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August 24, 2010 6:26 PM

Jackson Lewis Expands Sports Practice with Agent Hire

Posted by Brian Baxter

Clifton_Gregg Once known for representing the likes of Tom Glavine, David Wells, and Luis Gonzalez, sports agent Gregg Clifton is giving up his portfolio of athletes and joining the sports industry practice of labor and employment giant Jackson Lewis to advise individual franchises, leagues, and college teams.

Clifton began his legal career at the firm after graduating from Hofstra Law School. Five years later, in 1990, he left the law to work for legendary sports agent Bob Woolf. That was the only way to develop a sports law practice at that time--you had "to be on the representation side of the business," Clifton says.

"When I started practicing 25 years ago, the opportunities to represent franchises and universities were at a much smaller level," he adds. Now, Clifton and his new firm hope to use Jackson Lewis's reach across the U.S. (the firm has more than 40 offices in 30 states) to cater to the growing number of professional, minor league, and college teams.

Clifton, who will be based in the firm's Phoenix office, began talking with Jackson Lewis more than a month ago. Talks gradually intensified until Clifton last week announced plans to leave his agency, Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Gaylord Sports Management, to take the Jackson Lewis job. Clifton won't say whether other firms also approached him about resuming a legal practice.

Now, as he settles into his new position, the former agent is turning his attention to advising management. And his new employer is confident he can successfully make the switch.

"We want to become the go-to firm for sports franchises providing day-to-day [legal] advice," says Jonathan Spitz, a labor and litigation partner in Jackson Lewis's Atlanta office. "But we don't want to just focus on sports-specific issues. The sports industry is made up of employers, and Gregg's practical experience in that industry will help us understand the specific nuances that those in that industry deal with."

Clifton laughs when Jackson Lewis's reputation as a union-busting firm is mentioned. He points out that many of his former players, some of whom held prominent union roles like Glavine, are now in management positions. As Clifton sees it, Jackson Lewis will seek to counsel clients on how to avoid litigation and labor disputes.

"One of the things I learned from Bob Woolf was that it's not about picking the fight or trying to embarrass the other side, it's [about] trying to achieve a mutually beneficial working relationship," he says. "It doesn't matter what side you represent, the goal is still the same."

Professional franchises aside, another major client base that Clifton and Jackson Lewis hope to market their services to are colleges and universities dealing with an increasing number of NCAA and government regulations. Some areas coming under greater scrutiny, such as drug testing, are really labor and employment issues, Clifton says.

A recent Associated Press report found that more than half of the 42 states with sports agent laws were not enforcing their requirements. In the past six months alone, coaches at college football powerhouses like Alabama, Florida, and USC have called for restrictions on agents and financial advisers that threaten the eligibility of their players. When asked about the study and the negative publicity surrounding agents, Clifton says it's one of the reasons he decided to leave the business.

"One of the things that was disappointing to me was that there were less lawyers involved [in the sports agent business]," Clifton says. "We had folks coming into it with no knowledge of what it takes to be a sports representative."

Spitz adds that with many schools wanting to protect the eligibility of their athletes, college programs will be looking for legal counsel to represent them in negotiations with the NCAA or other organizations to handle investigations stemming from those disputes.

In other sports-related legal news...

HEAVY HITTERS JOIN LANCE ARMSTRONG INVESTIGATION

Add Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz and Mark Fabiani to the list of lawyers representing clients in the Justice Department's performance-enhancing drug probe of Lance Armstrong and other former members of the U.S. Postal Service professional cycling team.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that Armstrong had hired San Diego attorney and media consultant Mark Fabiani, a former member of the Clinton administration who earned the nickname "Master of Disaster" for his work helping the White House navigate several investigations as special counsel. Earlier this year, Fabiani was part of a legal team assembled by Goldman Sachs to deal with a federal fraud case that settled in July.

As previously reported by The Am Law Daily, lawyers from Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton and Austin's HowryBreen also are advising Armstrong. The WSJ reports that Fabiani will work at the direction of Sheppard Mullin government contracts and white-collar defense cochair Bryan Daly.

Changing counsel is former Armstrong teammate George Hincapie, who has called on lawyers from Wachtell, according to The WSJ. Zia Modabber, the chair of the litigation and dispute resolution practice at Katten Muchin Rosenman in Los Angeles, confirmed to The Am Law Daily that he no longer represents Hincapie.

CLEMENS, K-ROD LAWYER UP

Troubled New York Mets closer Francisco Rodriguez has retained Jay Reisinger of Pittsburgh's Farrell & Reisinger--a firm formed by refugees of Dreier LLP--to represent him in any future efforts by the team to void his contract. Such a move is likely in the aftermath of an injury suffered by Rodriguez two weeks ago when he tore a thumb ligament in an off-field incident. (Reisinger declined to comment.)

The players union already has filed a grievance in the case, and sources say MLBPA director Michael Weiner, chief labor counsel David Prouty, and assistant general counsel Robert Lenaghan are handling the matter. Daniel Halem, Major League Baseball's general counsel, will represent management along with executive vice president for labor relations and human resources Robert Manfred, Jr., a former labor and employment partner at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius. Shyam Das will preside over any arbitration proceeding under the current collective bargaining agreements between the league and union.

Across town, former New York Yankees pitcher Roger Clemens is facing federal perjury charges for making false statements about his use of performance-enhancing drugs during congressional testimony in February 2008. Criticism of the legal strategy employed by Clemens's attorneys--led by Rusty Hardin of Houston's Hardin & Associates--now seems well-deserved, according to our colleague Andrew Longstreth for The Am Law Litigation Daily.

That might be why Clemens added to his defense team last weekend, hiring Cooley litigation partner Michael Attanasio in San Diego as cocounsel. The Litigation Daily notes that the the former flamethrower's last cocounsel, ex-Covington & Burling partner Lanny Breuer, now leads the Justice Department's criminal division. That could make for some awkward moments if Breuer is called to testify.

Sibling publication The National Law Journal reported on Monday that a federal district court judge hearing the case has ordered all parties to keep quiet, given the already extensive media coverage.

Off-the-field incidents and steroid scandals aside, MLB's biggest crisis might be the disclosure of confidential financial reports for six franchises--the Florida Marlins, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Pittsburgh Pirates, Tampa Bay RaysSeattle Mariners, and Texas Rangers--which appeared on the Internet early this week. The New York Times reports that MLB officials are taking the documents seriously, treating the disclosures as a crime and probing the source of the leak.

We e-mailed Mary Braza, the head of the sports practice at Foley & Lardner and lead outside counsel to MLB on various legal issues, to see if her firm was advising the league on its investigation. She declined to comment.

AROUND THE HORN

-- Bloomberg has an interesting story on former Cahill Gordon & Reindel partner Marvin Goldklang, who gave up his corporate practice in order to pursue his dream of owning a baseball team--something recently realized by current Reed Smith counsel Charles Greenberg. Goldklang is a limited partner in the New York Yankees and has owned several minor league teams.

-- Speaking of ownership stakes, The Litigation Daily recently previewed the upcoming divorce trial that could determine who owns the Los Angeles Dodgers. We've previously reported on the formidable legal teams on both sides of this dispute. Now, with the Dodgers fading in the National League West, the divorce of Frank McCourt and his wife Jamie could be the only baseball-related drama in Tinseltown these next few months.

-- The Litigation Daily also reported on Perkins Coie's $30 million verdict for its client, Riddell Sports, in a hard fought football helmet patent infringement trial. Riddell and Perkins Coie prevailed over Schutt Sports--represented by Kirkland & Ellis--for ownership of a jaw protection device for football helmets. The device is of particular importance considering that most football-related concussions--a hot topic in NFL circles lately--are caused by hits near the jaw.

-- And Zuckerman Spaeder scored a victory against Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos--represented by the firm that bears his name--in a dispute over billboards adorning First Mariner Arena, according to the Baltimore Business Journal.

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