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Game 2: Warriors and Cavs GCs on Legal Diversity

June 8, 2016, 10:18 PM

The Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers play Game 3 of NBA Finals in Cleveland on Wednesday night: down two games to zero in the best-of-seven series, and with star power forward Kevin Love out with a concussion, the Cavs face an uphill battle to stay alive.

But headed into “Game 2" of our NBA GC Series it’s all square at 1-1.

Earlier this week, we interviewed Cavs GC Jason Hillman and Warriors GC David Kelly about a grab bag of topics. We’re publishing the interviews this week in three parts. (Spoiler alert: the series ends in a glorious 3-3 tie.)

On Tuesday, the two talked about the pressure of protecting high-profile organizations, the pitfalls of big data, and what they’re looking for in a law firm.

Among the highlights this time: the pair’s “keys to victory” in the battle for diversity and inclusion in the legal industry, a battle some think the industry may be losing .

Kelly, a Katten Muchin Rosenman alum who’s been the Warriors’ general counsel since 2012, echoed Merck GC Michael Holston, who said in a recent interview the key is being willing to make a bet on someone.

“The only reason I’m where I am is because a partner at Katten, Jerry Penner, reached out to me and gave me an opportunity to work on matters that he had,” Kelly said.

Penner, who served as outside counsel for the Chicago White Sox and the Chicago Bulls , was one of the founding partners at Katten.

“He took the first step to me, to reach out to me and give me an opportunity, and when I got the opportunity I tried to run with it. But if he didn’t do that I wouldn’t be where I am,” Kelly added.

In addition to diversity, Hillman and Kelly sounded off on their relationships with other league GCs, their roles in player personnel decisions, and their favorite players on their respective teams (aside from Steph and LeBron, of course).

Below is an edited transcript of “Game 2" of the interviews.

Big Law Business: Do you keep up with other NBA GCs? Any you’re particularly close with?

Hillman: I’m really fortunate in that my NBA colleagues, at the GC level, have become some of my closest friends. Believe it or not, this is my 11th year. I have a buddy in Indianapolis, Frank Pulice, who’s their VP and general counsel. We were rookies in 2005, and now we look around the room, and I think we’re in the top third of tenured folks at the GC level, and we’re scratching our heads trying to figure out how that happened. We’re very close.

We have the ability, not only with our NBA colleagues, but with our pro sports teams colleagues in general, to pick up the phone and say, “Hey, how’d you handle this issue?” or “I know you guys dealt with this a couple of years ago — anything you could shed some light on?” Even though we compete on the floor, in a lot of respects we’re very collegial off of it. I enjoyed spending some time with David Kelly out in Oakland prior to Game 1.

Kelly: Not that often. Jason [Hillman] is probably the one I talk to the most, Jason and Nicole [Duckett Fricke], who’s GC for the Clippers, and Jim Perzik when he was GC of the Lakers. When I first started Jim reached out to me to welcome me to the league and to offer to be a bit of a mentor. I would see all the GCs once a year at the annual meetings, but we’re not having the annual meeting this year, so I probably won’t see everyone.

I actually just saw Jason at the game. Before Game 1 we met up on the concourse. He was heading down to one of the clubs to eat with some of the executives and the guests. I had my son with me, introduced him to my son, and we just chatted a bit.

Big Law Business: What are the keys to improving diversity and inclusion in the legal industry?

Hillman: It’s crucial. I’ve mentioned the Sports Lawyers Association . I’m proud to say that when you go to a conference like that, and you look around the room, you can’t help but feel like there’s progress being made. The biggest threat we would have is to become complacent in that regard. I look at the NBA league office, for example, on the legal side, and I think it’s a model of diversity. If I could point to an office and say they do it right, I’d say my colleagues at the league level.

Kelly: Going out of your comfort zone sometimes to give someone an opportunity and give someone a chance. The only reason I’m where I am is because a partner at Katten, Jerry Penner, reached out to me and gave me an opportunity to work on matters that he had. He represented Bulls and the White Sox. He took the first step to me, to reach out to me and give me an opportunity, and when I got the opportunity I tried to run with it. But if he didn’t do that I wouldn’t be where I am.

No matter where your client base is, sometimes you should step out and give an opportunity to somebody who maybe doesn’t look like you. Whether that’s racial, or gender-related, it’s about stepping out and giving an opportunity to someone who doesn’t look like you or the people in the rooms you’re in.

Big Law Business: Are you involved in player contract negotiations or trade deals?

Hillman: I’ve played an increasing role in last two years in supporting our basketball ops folks. It’s an interest level of mine. We’ve got people that do this on a primary basis, particularly under [GM David Griffin], he has allowed me to have the opportunity to be a voice in that room — a small voice, but it’s a great team that they have. They have graciously allowed me to play a role there. It’s another mind. I think our approach is: the more input the better. It’s a team that works incredibly well, and I’ve been really happy to be a very small part of that on an increasing basis the last couple of years.

Kelly: I manage the salary cap, and help interpret the CBA, so it’s trying to be abreast and aware of what Bob [Myers] and Travis [Schlenk] and Kirk [Lacob] and Joe [Lacob] are thinking about doing, and maybe anticipating some of the things they might want to do, and figuring out ways within the salary cap and the CBA for us to do it. That’s one of the most enjoyable parts of the job. Everyone who works in sports does it because they love the actual sport. That’s as close as I get to it, but it’s interesting.

Big Law Business: Aside from Lebron James and Steph Curry, who are your favorite players on your respective teams?

Hillman: I’m going to answer on behalf of my 10-year old daughter, who is obsessed with Iman Shumpert. I’m not sure if it’s the hair or if it’s another reason, but she’s going to be a 5th grader next year, and has to take a musical instrument for band. She’s gonna play the trumpet. She has now nicknamed her trumpet “the Shumpet.”

Kelly: I really like watching Andre [Iguodala] and Shaun [Livingston], because they see the court, they make the right pass, they’re smooth. We have intelligent players across the board, but I like watching them orchestrate and run the show.