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ESPN Veteran Joins DLA Piper

Feb. 26, 2016, 1:38 PM

DLA Piper has added ESPN’s longtime top legal officer to its ranks, bolstering the firm’s sports media and entertainment practice.

David Pahl, who spent more than 20 years as ESPN’s top legal officer and head of the legal department, will join DLA Piper’s media, sport and entertainment practice in early March as senior counsel. He’ll spend a couple days a week working in the firm’s New York office, the rest working from his home in Connecticut or traveling — possibly internationally — as he gets to know new clients.

“I’m only 62 and in fairly decent health,” said Pahl, “I have a few more years of work that someone can shoehorn out of me.”

Pahl worked with a number of DLA Piper attorneys while at ESPN — such as Peter C. White and Frank W. Ryan — and through conversations over the years he decided his goals seemed to “mesh” with the firm, he said.

Ryan, a DLA partner and intellectual property litigator in the firm’s New York office, told Big Law Business that Pahl is well-positioned to respond to the needs of international clients in the sports media business.

“The business of sports is maturing rapidly outside of the U.S.,” Ryan said, and international clients are grappling with issues surrounding digital delivery of content, how it’s bought and sold, how it’s valued, and how best to protect it.

Pahl grew up with the industry and is “probably one of the most knowledgeable lawyers out there” in terms of what is going on in the sports industry, Ryan said. “He brings a great deal to the table for us.”

While at ESPN, Pahl was working during a period of massive changes in the sports industry, overseeing hundreds of negotiations, billions of dollars worth of deals, and sweeping changes in how creative content is defined, licensed, and managed, wrote Ed Durso, ESPN’s executive vice president of administration, in a tribute blog post to Pahl upon his retirement.

Over the years, he remembers talking to other lawyers who worked in private practice who longed for a job like his, musing that it would be wonderful to work for just one client.

“Well, I worked for a single client for 28 years and it was a great run,” said Pahl, who retired from ESPN in January.

It took a couple of years to wrap up some major projects — renewals with major operators, concluding agreements with the NBA and others — before Pahl felt like the company and the legal department were well-positioned, he said.

“And frankly, there was another generation of attorneys to whom the baton needed to be turned over,” he said. “The time was just right.”

And although Pahl is now formally retired — and has been collecting a pension from the Walt Disney Company — he says he never planned “to go into hibernation.”

As far as working at DLA Piper, Pahl says he’s “excited” and “intrigued” with the opportunity, and is “looking forward to assisting a wider array of clients in a wider array of situations.”