Keker & Van Nest LLP partner Adam Lauridsen blends enthusiasm for sports with sophistication of sports law, tackling landmark cases involving Major League Baseball’s antitrust exemption, franchise relocations and First Amendment disputes, landing him a spot on Law360's list of top sports law attorneys under age 40.
Lauridsen, a credentialed sports blogger and passionate Golden State Warriors fan, finds that sports law is a magnet for a wide gamut of engaging topics. One of four sports lawyers on the 2016 Rising Stars list, Lauridsen, 37, battles in a legal arena that decides disputes over intellectual property, competition, free expression and tort matters — an array of “cross-cutting legal issues and fun subject areas."
“I’ve always enjoyed problem-solving in the real world,” said Lauridsen, a 2005 Harvard Law School graduate. “There’s an attraction to theoretical issues but also to resolving disputes in the real world.”
Lauridsen worked on a Keker team that successfully defended MLB, its commissioner and professional clubs from a class action that challenged the league’s antitrust exemption. The controversial exemption, which dates back to 1922 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Sherman Antitrust Act did not apply to MLB on grounds that baseball is not interstate commerce, was called into question by minor league player Sergio Miranda, who accused the league of colluding to eliminate competition.
Miranda specifically challenged a contractual provision known as the reserve clause, which locks minor league players into contracts for seven years and restricts their ability to negotiate with other teams. But U.S. District Judge Haywood S. Gilliam Jr. last September dismissed the suit, ruling that MLB’s antitrust exemption applies to the employment of minor league players.
“We have a century of Supreme Court precedents at our backs,” said Lauridsen, who wrote and argued the motion to dismiss. “It is a very good position to be in because the Supreme Court and appellate courts have looked at the issues and have decided [the exemption] exists.”
Lauridsen also successfully defended MLB’s antitrust exemption against a suit filed by San Jose, which sought to move the Oakland Athletics to the city by challenging the league’s franchise relocation rules. The city claimed MLB was engaging in anti-competitive conduct by blocking the move on grounds that San Jose is in geographic territory belonging to the San Francisco Giants.
But the Ninth Circuit in January 2015 dismissed San Jose’s case, affirming a lower court ruling that the league’s antitrust exemption extends to franchise relocation. The Supreme Court declined later that year to take up the case. Lauridsen said the rulings are important because they affirm that the business of baseball is not limited to what happens on the field, but includes a vast amount of construction and contractual activity outside the diamond.
“There are a lot of off-the-field activities that make baseball possible,” Lauridsen said.
Lauridsen is also representing Electronic Arts Inc. in a class action filed by retired NFL players who claim their likenesses used by EA in its popular Madden NFL video games violated their state law rights of publicity. The Ninth Circuit last year ruled that EA could not cite the First Amendment to escape the class action, which is still pending, though the Supreme Court in January refused to consider the constitutional questions.
Lauridsen, who previously helped EA reach a settlement in a case involving the likeness of student athletes, says the line dividing one’s First Amendment rights to incorporate elements of reality into an expressive work versus an individual rights’ of publicity is far from settled. He said he would not be surprised if such a dispute eventually finds its way to the high court.
“We definitely haven't seen the last of these cases,” Lauridsen said. “It is an ongoing debate as to where that line is going to fall.”
Handling so many sports-related cases with far-reaching ramifications is rigorous, demanding work, but Lauridsen's enthusiasm doesn’t wane thanks to his zeal for the subject matter. While his legal job keeps his analytical mind sharp, his blogging at Fast Break, a Golden State Warriors fan blog maintained by the San Jose Mercury News, frees his creative mind.
Noting that his passions for the law and sports reinforce each another, Lauridsen urges other young attorneys to connect their innate talents with exciting endeavors.
“Do something you can enjoy,” Lauridsen said. “The law can be the long and hard job but it doesn't have to be. If you find a group of people you enjoy working with, and subject matter you enjoy, it can be incredibly rewarding.”