DeMaurice Smith, the former Patton Boggs partner who has served as executive director of the National Football League Players Association since 2009, recently had some harsh words for Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the world’s most profitable professional sports league.
In an interview with ESPN, Smith criticized the NFL’s push to expand its slate of playoff games, weighed in on the continuing controversy over the Washington Redskins’ name, opined on the possibility that players will be tested for the use of human growth hormone and called attention to what he believes is a double standard when it comes to how the league punishes players and owners who run afoul of the law.
Smith’s tone suggests there is lingering friction between him and Goodell—the brother of former White & Case global M&A cochair Timothy Goodell—three years after the bitter collective bargaining battle between players and management that ultimately produced a 10-year labor deal. (The NFL’s Goodell responded to some of the union leader’s critiques Friday.)
The five-month lockout that preceded that agreement generated millions in legal fees for lawyers on both sides, according to our previous reports. And if the NFLPA’s latest LM-2 filing with the U.S. Department of Labor is any indication, a bevy of Am Law 100 firms are continuing to reap the benefits of their ties to the union.
According to the annual report detailing the NFLPA’s business affairs, which was filed with the Labor Department on May 29, the union spent nearly $5.8 million in legal fees during the 12-month period between March 1, 2013, and February 28 of this year.
Among the the firms earning the most in legal fees from the union were Winston & Strawn ($2.7 million), Latham & Watkins ($1.1 million), Washington, D.C.’s Groom Law Group ($610,279), Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher ($483,145), Fulbright & Jaworski ($214,422) and Patton Boggs ($114,022).
Smith, a former federal prosecutor who went on to become a partner at Latham before leaving the firm in 2006 to chair the government investigations and white-collar practice at Patton Boggs, added both firms to the NFLPA’s outside counsel roster ahead of the most recent collective bargaining standoff. Smith also raided Patton Boggs for longtime partner and chief operating officer Ira Fishman, who now serves as the NFLPA’s managing director.
Patton Boggs served as public policy counsel to the union last year, according to lobbying records on file with the U.S. Senate and the NFLPA’s LM-2. But the struggling firm, which within the past week announced a deal to be absorbed by Squire Sanders as of June 1, also filed a fourth-quarter termination notice of its work for the union. Jonathan Yarowsky, the former Patton Boggs partner who handled the firm’s NFLPA work, left the firm last summer to head the lobbying practice at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr.
Yarowsky did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday about whether the NFLPA was among the clients he brought with him to Wilmer. It’s unlikely that a combined Squire Patton Boggs could continue doing work for the union, given that Squire Sanders has close ties to league management. Frederick Nance, a regional managing partner for Squire Sanders in the firm’s historic hometown of Cleveland, has long done work for the league’s Cleveland Browns and was once a candidate to become the NFL commissioner.
Winston forged its relationship with the NFLPA in May 2012 when the firm hired a 60-lawyer team from the now-defunct Dewey & LeBoeuf led by global litigation chair Jeffrey Kessler, a longtime legal adviser to NFL players who now serves as cochair of Winston’s sports law group and chair of its global antitrust practice.
The NFLPA’s most recent LM-2 shows that Winston earned its fees by handling collective bargaining-related matters for the union during the 12-month period in question. Other firms doing labor work for the union include Philadelphia’s Willig, Williams & Davidson ($60,000), Minneapolis firms Berens & Miller ($34,568) and Lindquist & Vennum ($31,925), Washington, D.C.-based solo practitioner Joseph “Chip” Yablonski ($22,576) and Latham, which the filing shows also handled legislative and professional services matters for the union. (Minneapolis has long been the preferred venue of choice for NFL antitrust litigation.)
Fulbright, which is now known as Norton Rose Fulbright after merging last year with London-based legal giant Norton Rose, has advised the union through regulatory and government investigations practice head Richard Smith on matters such as the New Orleans Saints “Bountygate” scandal and the Miami Dolphins bullying investigation.
Other law firms on the NFLPA payroll during its last fiscal year include: San Francisco’s Altshuler Berzon ($31,788), Boston’s Hemenway & Barnes ($30,566) and Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner ($16,251), New York’s Holwell Shuster & Goldberg ($16,074), Andover, Mass.-based Gilbert & Renton ($16,068), Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe ($13,894), O’Melveny & Myers ($11,454), Columbus’ Zaino Hall & Farrin ($10,261), Wilmington, N.C.-based Brock & Scott ($9,415), Bethesda, Md.-based Bregman, Berbert, Schwartz & Gilday ($8,569), McDonald Hopkins ($8,034), Hunton & Williams ($8,002) and Dallas’ White and Wiggins ($5,603).
As head of the NFLPA, Smith collected nearly $2.7 million in total compensation during the union’s most recent fiscal year, while Fishman received $709,814 as managing director. Thomas DePaso, a former NFL player who replaced longtime union legal chief Richard Berthelsen as general counsel in 2012, took home $623,791. (Berthelsen hasn’t gone into retirement empty-handed—the union’s LM-2 shows he was paid a total of $389,914 for consulting and other legal work during its most recent fiscal year.)
The NFLPA’s in-house legal staff also includes associate general counsel Heather McPhee ($348,697) and Ned Ehrlich ($330,220), vice president of business and legal affairs Ahmad Nassar ($336,446), staff counsel Tim English ($243,274), Todd Flanagan ($184,584) Sean Sansiveri ($174,442) and Joe Briggs ($125,718) and corporate counsel Caroline Gotschall ($82,354).
Meanwhile, as NFL players enjoying a period of labor peace, their counterparts to the north are preparing for an escalation in their own collective bargaining battle.
The Canadian Football League Players Association—represented by Edward Molstad of Edmonton’s Parlee McLaws—is reportedly girding for a strike after labor negotiations with the Toronto-based CFL broke off this week. As with most labor disputes in pro sports, the parties are quarreling over the allocation of league revenues.