GC Forum – Anastasia Danias (National Football League)

by Amy Lemel on June 30, 2015

Danias, AnastasiaOver the past year, the National Football League has seen as much legal action off the field as it has produced football action on the field, which is quite a bit.  Anastasia Danias, Senior Vice President and Chief Litigation Officer for the NFL, is the quarterback of the league’s legal team, playing defense like a middle linebacker and leading the offensive charge like a Brady or Manning, depending on what the situation requires. 

Ms. Danias has been involved with a wide range of now-familiar, high-profile NFL matters including mass tort litigation relating to retired player concussions, intellectual property and anti-trust issues. She (yes, the NFL’s CLO is a woman) was named to Sports Business Journal’s “2012 40 Under 40” for being among “the best young talent in sports business.”   

Anastasia took time out from her busy schedule to share some of her thoughts about how law firms and legal service providers can be of most value to their corporate clients.

How have you seen the role of Senior Inside Counsel change in the last few years?

A critical role of in-house counsel has always been to anticipate risk. I think those risks and the way companies evaluate them have evolved over the past few years with the explosive growth of technology, social media and the new ways that companies can connect with their customers.  Those factors and the exponential growth of legal costs create a deeper need for in-house lawyers to be much more immersed in their company’s strategic planning process to identify and manage risk early.

In your role, what two or three issues keep you and your member GCs up at night?  And how can your law firms help?

The issues that are most important to me are being able to anticipate and manage risk and to provide realistic advice and analysis to our core executive team.   We rely on our outside counsel to provide reliable case assessments.  Having outside counsel overpromise and under deliver hurts their and the in-house law department’s credibility and impairs the company’s ability to appropriately deal with the risks.

How have you addressed concerns of C-Suite or the Board regarding the level of outside legal fees?

The rising cost of legal fees has been an area of focus.  There are three ways that we have tried to address those concerns.  First, by ensuring that we are able to demonstrate that we have received competitive pricing on fees, whether through deep rate discounts or alternative billing structures for certain matters or projects.  We look for firms with expertise in certain practice areas to ensure that we are getting the best advice in the most efficient way.  Second, we have brought experienced lawyers on staff, so that tasks that were at one time outsourced to law firms are now handled internally.  And third, by providing clear reporting on legal spends and how those costs directly relate to results.

How do you like to receive content and what type of content do you believe is most in demand from law firms?

As a general matter, there is a delicate balance between being overloaded with detail and receiving information that is key to decision-making.  While I appreciate receiving email communications that contain precise case summaries, I like to supplement those with regular status calls that provide better opportunities for in-depth discussion.

What is most important when retaining a law firm for a new engagement or retention, for that matter?

It’s important to match the law firm’s expertise, geographic location, size and rates to the matter for which we are retaining them.  There are instances when a small boutique firm will be a better fit than a major law firm, even though both may have equal experience and expertise in a certain discipline. 

You have vast experience in litigation.  Do you have a story that you would like to share about working with opposing counsel?

A few years ago I was involved in a mediation that was very contentious.  Throughout the day opposing counsel did a lot of posturing.  After several hours of tense and, often-time, heated negotiations, opposing counsel staged his dramatic, final exit.   Refusing to compromise on his client’s position, he pushed his chair back, stood up from the table in defiance, and without saying a word stormed out of the room, thus abruptly ending the mediation.  A few minutes later, however, we heard a soft knock on the door.  In walks opposing counsel, who admits sheepishly that he had to come back because he had left his phone charger in the room.  Counsel’s faux pas broke the tension and everyone, including opposing counsel, had a good laugh.  Afterwards, negotiations unexpectedly resumed and the parties ended up reaching a favorable resolution for all that evening.   

How can law firms and legal service providers work best with the NFL?

I think the key is for law firms to have a deep understanding of our business, which cuts across several disciplines – league governance, media, consumer products, sponsorship, labor and employment – and our company priorities and to provide advice and solutions that are consistent with them.   We value outside counsel who are well-prepared, who anticipate challenges and who offer real-world, practical solutions.

How have legal marketing and communications changed since you entered the legal profession?

I get a lot more LinkedIn requests.  I think the most significant change is the way that law firm pitches more often come in the form of webinars and email alerts over in-person pitches and introductions.  While technologically driven meetings are convenient, there is a tangible benefit to sitting across the table from counsel and speaking face to face.

Would you like to tell us about your experience before joining the NFL?

I was an associate at Hughes Hubbard and Reed, where I worked on litigation and intellectual property matters.

What would you like us to know about you personally?

I am fortunate to work in an environment that brings together cutting edge media and business initiatives with challenging and interesting legal issues.

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