Longtime Patton Boggs partner and chief operating officer Ira Fishman has left the firm to join former colleague DeMaurice Smith at the National Football League Players Association. The move comes nearly six months after Smith left to become the executive director of the players’ association and three months after the firm picked up the association as a lobbying client.

Fishman’s last day at Patton Boggs was Aug. 21, and he started at the players’ union as managing director on Aug. 24. Patton Boggs deputy managing partner Edward Newberry is currently the acting chief operating officer. Managing partner Stuart Pape stressed that Newberry’s appointment is an interim one. Patton Boggs has retained The Alexander Group, an executive recruiting firm, to search for a new chief operating officer.

“We pride ourselves on being a very good place to work, and part of the responsibility of the COO is making sure we manage the finances of the firm well, but maintain the values and the culture,” Pape said.

Pape said the firm plans to make an external hire to fill the job and isn’t necessarily looking for a lawyer. The new hire will oversee senior nonlawyer staff, such as the firm’s chief marketing officer and human resources director. Pape said the chief operating officer also is responsible for making sure the firm’s culture extends across offices. Washington-based Patton Boggs has nine offices worldwide and recently doubled its space in New York, subletting a second floor at 1185 Avenue of the Americas.

Newberry, who lobbies on behalf of clients such as Ohio University, Clemson University and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, said the interim job is a “good opportunity” to learn about other departments at the firm. Pape, too, said the temporary post will let Newberry broaden his knowledge of the firm, something he said that “I had the chance to do” before becoming managing partner.

Asked if he was grooming Newberry to eventually assume the managing partner role, Pape said, with a chuckle, that “Ed is absolutely a prospective managing partner. And if not here, somewhere else.”

HALFTIME SHOW

Fishman’s move to the National Football League Players’ Association, where he joins Smith and two associates who left earlier this year, is likely to cement the union’s relationship with the firm.

The NFLPA paid Patton Boggs $50,000 in lobbying fees in the second quarter, for work on antitrust and labor issues. The union is currently involved in ongoing, contentious negotiations with National Football League owners for a new collective-bargaining agreement. Pape said the firm would like to work with the association on legal issues as well as lobbying.

“To the extent [Smith] and our other former colleagues there need our help in helping the union with its legal or other issues, where we have capacity to help, we’re eager to help,” Fishman said.

The players’ association uses Dewey & LeBoeuf and Weil, Gotshal & Manges for collective-bargaining work, according to George Atallah, assistant executive director of external affairs for the NFLPA. Latham & Watkins lawyers were involved in the Adderley v. National Football League Players Association case, a class action by former football players that settled earlier this year, after Smith became executive director.

The union also uses Baach Robinson & Lewis and the Groom Law Group, both based in Washington, to lobby, lobbying disclosure forms show.

Having Fishman at the players’ union won’t hurt Patton Boggs’ cause. Fishman, 51, knows the firm well. He started with Patton Boggs in 1981 as an associate and, early on, worked with Pape. In 1993, Fishman left to join the Clinton administration as vice president for congressional external affairs at the Export-Import Bank of the United States, but returned to the firm in 1997.

The opportunity to work on players’ issues with Smith, who was named executive director of the union in March, was too hard to turn down, he said.

Fishman said the NFLPA is using Patton Boggs to “give some general public policy and strategic advice in terms of relationships with Congress and the administration.”

Fishman’s position is a new one for the players’ union. He said he will be primarily responsible for operations, playing a role similar to the one he had at Patton Boggs.

Carrie Levine may be contacted at carrie.-levine@incisivemedia.com.