Winston, Latham Again Lead Pack of Legal Billers for NFL Players

Winston & Strawn and Latham & Watkins received more than half of the money the National Football League Players Association paid to outside law firms in the past year, the union’s annual financial statement shows.

The two legal giants collectively received more than $2.5 million of the roughly $4 million paid to outside firms in the year ending Feb. 28, 2022, according to a disclosure filed May 27 with the Labor Department.

Other large firms incurring legal fees on behalf of the union during fiscal 2022 were Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher ($203,500); Dechert ($191,300); Duane Morris ($67,200); Linklaters ($44,300); Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton ($12,000); and Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr ($5,700).

The fees are were down more than 20% compared with the almost $5.2 million the union paid for legal services during its 2021 fiscal year and the $5.4 million it paid out in 2020.

The union secured a new collective bargaining agreement for NFL players in March 2020. This past March, the league agreed to suspend all restrictions related to the Covid-19 pandemic, which complicated the labor landscape.

A union spokesman declined to comment on the filing.

Winston, a longtime legal adviser to NFL players through its co-executive chairman, Jeffrey Kessler, was paid more than $2 million to advise on collective bargaining and other legal matters, the filing shows.

Latham, where the union’s current executive director DeMaurice Smith was once a litigation partner in Washington, received almost $485,400 for “professional services” and collective bargaining work.

Washington’s Groom Law Group was the second-highest legal biller behind Winston with nearly $704,500 for “professional services.” Groom Law has been another longtime outside counsel to the Washington-based union on collective bargaining, player benefits, and union administration matters.

The union’s legal roster included: Bethesda, Md.-based Bregman, Berbert, Schwartz & Gilday ($66,300); Philadelphia-based Willig, Williams & Davidson ($60,000); Washington’s Wilkes Artis ($57,700); Boston’s Hemenway & Barnes ($56,300); San Francisco’s Altshuler & Berson ($21,500); Washington’s Bernabei & Kabat ($20,000); Baltimore’s Offit Kurman ($8,000); and Detroit’s Kerr Russell ($5,500).

In-House Ranks

Smith, the union executive director, received nearly $3 million in total compensation during fiscal 2022. That was down from the more than $4.5 million he earned the prior year. The previous sum was inflated by an almost $1.8 million payment from a “deferred guarantor trust,” according to the Sports Business Journal.

Smith, prior to being named executive director of the union in 2009, was a partner at Latham and now-defunct Patton Boggs in Washington. Player representatives voted late last year to retain Smith for a final term as leader. He will reportedly assist with the process in finding his successor.

Ira Fishman, a managing director of the union who previously worked with Smith at Patton Boggs, was paid $908,600 over the last year. In March, Vice reported that Fishman was the subject of a workplace misconduct investigation by the union, for which he previously served as COO.

The union last year promoted former deputy managing director and special counsel Tuaranna “Teri” Smith—a former Latham associate—to be its first Black female COO. She was paid $732,700 in fiscal 2022.

Heather McPhee, another former lawyer at Latham and Patton Boggs, received nearly $467,000 in her role as an associate general counsel for the union. Fellow associate general counsel Nathaniel “Ned” Ehrlich and Christopher Fawal, a former Latham associate, were paid about $408,200 and $320,400, respectively.

Thomas DePaso, a former NFL linebacker who has been the union’s general counsel for the past decade, received roughly $882,000. Sean Sansiveri, general counsel and head of business affairs for NFL Players Inc., the union’s licensing and marketing arm, was paid about $508,600.

Other in-house lawyers on the union’s payroll were staff and public policy counsel Joe Briggs ($245,000); staff counsel Todd Flanagan ($232,400); senior business counsel Sophie Gage ($222,800); and corporate counsel Chelsey Antony ($124,700). Antony was hired last year from her role as a staff attorney for the private equity-backed owner of the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and NHL’s New Jersey Devils.

The Sports Business Journal reported Tuesday that for the first time ever, the union’s total assets broke the $1 billion mark during its most recent fiscal year.