ALM Properties, Inc.
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Best Foot Forward
For 35 years, Bob Laufer was a bankruptcy and litigation attorney with Paul, Weiss, Rifkin, Wharton & Garrison in New York. When he retired in 1999, he went in-house with one of his favorite clients: New York Road Runners. Laufer had worked with the organization extensively beginning in the late 1970s, when thenNYRR president and legendary runner Fred Lebow picked Paul Weiss to be the group's preferred outside counsel. "When I decided to retire from my law practice, I spoke with Allan Steinfeld [former CEO and president of the NYRR], and I said: 'We're leaving you without a lawyer. Why don't I work as in-house counsel for a year, and if that works out, we'll extend it another year.' "
Nearly 13 years later, Laufer, a graduate of Columbia Law School, is still head legal counsel for the NYRR, one of the biggest runners organizations in the country, and the entity behind the iconic New York City Marathon (now known, for sponsorship purposes, as the ING New York City Marathon). With one other attorney, Laufer, 73, handles everything from IP issues to sponsorship contracts to accommodating athletes with disabilities. It's a lot of work, especially for someone well past retirement age. But it's also the perfect fit for Laufer, who's run 17 marathons, and in his heyday hit a personal best of 2:48:06. "They say most lawyers are Type A. I think I proved it with all that mileage," he says.
CORPORATE COUNSEL: How did you first get connected with New York Road Runners?
BOB LAUFER: I knew Fred Lebow and Allan Steinfeld from running. Fred and I were running one day, and he asked if I could help negotiate a TV contract with WABC for a telecast with a highlight show that would be televised nationally. That was in the late seventies. My firm negotiated this contract, and after that, I brought them in as a client.
CC: How has the marathon evolved since you first got involved?
BL: It got much bigger. Fred and Allan were the two people that developed the big urban marathon. I went along with them to Paris and London to advise on the structuring of marathons there.
CC: You're also the coordinator for the wheelchair division of the New York Marathon. How did you get involved with that?
BL: NYRR faced a lawsuit that said it wasn't treating athletes with disabilities fairly. In the 1998 New York City Marathon, the wheelchairs had been sent out early, but at the 59th Street Bridge they were stopped by the police. The suit said NYRR was discriminating against the athletes. They wanted a special start, class, and awards. I ended up taking over that matter.
CC: What is your workflow like ?
BL: It's 365 days a year, 24/7 for me. We start spending time on the marathon and related matters around June 1. I also work with Achilles, an organization that helps athletes with disabilities participate in mainstream sporting events, and those athletes come through a special entry system.
CC: What are the biggest challenges for NYRR going forward?
BL: The area of social media and digital media has brought on new opportunities. A lot needs to be put in place with regard to privacy policies, and who can gain access to certain areas, and what they can do. For example, if people have something to say after a race, or if they didn't like something, it goes right onto Facebook or Twitter. Rules had to be put in place for how NYRR would respond. And everything that's put up on our website must be vetted by the legal group to ensure full disclosure. It's all just part of keeping NYRR up and running.