It’s been less than a decade since Christopher Deubert graduated with a joint J.D./M.B.A. degree from Fordham University School of Law and Graduate School of Business. Yet in those nine years, the current General Counsel for D.C. United has gained more perspective than some sports lawyers accrue in a lifetime.
Prior to joining D.C. United last winter, Deubert worked as an associate for 18 months at Berg & Androphy, where he performed all tasks necessary for litigation, including document review, legal research, taking and defending depositions, and drafting of pleadings, memoranda of law and other documents. His practice areas included commercial, intellectual property, securities, and labor and employment litigation as well as sports law.
From May 2014 to May 2017, he was the Senior Law and Ethics Associate for the Law and Ethics Initiative of the Football Players Health Study at Harvard University, a long-term research project designed to improve the health and wellbeing of current, former, and future NFL players.
Prior to that, he served as an associate at the law firm of Peter R. Ginsberg Law, LLC. There, he focused primarily on representing NFL players in league matters, including appeals for Commissioner Discipline, under the NFL’s Policy and Program on Substances of Abuse and under the NFL’s Policy on Anabolic Steroids and Related Substances (now known as the Policy on Performance-Enhancing Substances), and related litigation.
Deubert also regularly represented NFL players and agents in disputes under the NFLPA’s arbitration procedures. Other clients included a PGA TOUR member, an NBA player, an NCAA Division I student-athlete, and sports agents and agencies. He also helped prepare salary arbitration cases and conducted related research for an MLB club.
Given his quick rise in the general counsel ranks, we felt like he would be an interesting subject for an interview.
Question: What was your big break leading to becoming a sports lawyer?
Answer: I consider my big break to have been having Glenn Wong as my undergraduate professor at UMass, where I graduated with a B.S. in Sport Management in 2006. Glenn is a deservedly well-connected and well-thought of expert on sports law. He helped begin the development of my own expertise in the area and has been an invaluable guide ever since.
Q: What is the most challenging aspect of the job?
A: The constancy and consistency of various demands and interruptions is challenging. The practice of law often requires deep and extended thought, focus and concentration. The constant stream of emails, meetings and other communications can make it challenging to find the time needed to do the most important and substantive work.
Q: What is the most rewarding?
A: The most rewarding aspect of my job is to work with my younger colleagues and to lead the growth of a welcoming, intellectually curious and driven workplace.
Q: Has there been a guiding principle or two that have helped you build a successful sports law career?
A: Work ethic is an obvious one. But the most important principle for me is ethics. Maintaining your integrity and professionalism at all times is paramount to being a successful lawyer and earning the respect of your clients, colleagues, adversaries and others.
Q: What areas of law are you less inclined to rely on for an outside law firm and why?
A: Litigation. I was primarily a litigator in private practice and was involved in a variety of lawsuits and arbitrations, including many in the sports industry. I include arbitration clauses in all of our contracts. The majority of disputes we might have with a vendor or business partner are sufficiently simple in nature that I can handle those matters myself.
Q: What takes up most of your time these days and why?
A: I spend a considerable amount of time reviewing and editing contracts of all kinds: vendors, partnerships, broadcast-related, coaches, employees, construction and stadium-related contracts, etc. Other than that, with our new stadium (Audi Field), zoning and insurance are two areas that take up a lot more of my time than I anticipated.
Q: What advice would you give someone who wants to be a team GC?
A: Read our law review article: Christopher R. Deubert, Glenn M. Wong and Kevin Hansen, General Counsels in Sports: An Analysis of the Responsibilities, Demographics, and Qualifications, 6 ARIZ. ST. SPORTS & ENT. L.J. 229 (2017).
But I also regularly tell students and attorneys that a passion for sports is not enough – and largely irrelevant. You need a passion for the law and business of sports. And then you need to find a way to differentiate yourself from all of the other lawyers and law students who love sports, too.