With the National Football League’s playoffs less than two weeks away, ex-commissioner and Covington & Burling senior counsel Paul Tagliabue’s reversal of the league’s controversial Bountygate bans earlier this month, and other players threatening litigation over management-mandated suspensions, The Am Law Daily decided this would be a good time to focus on the player agents who advocate for the interests of those that take the field.
One member of that fraternity, Albert Elias, died last week on a ski trip at the age of 41. Like most agents, Elias was a law school graduate, and at the time of his death had his own Dallas-based agency called Elias Sports Management.
In reviewing a registry of agents certified by the NFL Players Association—an organization headed by former Latham & Watkins and Patton Boggs partner DeMaurice Smith—The Am Law Daily found that a surprising number of player representatives are currently working at Am Law 200 firms.
Adisa Bakari, for instance, is the president of the sports and entertainment practice at Dow Lohnes. This summer, Bakari launched a "life retreat" event aimed at teaching the skills he says are necessary to succeed at life off the field. Bakari made partner at Dow Lohnes in 2010, the same year the firm picked up the vice president of its sports practice, Jeffery Whitney, a player agent who joined Dow Lohnes from his own shop.
Another agent, Balch & Bingham litigation practice chair J. Russ Campbell, represented former Auburn head football coach Gene Chizik last year in connection with an NCAA investigation into the school’s football program. The firm’s sports practice, which also includes agent and associate Patrick Strong, signed a partnership agreement in October with Coaches By The Numbers to advise some of the top coaches in college football. (Chizik was fired by Auburn in late November.)
Weil, Gotshal & Manges litigation associate Paul DeRousselle is a founder of the Cover 2 Sports Agency. Stinson Morrison Hecker general business division chair Joseph Hipskind Jr. is a member of his firm’s sports practice, which is chaired by fellow partner and player agent Robert Lattinville. The group, also known as Premier Stinson Sports, expanded its client base after merging with Premier Sports in 2008.
Lattinville is among the agents also registered to advise players up north in the Canadian Football League. Also holding dual NFL/CFL agent eligibility: Miller Canfield Paddock and Stone associate Joseph Vernon and Eugene Egdorf, a lawyer with leading plaintiffs shop The Lanier Law Firm who this month was named a fellow of the Texas Bar Foundation, according to sibling publication Texas Lawyer. (Egdorf, who serves as general counsel of sports management agency ETL Associates, also appeared in an ESPN documentary about agents directed by Morgan Spurlock called The Dotted Line.)
Other NFL player agents toiling within the Am Law 200 ranks include Mayer Brown partner Charles "Chuck" Harris II, Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn partners Cameron Evans and Joseph Sgroi, Gibbons partner William Deni Jr. and counsel Jordan Solomon, Kutak Rock partner J.R. Carroll, and Fulbright & Jaworski partner John Simpson. (Earlier this year the NFLPA hired Richard Smith, chair of the global white-collar and government investigations practice at Fulbright, to advise the union during the league’s Bountygate probe.)
There are also agents with other kinds of Am Law 200 ties. Andrew Kessler, an agent with Athletes First, whose clients include embattled New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, is the son of Winston & Strawn antitrust practice leader and sports law group cohead Jeffrey Kessler, who grabbed both of those leadership roles this month during a reshuffling of practice and subpractice group heads at the firm.
The younger Kessler has helped craft Sanchez’s lucrative contracts (whose recent extension shocked Jets fans) in tandem with the quarterback’s older brother Nick Sanchez, another registered agent and senior attorney with California’s Theodora Oringher.
The elder Kessler, who served as global head of Dewey’s litigation practice and cohead of its sports practice before taking 60 lawyers to Winston in May from the now-defunct firm, is also a longtime lawyer for the NFLPA, which he guided through a fierce collective bargaining fight with the league last year.
Hockey Set for More Permanent Hiatus
At a time when National Hockey League fans would usually be gearing up for the annual Winter Classic, the league’s players have begun the process of dissolving their union amid a collective bargaining standoff with management.
As of late Thursday, the board of the NHL Players’ Association had reportedly given its approval for decertification, a process that, as previously reported here. would pave the way for an antitrust battle between the union’s lawyers at Weil, Gotshal & Manges and the league’s counsel at Proskauer Rose and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.
While it remains unclear whether the move to decertify will prove successful for the players, it is certain that the NHL itself won’t play any games through January 14, a date that marks the midpoint of the league’s season. And if an antitrust suit is filed anytime soon, the NHL could be on hold indefinitely, further frustrating an already distraught fan base.
Lawyers, however, continue to reap the benefits of hockey-related work. Leading Canadian firms Fasken Martineau DuMoulin, Goodmans, and Stikeman Elliott are advising on the Canadian Tire Corporation’s $85 million purchase of Pro Hockey Life Sporting Goods.
Dewey’s Dodger Blues
Dewey & LeBoeuf may be gone, but the fees the firm racked up working on the bankruptcy of Major League Baseball’s Los Angeles Dodgers live on.
Earlier this year, Dewey submitted a bill for more than $12.5 million in fees and expenses in connection with its lead counsel role to the debtor, whose bankruptcy was resolved this spring thanks to the whopping $2.15 billion sale of the franchise to Guggenheim Partners.
Dewey also sought a $500,000 fee enhancement for bringing the Chapter 11 case to a successful conclusion. This month a bankruptcy judge in Delaware approved the bonus, according to Law360. Also winning recognition in December for his work on the case: Foley & Lardner sports industry cochair Irwin Raij, who was honored by The M&A Advisor for his role advising Guggenheim on the record-setting deal.
As noted by The Am Law Daily this fall, Dewey also collected more than $1.3 million from the National Basketball Players Association for the now-defunct firm’s work advising the union in its collective bargaining fight last year with the National Basketball Association.
Around the Horn
—A federal judge ruled last week that four major professionals sports leagues represented by Skadden partner Jeffrey Mishkin—a former chief legal officer for the NBA—can sue the state of New Jersey over its proposed plan to allow sports gambling. The Garden State, which is being advised by former U.S. solicitor general and current Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher appellate maestro Theodore Olson, claims that decades of legal and illegal sports gambling haven’t hurt the swelling bottom lines of the four leagues, whose commissioners have testified in the litigation. Ex-Proskauer partner and NBA chief David Stern explicitly criticized former U.S. attorney and current New Jersey Governor Chris Christie for his support of sports gambling.
—Brown Rudnick litigation partner Mark Tuohey III, who joined the firm in 2010 before reaching retirement age at Vinson & Elkins, could soon be making another big move. Tuohey, who helped bring pro baseball back to Washington, D.C., happens to close friends with Vice President Joe Biden. The relationship that has apparently made him a front-runner to replace Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney as U.S. ambassador to Ireland next year, according to reports in the Irish press. Rooney’s son, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney of counsel Arthur Rooney II, now serves as president and co-owner of the Steelers after the historic NFL team resolved an uncertain ownership situation in 2008.
—The Am Law Daily reported this summer that O’Melveny & Myers and Proskauer Rose had grabbed lead advisory roles on the $800 million sale of the San Diego Padres. Jones Day represented pro golfer Phil Mickelson in his potential role as part of the team’s new ownership group. But this month Mickelson, a San Diego native, opted out of joining the group, according to UT–San Diego.
—Voting for next year’s inductees into the Baseball Hall of Fame is currently under way, and Cooley litigation partner Michael Attanasio says in this Forbes piece that a "no" vote for his client Roger Clemens is an insult to the entire process. Attanasio spoke with sibling publication The Blog of Legal Times this summer about his role helping Clemens win an acquittal on charges that he lied to Congress about taking performance-enhancing drugs.
—The holiday season has been kind to Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro, which is serving as lead counsel in class action sudden-acceleration suits against Toyota. The Seattle-based plaintiffs firm could reap up to $200 million in attorneys fees from the $1.1 billion settlement agreed to this week in those cases by the world’s largest automaker. Hagens Berman, it turns out, is comfortable with two wheels as well as four. The firm sponsors a professional cycling team, which this month welcomed back Juan José Haedo, the most successful rider in its history.
—It’s been a much tougher year for perhaps the world’s most famous pro cyclist, recently retired Austin native Lance Armstrong, who has kept legions of lawyers busy in recent years in an effort to refute allegations that he used performance-enhancing drugs. Armstrong abandoned that fight several months ago, and now some of those on the receiving end of his legal wrath are striking back. This week The Sunday Times, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, sued Armstrong demanding more than $1.5 million connected to a libel settlement it agreed to in 2006. The sum represents the roughly $500,000 value of the settlement plus interest, as well as attorneys fees, according to The Associated Press.
—Dean Altobelli claims that a "culture of fear and intimidation" at Miller Canfield resulted in the firm’s partnership pushing him out in 2010 after he asked to take a leave of absence to coach football, according to a report this month by the Detroit Free Press. The firm is currently appealing a Michigan state court judge’s decision allowing Altobelli’s claims to bypass arbitration. A litigator by trade, Altobelli played football in college at Michigan State and is currently listed as a "football analyst" for the University of Alabama Crimson Tide.
—The NFL’s Cleveland Browns have hired former Dallas Cowboys general counsel Alec Scheiner, a favorite of the statistical-minded sports set, as the team’s new president. Before joining the Cowboys in 2004 as the team’s top in-house attorney, Scheiner was counsel at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr. While at the firm, Scheiner worked on the sales of several pro sports franchises, including the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens, whose president is former Wilmer partner Richard "Dick" Cass.
—Squire Sanders has bolstered its sports practice in London by hiring full-time consultant Stuart McInnes, a former managing partner of local firm Pritchard Englefield and an arbitrator for the Court of Arbitration for Sports. Several years ago, McInnes presided over a notable case involving English footballer Ashley Cole. As an aside, this past fall Squire Sanders tax partner Bernhard Gilbey in London cycled from London and Paris to back for charity, according to U.K. publication Legal Week.
—Troutman Sanders has added Mark Shurtleff to its attorneys general and state regulatory unit in Washington, D.C., according to The BLT. Shurtleff made headlines as Utah’s attorney general when he threatened college football’s Bowl Championship Series with an antitrust suit over its exclusion of certain schools. Despite going through a selection process for outside counsel to handle such a case, the litigation was put on hold permanently after the BCS decided to move toward a playoff system. Shurtleff is leaving public service for Troutman at year-end.
—And former Duane Morris partner and ex-Penn State general counsel Cynthia Baldwin could face possible malpractice claims brought by former university administrator Gary Schultz in the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal, according to a report this month by sibling publication The Legal Intelligencer. Baldwin stepped down as the school’s top in-house lawyer a year ago next month.