As the National Football League’s Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers prepare to square off in Super Bowl XLVII, two lawyers from the ranks of the Am Law 100 have a particularly keen interest in how Sunday’s big game plays out.
One of those attorneys, Richard “Dick” Cass, spent 30 years as a partner at a predecessor firm of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr before being named president of the Ravens in 2004. The other, 49ers legal affairs director Hannah Gordon, was an associate at Latham & Watkins before losing her job in February 2009 when, as The Am Law Daily reported at the time, the firm cut 190 associates and 250 staffers amid a recession-driven round of cutbacks.
Gordon, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday about her current job with the 49ers, didn’t really discover football until arriving at UCLA as an undergraduate. Covering the school’s popular football team as a reporter for the Daily Bruin deepened her interest in the game.
After graduating from UCLA, Gordon snagged an internship with the NFL’s Oakland Raiders. There she met her mentor in current team CEO Amy Trask, who worked her own way up from intern to in-house attorney through the male-dominated ranks of the NFL to become one of the top female executives in all of professional sports.
Gordon’s next stop was Stanford Law School, which she graduated from in 2008. Then it was on to the Los Angeles office of Latham, where she had previously worked as a summer associate.
After Latham laid her off, Gordon saw an opening for a position at the NFL’s league office in New York. She applied, got the job, and spent the next two years working for the league’s management council, which had previously done some work with Latham. As the council’s manager of labor relations— Gordon told the Peninsula Press in 2011 that she was the only woman in a nonsecretarial position in the council’s 10-person department—she turned out to be in the right place at the right time.
The NFL had imposed a lockout on its players amid a breakdown in negotiations over a new collective bargaining agreement. Though the lockout itself lasted only four months before players and management hammered out a new labor deal in July 2011—one that generated substantial fees for a passel of high-profile lawyers—that was long enough for Gordon to impress her NFL bosses and those she interacted with among the league’s 32 teams.
Later that year Gordon, an Oakland native, joined the 49ers as the team’s director of legal affairs. In a late 2011 interview with a women’s football website, Gordon said her position requires handling marketing, sponsorship, and ticketing deals, helping out on players contracts, and acting as a liaison with the league office.
Gordon isn’t the only woman working in the 49ers’s in-house legal department. She reports to Patty Inglis, a former partner at Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan & Aronoff, who serves as an executive vice president for the team in charge of its efforts to build a new stadium in Santa Clara, California. (DLA Piper is providing finance counsel to the 49ers in connection with that project.)
Inglis previously served as general counsel of a company owned by former 49ers owner Edward DeBartolo Jr., who ceded control of the team to his sister Denise DeBartolo York and her husband John York after becoming ensnared in a corruption case involving former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards more than a decade ago.
The franchise taking on the 49ers Sunday, the Ravens, also has a legal backstory with its own Am Law 100 angle.
Billionaire Steve Bisciotti purchased the portion of the team he didn’t already own from former majority owner Art Modell in a $325 million transaction in 2004. Cass, a veteran sports dealmaker and then-partner at Washington, D.C.–based Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering, advised Bisciotti on that transaction. (Bisciotti, who cofounded the privately held staffing company now known as Allegis Group in 1983, has his own ties to the legal industry thanks to Allegis’s 2008 acquisition of legal recruiting firm Major Lindsey & Africa.)
Cass, who like Gordon was not immediately available for comment, had previously advised Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones on his $140 million purchase of America’s Team in 1989, and the late Jack Kent Cooke in connection with his $800 million sale of the Washington Redskins a decade later.
While at Wilmer, Cass mentored young sports lawyers like Alec Scheiner, a former counsel at the firm who later became the Cowboys’ general counsel before being named president of the Cleveland Browns in December 2012. (As it happens, the team Scheiner will oversee replaced the original Browns franchise, which relocated to Baltimore in 1995 and became the Ravens.)
Wilmer merged with Boston-based Hale and Dorr in 2004—the same year Cass left his Am Law 100 partnership to become the Ravens president. A Redskins fan growing up, Cass told the Baltimore Business Journal last year that the main difference between working at a company or law firm and running an NFL team is the tremendous scrutiny a sports franchise is subjected to by zealous fans who view it as a symbol of the community. (Michael Colglazier, a founding partner of Hogan & Hartson‘s Baltimore office and former general counsel for the Ravens, passed away in 2005.)
Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, the brother of 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh, told The Washington Post last year that Cass is the man behind the scenes who “ties everything together,” from negotiating contracts with new players to deciding where to hold training camp.
Gordon, meanwhile, has said that one of her favorite memories of San Francisco’s Harbaugh is arriving for work at 6:45 one morning in the days after the 2011 lockout and encountering the fist-pumping coach, who told her how glad he was to have her on his team.
But Gordon and Cass aren’t the only lawyers with ties to the two Super Bowl teams staying busy this time of year.
In order to beat the Ravens, the 49ers will be relying on young quarterback Colin Kaepernick, a rising star whose own advisers are enlisting the efforts of counsel to protect the intellectual property of their client. Bruce Bernstein, a cofounding partner of Reston, Virginia–based IP boutique Greenblum & Bernstein, filed a trademark application for " Kaepernicking" last month with the Patent and Trademark Office, according to news reports.
The 49ers themselves last won a Super Bowl in January 1995. The next season the team hired former attorney Marc Trestman as their offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, where he implemented a prolific scoring system. Trestman, who is still listed in Florida Bar records, later spent several highly successful years leading the Canadian Football League’s Montreal Alouettes before being hired last month as the new head coach of the NFL’s Chicago Bears.