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October 29, 2010 6:06 PM

Inside the Octagon: Lewis and Roca Lawyer Stands Tall for the UFC

Posted by Brian Baxter

Epstein_LRThe Ultimate Fighting Championship and World Extreme Cagefighting announced a plan to merge on Thursday, putting two fighting outfits owned by Zuffa LLC under a single mixed martial arts banner.

For the uninitiated, MMA is a contact sport involving a variety of fighting techniques that has grown exponentially in recent years. Lewis and Roca of counsel Lawrence Epstein (pictured right) serves as the UFC's general counsel and has witnessed the sport's explosion in popularity firsthand. He says the merger with WEC was more of a formality than a major move.

"WEC was a wholly owned subsidiary of ours that we purchased in [December] 2006 and operated as a separate business," Epstein says. "But effective January 1, we're taking all of our champions from the WEC--with a couple of nuances--and adding those weight classes to the UFC and having them compete going forward."

A Las Vegas native, Epstein first got interested in the world of professional fighting by handling litigation, regulatory, contract, and transactional work for boxing promoter Bob Arum. Another Epstein client was Station Casinos, owned by brothers Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, who bought the UFC in 2001.

By 2007, the UFC was taking off, and the Fertittas offered Epstein the GC position. Epstein says all of his time is spent on UFC work and that he only remains of counsel with Lewis and Roca because of a few outstanding assignments he left behind that required him to help in transition.

Epstein, who spoke with sibling publication Corporate Counsel last year, says that the UFC relies on about eight in-house lawyers, only four of whom work full-time. (Other lawyers on staff include UFC chief operating officer Kirk Hendrick, U.K. division president Marshall Zelaznik, and associate general counsel Michael Mersch, a former Nevada deputy attorney general.)

"We've got a portfolio of intellectual property, like copyrighted television shows and trademarks, which are pretty much all the assets we've got," Epstein says. "It's a legally intensive business because we're pretty much an IP shop."

The UFC uses about 25 firms worldwide as outside counsel for a variety of legal issues, Epstein says. K&L Gates's London-based sports practice works with the UFC in Europe, Morrison & Foerster helps out in China, and Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy handles corporate work--such as the 2006 WEC acquisition--in the U.S.

Epstein says his own firm, Lewis & Roca, handles IP work along with Milbank. The UFC also has been working with Brazilian firm Machado Meyer Sendacz & Opice on regulatory and tax issues in Brazil as part of the company's due diligence in scheduling events there, Epstein adds.

Epstein says that "44 out of 48 states that have athletic commissions" now legally sanction UFC bouts. Every Canadian province also allows the UFC, Epstein says, and the organization has hosted numerous international fights. He says the UFC continues to work the political process to gain acceptance everywhere, especially in New York, where the UFC is not yet legal.

Unlike some other lawyers with whom we've spoken, Epstein says he's never stepped into the octagon--the UFC's version of a ring--himself. But he does do a little boxing and muay thai (a type of kickboxing) on the side. He says he's thinking about taking up pilates, which is actually used by many MMA fighters when training. Hey, it's a start.

The Fall Classic: The Legal Angle

After more than six months of baseball, the World Series is finally here. And we know of at least three lawyers keen to check out the action between the Texas Rangers, now free from bankruptcy, and the San Francisco Giants.

First up: William Neukom III, a former ABA president, erstwhile K&L Gates partner, and ex-general counsel at Microsoft (how else do you think he got the cash to become managing general partner?)

Somewhat less prominent, but apparently no less of a diehard fan, is Dallas solo practitioner Darrell Cook. Cook asked a municipal court judge to excuse him from a hearing so he could fly to San Francisco for Game 1, reports sibling publication Texas Lawyer. (He got the continuance.)

Then there's Boris Briskin, who quit his job at California firm Rose, Klein & Marias to return to Dallas and watch the games, according to a local Fox News report. (Hopefully, for his sake, the Rangers will at least force a Game 5.)

There are plenty of fans who aren't catching any of the games--and they're not happy about it. In New York, Long Island solo practitioner Todd Krouner has filed a class action against Cablevision in federal district court in Manhattan seeking $450 million in damages from the cable company, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Cablevision has been stuck in a dispute with Fox over retransmission fees. But others have more pressing legal issues.

And let's not forget Giants outfielder Jose Guillen, who isn't playing in the Series. Acquired late in the season for the team's stretch run, Guillen was left off the team's postseason roster. Though initial speculation pegged Guillen's poor hitting as the reason, The New York Times, citing several anonymous lawyers briefed on the matter, reports that the outfielder has been linked to a federal investigation into recent shipments of performance-enhancing drugs to his wife in the Bay Area.

It wouldn't be Guillen's first brush with banned substances. The San Francisco Chronicle reported three years ago that the ballplayer bought $19,000 worth of human growth hormone from a Florida clinic between May 2002 and June 2005. Major League Baseball confirmed to The Associated Press that Guillen is under investigation.

Guillen has retained Jay Reisinger of Pittsburgh's Farrell & Reisinger. The Am Law Daily profiled the firm, known for its big-name sports clients, last March.

Around the Horn

-- Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro partner Rob Carey is no stranger to facing off against the NCAA (see here, here, and here). Now Carey is suing the college sports governing body for allegedly violating federal antitrust laws by imposing limits on scholarships, according to sibling publication The National Law Journal.

-- Indiana's workplace safety agency is investigating the death of a Notre Dame student killed in a freak windstorm while filming football practice this week. With the school facing a potential lawsuit, athletic director John "Jack" Swarbrick is ideally placed to handle the fallout. As previously reported here, Swarbrick is a former partner at Baker & Daniels, which has churned out ADs in recent years.

-- Former Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway became the latest athlete to be identified as having lost money to a financial fraudster in recent years. Elway was named as one of 65 investors caught up in an alleged Ponzi scheme run by Colorado hedge fund manager Sean Mueller. Elway's losses aren't yet known, but the Hall of Famer has retained Greenberg Traurig partner Stephen Dietrich.

-- AOL Fanhouse reports that federal prosecutors probing Lance Armstrong's alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs appear ready to use a novel tactic to pursue the seven-time Tour de France winner beyond the normal statute of limitations. As previously noted here, the cyclist is well-defended against any assault: his defense team includes lawyers from Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, Sheppard, Mullin, Hampton & Richter, Austin's HowryBreen, and Mark Fabiani.

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