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HomeInterviewsEndeavor’s deputy GC wears three hats in his dream job(s)

Endeavor’s deputy GC wears three hats in his dream job(s)

Endeavor’s deputy GC wears three hats in his dream job(s)

Riche McKnight has, for an in-house lawyer, a dream job. Perhaps we should say “jobs.” He’s the deputy general counsel of the colossal entertainment agency Endeavor. And he’s the general counsel of one of its divisions, the martial arts extravaganza, Ultimate Fighting Championship. As if that weren’t enough, McKnight is the global litigation chief for Endeavor, which means battling it out over trademarks and other facets of intellectual property legal practice.

Endeavor, in case you haven’t heard of it, is a fast-growing company whose origins lie in the William Morris Agency (WMA). Back in the day, WMA represented such artists as Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley. Through organic growth and acquisitions, it now is one of the largest private entertainment agencies. Its 160 in-house lawyers keep track of sponsorships, contests, movie rights, and the like. MAG spoke to McKnight right before an abandoned IPO. Endeavor and UFC are his first in-house jobs. McKnight couldn’t speak about the IPO, but we had a long conversation about what it’s like to be in-house and have to communicate and advocate in a large organization with thousands of moving parts.

Endeavor now is a huge company that started out as a talent agency. How many lawyers are there in the legal department?

We have about 160 across Endeavor. That’s representative of at least two-times growth for the time I’ve been here, almost five years. And they range from media licensing to some that just do music, some that work for the talent agency, some on the corporate side and do M&A and transactional work, some that do litigation.

Is it horizontally organized, or by division?

It’s a combination. The lion’s share of lawyers work within business lines. Lawyers like myself service the company as a whole. So one of my jobs, as co-head of litigation, I do for the whole company. Same thing is true of our chief legal officer, our chief compliance officer, and a number of other lawyers.

Do you hire out of law school or firms, or people with previous in-house experience?

We require experience. When you practice like we do, we’re looking for efficiency, not just in cost but in time. We’re trying to do a thousand things at once. You have to come to the table so you can come up to doing things quickly, without losing the excellence of outcomes. It would be unfair for me to ask a lawyer straight out of law school to perform on that level. Unlike law firms, we can’t hire 10 lawyers and train them for three or four years.

It would be unfair for me to ask a lawyer straight out of law school to perform on that level. Unlike law firms, we can’t hire 10 lawyers and train them for three or four years.

Do you think that in-house lawyers need to have an affinity for the company they work for and what its mission is?

I don’t think it’s a requirement. But if you have it, you’re operating on a higher level.

Do you think that you need a certain skill set to be an in-house lawyer?

It’s hard to answer that generically because every department, every company is different. I’d say our skills are generically valuable. You need to understand the concepts of partnership and teamwork. When I was in a firm the legal opinion was the end of the journey. In-house, it’s just the beginning. So I’ve got to speak to people on my end, I’ve got to speak to the CFO, the CEO and then to the head of the business. I might have to speak to someone in risk management, I might have to speak to the clients. And to all those perspectives you come up with an answer. One of the really important qualities to have besides communication is building consensus. I have to do that all the time.

I think you have to be able to be open to having an answer you’d reach and another person reach and that’s okay. When you’re giving advice to your clients, you assume they’re just going to do it, right? But in-house a lot of what I do is risk assessment. And if there is a high probability of being successful at X, Y, and Z, they’re still going to do it. Being an in-house lawyer, you have to let go of this concept of having the only correct answer. Lawyers, I think, are imprisoned by this notion of having to be right all the time. And your job is to give an honest risk assessment and even a recommendation. But if someone decides to go the other way, once you’ve fulfilled your job of communicating the risk, your job is done.

Being an in-house lawyer, you have to let go of this concept of having the only correct answer.

You wear different hats. Is your day reactive or do you dedicate certain times to certain tasks?

I don’t reserve certain times of the day. My day is unpredictable. The most that I can do is give more time when it’s warranted to certain tasks. I try to be proactive. I have a list in my mind, to take 100 things and take which 20 are urgent. Something that’s urgent isn’t always important. And something important isn’t always urgent.

Do you use outside firms much?

We do. We use them for various reasons. We try to be efficient. Some in-house counsel call law firms and just pass the matter off to the firm. And that’s it, they’re just facilitating communications between the company and the firm. We do it differently. In litigation, I’d say in 85 percent of our cases, all but the mega ones, where we need to use counsel in the traditional way, I’m making all the strategic decisions from start to finish.

I will get a problem, understand where the business is trying to go. I will usually have a legal pathway of how to get there. And I will call counsel maybe to double check, to make sure certain theories I have apply in certain states. In our international cases, I may be a little more dependent on them to make sure certain instincts that I have, to make sure that what I know works in the US works overseas. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t.

But the point is, I’m the one doing that, I own the responsibility, I’m going to own the outcome. That is the way our business thinks and the way our general counsel thinks. So yes, we use outside counsel. We choose them wisely, we develop relationships with a few, as opposed to trying to develop relationships with a ton. I know what they’re capable of, and it usually leads to some really really good efficiencies.

Do you have a formal panel?

It’s not formalized. We have a handful to a dozen who have, I’d say, most favored nation status, just based on relationships that either existed before we got here, or brought with us.

What is the biggest issue or worry facing the in-house bar these days?

The biggest challenge is to practice in a courageous fashion. In some companies, lawyers are known as the “no” people. So businesspeople don’t want to go to lawyers if they’re going to tell them no. And in other companies, you have the opposite problem, where lawyers are trying to be so accommodating to the business that they’re not serving the gatekeeping function. Saying no when they need to.

I think the biggest problem is lawyers getting comfortable being honest, and not trying to figure out how the other person is going to take it. Just be honest.

I think the biggest problem is lawyers getting comfortable being honest, and not trying to figure out how the other person is going to take it. Just be honest.

Are you into mixed martial arts, and do you go to the matches?

I do go. Before the Endeavor acquisition, I started to get to know more faces. I do consider myself in pretty good shape as a corporate lawyer. But I don’t do martial arts. I know where that leads, for me at least, and that is not a good place.

 

 

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