By Robert Strauss
From the Penn Law Journal Summer 2013 issue.
The National Hockey League lockout of 2012-13, which lasted a looooo-ng 113 days, eventually cutting the regular season to 48 games, was a stressful time for Julie Grand. As senior vice president and deputy general counsel of the NHL it is her job to stay up on the minutia and major developments of the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the league and its players. In effect, she is the dotter of the I’s and the crosser of the T’s.
“The agreement was my main priority for the last year-and-a-half. It really took up 90 percent of my time,” says Grand, 43. “In collective bargaining, when it seems like nothing is happening to the outside world, there is always work being done behind the scenes. It may not be sitting across the table and negotiating, like maybe it seems it should, but there is a lot of research, a lot of strategizing. It is a full-time job.”
Grand grew up in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. “I rooted sort of generally for the Washington teams – Redskins, Capitols – but it was not a big passion. But my father was a patent lawyer, so I was always at least somewhat interested in going into law,” she says.
She came to Penn Law directly from the University of Michigan, where she received a degree in economics, and upon graduation from Penn Law started a job in the antitrust section at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in New York. As a young associate, while she mostly worked on mergers and acquisitions, she also went off here and there to do whatever was necessary for the large firm. Since Skadden, Arps represented several sports leagues, particularly on antitrust matters, the research at times fell to her.
There was a National Basketball Association collective bargaining agreement and some National Football League litigation and some NHL work as well. She participated in a trial, for instance, that sealed the Los Angeles Rams’ move to St. Louis.
One of her bosses at Skadden, Arps – William Daly III – now the deputy commissioner of the NHL, left in 1997 to become the league’s general counsel, and two years later asked Grand to join his small staff.
“It just seemed like a move that would be fun. I knew and respected Bill and it seemed like a unique opportunity. It has turned out wonderfully,” says Grand.
Part of her job, she says, is to mitigate problems, to help, proverbially, the ship to run smoothly. Because her legal division of the NHL is so small – five attorneys – she deals in most everything. Much of her emphasis since the ending of the lockout will be with player arbitrations and, particularly, safety issues. Though, Grand says, the NHL has been trying to make player safety a priority for the last 15 years concussions have become a major issue of late.
“We were the first sports league to come up with a concussion protocol,” she says. “We now analyze all of them on video. It is really important to us, in the context of the game, to have that be a priority. It has been getting more media attention. It is really a place where players and the league can work collaboratively.”
Grand says that labor peace should let her concentrate more on safety and other day-to-day issues. Though it took an arduous path, the new 10-year-agreement - with a possible opt-out after eight – is quite long for sports leagues these days, and that is something she is pleased about.
“What is great about my job – and keeps me on my toes – is that I come into the office every day thinking I am going to work on a designated project and then something else comes up,” she says. “It keeps it fresh and exciting. We are always getting calls from clubs asking for advice. It could be safety. It could be contracts. It could be a tampering question or a trade call. It never gets boring.”
Grand says she does not have a rooting interest in any one team, but clearly is a hockey fan. “I root for good games,” she says. Living in Westchester County north of Manhattan with her husband and three daughters, she naturally catches games in the three nearby venues where the Rangers, Islanders and Devils play, but also likes going to league meetings in other cities.
Grand acknowledges that the law permeates sports more than ever. Her mentor, Daly, the deputy NHL commissioner, is a lawyer, as is the commissioner, Gary Bettman.
“There are a lot of details to deal with in sports, and lawyers are good at that,” she says. “You always hope you won’t have disputes, but they are inevitable. I am glad I have been well-prepared to handle them.”
Robert Strauss, formerly a reporter for Sports Illustrated and The Philadelphia Daily News, is a freelance writer whose works appear in The New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times. He is the author of Daddy’s Little Goalie, a memoir about being the father of girl athletes.