For Meyer, time is finally right to work directly for a union
Meyer, a partner at international law firm Weil, has served as outside counsel for major sports unions, including the National Basketball Players Association, the NHL Players’ Association and the NFL Players Association, for the last 30 years.
“I always thought — in the back of my mind — when there came a time that I could afford it, and if the right opportunity arose, I’d like to go and work directly for one of the unions,” Meyer said.
At Weil, Meyer had been an equity partner since 1994, and it’s no secret that partners in large firms make more money than union attorneys. “I am taking a huge pay cut,” Meyer said. But the move is really not about the money.
“I just turned 55, and I was starting to think about how I wanted to finish my career,” Meyer said. “And I really do care about the rights of professional athletes — it’s something I have been dealing with, litigating my whole career. And, frankly, it seems like it would be fun.”
Meyer was hired at Weil out of law school after working there as a summer associate. He’s a litigator, not a labor lawyer, and didn’t plan on a career in sports law. But he ended up working on some of the biggest cases in sports on the players’ side, with partner Jim Quinn and former partner Jeffrey Kessler, who is now at Winston & Strawn. Those cases included antitrust litigation Bridgeman v. NBA. Meyer was the chief draftsman of the settlement of that case, which is credited with bringing true free agency to the NBA.
“I really cut my teeth working for” founding NBPA Executive Director Larry Fleisher and later for former NBPA Executive Director Charlie Grantham, Meyer said.
Meyer said he has known NHLPA Executive Director Don Fehr for many years, back to when Fehr led the MLB Players Association, and they began discussing a position at the hockey union about two months ago. But Meyer declined to say how exactly those discussions came about.
“Bruce has an extraordinary history of representing professional athletes in complicated matters, so he will be a big help in a number of capacities at the NHLPA,” Fehr said.
Meyer has been acting as outside counsel for the NHLPA for several years on issues including collective bargaining and arbitrations with the NHL over salary cap calculations. He is the union’s lead attorney in the case brought by the NHL to overturn an arbitrator’s decision reducing the suspension of Calgary Flames defenseman Dennis Wideman.
The case is similar in some ways to the Deflategate lawsuit that challenged Tom Brady’s four-game suspension. But the cases are different in many ways, including that in the hockey case, the union is trying to enforce the decision of a neutral arbitrator, while the NFL Players Association was trying to overturn the decision of Commissioner Roger Goodell.
Meyer declined to comment on the merits of the case, other than to say he was confident the NHLPA will prevail.
He starts his new job later this month. “I’m excited,” Meyer said. Until now, “I have had one job.”