had lawyers to advise them in career decisions.
"There, the role of a lawyer - on the athlete's or artist's side - doesn't exist," Silfen said. "The company has a lawyer for both the player and the team, but the talent doesn't have [his or her own] lawyer at the time of signing. They essentially sign everything that's put in front of them."
Argentinian intellectual property lawyers - mostly energetic thirtysomethings, according to Silfen - are now trying to carve out a niche for entertainment specialists who can represent individual performers and athletes. While pioneers in the field still face "an uphill battle" to gain negotiating power against entertainment companies and sports teams, Silfen said he was glad to help with the first step: the development of entertainment law courses at Austral.
Silfen's duties included teaching approximately 32 hours of entertainment law and eight hours of sports law courses per week, as well as speaking engagements in Uruguay and Brazil. Most of his students were practicing lawyers, so classes had to be held between 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. to accommodate their day jobs. Lectures also had to be translated from English to Spanish, leaving Silfen to look at a sea of headphones while he taught.
"The most rewarding part was that my teaching was very graciously received by all ages," Silfen said.
Because concentrations in entertainment and sports law were new to the law school at Austral, Silfen said he brought a little bit of William & Mary with him to help get the curriculum up and running.
"I brought handouts from courses I teach here, and showed the professors my methodology," Silfen said. His most well-received suggestions included taking daily attendance and using seating charts with students' pictures, to help with learning names.
Silfen's wife, Dory, also made the trip to Argentina. While he was working with students, she took in the sights at local museums, theaters and operas. A highlight was seeing local couples tango dancing in the streets. "She had a great time," he said, adding, "That was OK. I'm not much of a sightseer."
Now back at William & Mary Law School, Silfen seems rejuvenated and ready to start his ninth year teaching.
"We laugh and learn at the same time," Silfen said. "I bring in lots of real-life experiences, so people can really learn how to be lawyers."