At 6-foot-5 plus high heels, attorney Iciss Tillis is an imposing figure when she enters a courtroom. After several seasons in the WNBA—one with the New York Liberty—as well as overseas, Tillis felt she needed to figure out her future. The Duke University graduate decided to go to law school and then earn a LL.M. in international sports law and a master’s degree in sports management.
Today, she is an associate attorney at Hall Estill in the firm’s Labor & Employment group. She chose that area of the law because when a law school professor had her research the commissioners of pro sports leagues, she discovered most of them had been labor and employment attorneys.
“It’s not as exciting as seeing me dunk on people on the court, but it’s a different court,” said Tillis, who retired from pro hoops in 2011. “It is still very exciting; you just have to learn the rules.”
She fell off the basketball radar when she decided to pursue the law—although she did do a legal internship at the NBA—but if someone checks out interviews she did during high school and college, she often said she wanted to become an attorney. Tillis spent more than two years at a New York law firm, but when the pandemic hit, she decided to return home to Tulsa, Oklahoma.
“It’s a really cool time to watch things develop,” said Tillis about name, image and likeness (NIL). “I was telling the head of our labor and employment practice group that when I was playing, there were so many things I observed, wondered and questioned.
“When it comes to things that are unfair or unjust, it weighs on me,” she added. “When I made the decision to go to law school, I knew that I was going to be able to put myself in a position to answer a lot of these questions.”
Today, Tillis has insight into the workings of intercollegiate athletics as well as professional sports leagues. She is a litigator representing employers, and all the battles in the paint honed her competitive edge. Looking toward making an impact in sports, she hopes to be part of creating a fairer playing field for student-athletes.
“I’m able to parlay my experience as a former college athlete,” Tillis said. “We’re at a point where this thing is moving, and we’re not going back. Since we’re going forward, we might as well try to come up with the best solution for the student-athletes so everyone can be successful.”