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The NFL Doesn’t Need Any Stinking Lawyers

Its Super Bowl week, so may as well keep with the football theme.  Hey, football is a business as much as it is game, so there are numerous legal issues, including trademark, contract negotiations and employment.

As you may know, the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NFL team owners and the the NFL Players’ Union is set to terminate in March 2011.  The CBA is ending in March 2011, is due to the team owners elected to terminate the agreement due to the fact that the owners believed they were giving too much money to the players.  If you are interested in the CBA history and negotiations, I suggest that you check out Mike Florio’s blog, Profootballtalk.com.  You can reach it here.

In any event, the team owners and the Players’ Association is currently attempting to negotiate a new CBA prior to the expiration of the current CBA.  According, to one owner, the problem is the lawyers.  More specifically, Robert Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots said:

“In my opinion, we could get a deal done in the next week.  If business people sat down on both sides, and we tried to get the lawyers in the background. . . .  Get lawyers away from table.  Lawyers are deal breakers, not deal makers.”

As a lawyer, I will acknowledge I biased on this issue and I have to admit, Mr. Kraft’s statement tweaked me a little bit.  Frankly, I think he is way off base.  And, I suspect, given many people’s opinion of lawyers, I think there will be more people on his side than mine, but oh well.  In any event, my thoughts:

First, the client is always the boss in a negotiation.  If a client wants to make a deal, the client can make the deal.  A lawyer’s primary job is to inform the client and advise accordingly, so that the client knows the ramifications of his/her actions.  The lawyer can negotiate on the client’s behalf… or the client can negotiate on his/her own.  But at all times, the client is the decision maker on substantive issues.  Consequently, Mr. Kraft, and the other owners can simply start negotiating on there own… or even agree to what the players want.

Second, if the lawyers are getting in the way of a negotiation, they are terrible lawyers.  A lawyer is required to put their client’s interests first… not their own egos.  So, if the lawyers are getting in the way… they should be fired.  Again, the client is the decision maker.

Third, we really need to ask ourselves, are the lawyers really the problem here… or is the owners and the players.  Here we have billionaires and millionaires trying to get richer.  The owners and the players are arguing over how money will be divided , who will pay for building new stadiums and the number of games they will play in a season, as well as countless other items.  Furthermore, it was not the lawyers who terminated the existing CBA, it was the owners, inclusive of Mr. Kraft.

Moreover, the team owners are not simpletons, who are easily taken advantage of by the slimy lawyer.  They are wealthy businessmen and women who know what they are doing.  Mr. Kraft, for example, is the CEO of the Kraft Group and sits on the Board of Directors for Viacom and the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. Therefore, I don’t think lawyers took advantage of him and the other owners and are preventing an agreement… rather, it appears to be the owners and the players preventing an agreement.

Finally, after giving more thought to it, I cannot help but think that Mr. Kraft was trying to tweak his adversary in the negotiation.  DeMaurice Smith is the Executive Director of the NFL Players Association and happens to be a former trial lawyer.  Mr. Smith is the only primary negotiator who happens to be a lawyer.  Roger Goodell, the Commissioner of the NFL and Jeff Pash, the primary negotiator on behalf of the team owners are not lawyers.  So, apparently, this negotiation would go much smoother if the person the players hired to represent their interests in these negotiations was not allowed in the negotiating room.  That sounds fair.  Thirty-two wealthy, educated and sophisticated businessmen versus 1,700 (or so) players who primarily went to college only to play football.

In any event, I think Mr. Kraft’s statement is ridiculous and wrong.  At the same time, I believe that many people probably agree with him.  I understand that people want to go see their lawyer as much as they want to go see the dentist (my dentist has a similar phrase… he says that people want to see their dentist as much as they want to see their lawyer).  But hey, we aren’t that bad.

If you are interested Mike Florio has a post on Mr. Kraft’s statement as well, which you can read here.

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