Baseball’s Law Firm

Here’s a story from Saturday’s Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel about the relationship between the Foley & Lardner law firm and Major League Baseball:

Mary K. Braza, the head of the sports industry team at the Foley & Lardner law firm, has a nice view of Milwaukee and Lake Michigan from her office at the U.S. Bank Center.

So does Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, who maintains an office on a different floor in the same building on E. Wisconsin Ave.

That as much as anything explains the strong relationship Major League Baseball has with Milwaukee’s best known law firm.

Braza heads a team of approximately 36 lawyers at the prestigious firm. And while Foley serves a variety of clients in the sports world, it is the firm’s long and strong connection to Major League Baseball where it is best known in sports law circles.

Chambers USA, which ranks law firms in various categories, has given Foley a solid ranking. According to Chambers, “the team’s reputation has been forged through its dedication to providing a ‘solid all-around service.’ ”

Foley does everything for baseball, and I’m assuming it’s a pretty good client for Ms. Braza to have. This interested me, though:

Foley was, in fact, a key player in the Mitchell Report, baseball’s defining document on the use of performance-enhancing substances. The report, produced by former Sen. George Mitchell and which came out a year ago, was Selig’s effort to lay out the problems of baseball and performance-enhancing substances.

It was a significant project for baseball and Foley & Lardner.

“We were baseball’s lawyers,” Braza said. “We weren’t independent investigators. That was Mitchell and the lawyers he worked with. We were instructed to be facilitators for Mitchell. We were the liaison between Mitchell’s people and the league office, making sure people were producing information for them, setting up interviews and making sure that was happening across the board with respect to the other clubs,” she said.

That’s funny. My copy of the Mitchell Report says “DLA Piper” on the front page, which is George Mitchell’s law firm. You’d think that they’d at least get a proper-name shoutout here. You’d also think that, given how political and superficial a document the Mitchell Report truly was, people would be running away from it as opposed to trying to take credit. Unless of course the pitch is “Hire us! We’ll whitewash your business’ problems so thoroughly that people will forget they ever happened!” You laugh, but there’s a lot of money in that line of work.

That aside, this reads like a sales brochure for Foley. Or for any other large firm, really. My experience working for such places tells me, however, that whenever lawyers talk to you about how they’ll “think proactively” for you and serve as “facilitators” it really means that they’ll continue billing you at a healthy clip when there aren’t any deals on the table and there isn’t much pending litigation. Personally speaking? I’d rather hire smart salaried people in-house to, in Braza’s words, “think about the next thing I have coming down the road” and have my expensive, outside, hourly lawyers on stand-by for bigger problems.

It’s always a buyer’s market for legal services as long as you at least try to approach it as such. The days where you can just hire the biggest firm in town and delegate all of your thinking to them like Major League Baseball seems to have done with Foley is a thing of the past.

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  1. The Common Man said...

    Sure, Craig, we think the document is political and superficial.  But there’s a large contingent of the public that thinks the Mitchell Report absolves Major League Baseball of any responsibility in the steroid matter, thinks that it’s baseball’s attempt make itself right.  I think the Mitchell Report is very highly regarded among casual fans and the general population who knows nothing about it other than “steroids,” “Barry Bonds,” “Roger Clemens.”

  2. MooseinOhio said...

    Selig will not hire in-house lawyers as he needs to continually support his little network of pals, much like he does with the sale of teams as only friends of the commish need to apply.  I do not consider myself an anti-Bud guy (enjoy interleague play and love the WC) but I chuckle with every bit of evidence that reveals the little fiefdom he oversees.

  3. lar said...

    It’s a fair point, Craig, and I’m glad for your perspective. I hadn’t thought about that before, and I’m sure there’s some truth to it, at least.

    I also know, though, that Foley & Lardner is a pretty respected company here in Milwaukee. I’ve worked with and been exposed to a number of non-profits here in town, and it seems like they’ve all had very positive experiences working with Foley & Lardner. I’ve also seen their name associated with a number of developments that have had positive change here in town.

    What you’re saying may be true, and I’m not trying to discount that. I just thought that it’s worth knowing that, to an impartial party, F&P;seems to have made some positive change in the city, and I was glad to see that they had purchased some significant ad space in Miller Park last year.


  4. Pete Toms said...

    @ The Common Man.  You’re preachin to the choir…MR worked perfectly for MLB, people ate it up…Jeff Blair called it the industry’s ” mea culpa “.

    @ Craig.  I think the lawyer makes one good point.

    “The entire broadcasting area and new media will be a boon. And when I talk about broadcasting, it’s mostly about new media. That is going to be a significant growth area.”

    Potential scenarios on this front?  #1. Legal pissing mmatch over control of local digital rights.  The NHL is in court with James Dolan over this….NBA Recently became the first “big league” to give control of this to the individual clubs….Henry is pissed that he doesn’t control the Red Sox local digital rights.  #2.  The showdown over whether or not it’s legal to simulcast the games over the web without compensating the teams.

  5. Craig Calcaterra said...

    Lar:  I don’t disagree with you at all.  I’ve actually had a few cases with (or opposite) F&L;and have found them to be nothing but a professional and respectable firm that does good work.  I’ve also heard that they are good citizens of Milwaukee, as are many other alpha-firms in cities like Milwaukee.  My comments are not directed at F&L;specifically, just at the overall state of legal services from large firms.  They do a good job when they are needed, but like any other business, take every opportunity they can to expand the revenue stream.  As such, businesses that hire law firms should be just as skeptical (or at least guarded) about any pitch for expanded services from law firms just like they would from their phone company or office supply dealer.

    Nice to have it when you need it, but really, you might not need it.

  6. Leo said...

    Um, aren’t you a lawyer angling for a new job?

    There goes your potential new gig at a firm being an expensive, hourly lawyer!

  7. Craig Calcaterra said...

    Leo: I can only assume that it’s timing and tact like that that made my old firm deem me expendable.


  8. lar said...

    That’s a good point, Craig, and that’s how I originally read the piece. I just thought it’d be good to add what little I know about Foley & Lardner to the discussion…

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