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Alumni Spotlight: Max Kosman

May 7, 2024

Alumnus Max Kosman, Vice President and General Counsel, Cleveland Guardians, practiced in the firm's Litigation Department from 2011 to 2020.

Paul, Weiss: Tell us about your professional experience. What led you to go in-house?

Max Kosman: My dad, who is from outside of Cleveland, is a die-hard Guardians fan and left me with little choice but to be the same, so it was really the opportunity with the Guardians, specifically, that brought me in-house. The chance to be one of the club’s lawyers felt surreal and impossible not to pursue.

I’d first heard about a potential legal opening with the club in 2016 from an acquaintance who knew about my lifelong fandom and worked in the Guardians’ front office. We stayed in occasional touch, and when the job was posted three years later, he dropped me a note.

I loved Paul, Weiss and wasn’t actively looking to leave. The more I learned about the role during the interview process, though, the more I was drawn to it. They were looking for someone who could serve as a general advisor, not just on legal issues but on broader strategic ones, too. And the legal issues themselves were interesting and diverse. Our legal team is small—I was our second hire—and we touch just about everything the organization does. Coming from Paul, Weiss where my practice as a litigator was fairly specialized, the breadth of the job was daunting but also really appealing.

PW: How has your role evolved since you first joined the Guardians in 2020? What does an average day look like now?

Max Kosman: I started with the Guardians on March 6, 2020 and less than a week later, the 2020 Major League Baseball season was suspended. The club had built these great onboarding plans to help integrate me into the organization, but we ended up setting those aside as we triaged all sorts of unanticipated crises. In the end, being thrown into this deep end proved to be ideal training in many respects.

I do think that my role now is significantly broader than it was in 2020. The COVID experience helped (and required) me to learn quickly. But like any area of specialization, the club counsel role exists within a unique ecosystem. There were all sorts of rules and arrangements that I didn’t have the context for—things like the club’s relationship with Major League Baseball; how we’re impacted by MLB’s Collective Bargaining Agreement; the club’s ballpark lease, which informs so much of how we operate; how our games are broadcast; and the club’s role in the community. Given all that, I think I was most effective initially in tackling narrower, more isolated problems. Now, after nearly four years with the club, I do still spend a good amount of time daily working through the sorts of operational agreements and decisions that are necessary to keep the organization running—the blocking and tackling—but I’m much more involved in general organizational leadership and helping to think through and guide broader tactical decisions.

PW: Who were some mentors who inspired you? How have they impacted your work and relationships today?

Max Kosman: So many aspects of my career feel fortuitous, and I reflect all the time on how lucky I’ve been to work with such great people.

At Paul, Weiss I had too many mentors to list, but Jessica Carey is someone I’m particularly indebted to and since I moved in-house, my appreciation for her influence on my career has only grown. Her poise and confidence while navigating many intense challenges was so evidently reassuring to the clients who were relying on her to solve some of their biggest problems. One of the things I love about my role now is that I’m one of the first calls people make when they have hard problems to solve. I always try to remember—channeling Jessica—that these people are placing their trust in me and that how I engage can be really impactful. 

The person who hired me, and my current boss, Joe Znidarsic, is another influential mentor. Joe has guided my transition from being at a firm to being a general counsel and has shaped the way I think about the role legal plays in our organization considerably. When you’re juggling lots of things, it is easy to fall into the trap of being narrow-minded: just tackling the problem in front of you and moving on. I’ve learned from Joe to take pause, slow down and ensure the guidance we’re giving is not just expedient, but right. I think that has helped me build relationships in the organization because it’s a distinct value-add that legal can provide. We have a bird’s-eye view into lots of areas in the organization that other people—even leaders of departments—might lack.

PW: How has your legal experience at Paul, Weiss prepared you for your current role as Vice President, General Counsel?

Max Kosman: The relentless client-first focus on driving good outcomes—the idea that anything is possible—is something that was ingrained in me at Paul, Weiss and something I try to carry with me in my current role. I truly enjoy trying to find solutions when my initial reaction is that what’s being suggested poses risks or seems difficult to execute. Being able to say: “I understand what you’re trying to achieve; we can’t do it exactly as you’ve suggested, but what if we went at it this way” turns legal advice into a collaborative process and makes people more likely to want to engage the legal department in the future. That all starts with the belief I developed at Paul, Weiss that saying “we can’t do that” is a last resort. 

I think it’s worth mentioning too how being a Paul, Weiss litigator, specifically, has helped me. I know there’s a general belief that it is hard as a litigator to transition in-house, particularly into generalist roles like mine. It was one of my biggest concerns when I applied and interviewed for my job. Joe [Znidarsic] told me that he initially had similar misgivings, until he consulted with a litigator friend of his. The friend told Joe that transactional skills can be developed, but that litigators bring a valuable perspective: the ability to look around corners and anticipate where the problems might lie. I agree with that. I think about a case I worked on at Paul, Weiss with Bob Atkins, Jacqui Rubin and Bill Michael. They made calculated decisions during discovery that ultimately dictated the outcome on appeal seven years later. That wasn’t an accident, but instead the result of really intentional choices. It goes back to the idea of taking the long view and thinking about the implications that every single decision has.

Finally, I learned at Paul, Weiss the importance of practicing law with integrity. We all make mistakes or find bad facts or identify issues that will be uncomfortable to raise late in a negotiation. The right answer is to confront those problems transparently and head-on. We’ve all worked with counterparties who didn’t do that and know that the consequence is a loss of trust. I’m fortunate that I was trained to do the right thing, even (or especially) when it is also the hard thing.

PW: What are some of the most unique or interesting legal matters you have encountered working for an MLB team?

Max Kosman: I don’t know if I joined the Guardians at an especially opportune time or if things are always this interesting, but I’ve been lucky to work on a bunch of really cool things.

As I mentioned, I started just before COVID. We played the entire 2020 season without fans. At the beginning of 2021, there was no longer a prohibition on fan attendance at pro sporting events, but limits were still in place. Helping to determine how to comply with the various state and local regulations on social distancing and how to safely get fans into the ballpark in some capacity was a fun and challenging puzzle.

Then I spent much of 2021 working with brand and strategy teams on changing the team’s name. The club had been known as the Indians for over 100 years, so the change was a once-in-a-lifetime project. The legal aspects of doing that overhaul were fascinating. Beyond just the legal issues, I particularly enjoyed being embedded with an interdisciplinary team. The legal, aesthetic, branding, marketing and communications components were so intertwined that we were in constant contact. It was an opportunity to develop significant relationships and to understand how people across the organization think about solving problems. I think the benefits of that are enduring.

Finally, we broke ground this off-season on the biggest renovation of our ballpark, Progressive Field, since it opened in 1994. I had worked on a few construction matters from a litigation standpoint when I was at Paul, Weiss, but overseeing the legal components of a massive renovation from the hiring of architects right through the building’s actual transformation is a completely different experience. Construction law is a super specialized space, but this project materially impacts so many aspects of our business and baseball operations that as general counsel I have to be highly involved. There is something gratifying, too, about seeing tangible results. I have toured the ballpark several times this off-season (in full protective gear, of course—I won’t be sharing pictures), and I am really excited for our fans to experience the changes we are making.

Those three matters are just the tip of the iceberg. We negotiated and executed a new lease. We navigated a short lockout at the start of the 2022 season. I’ve worked with our baseball operations department in preparing for potential player arbitration. As interesting as the day-to-day is, I’ve loved having an array of big projects that have kept me busy.

PW: What do you enjoy most about getting to work in the legal department of a professional sports team? 

Max Kosman: As you can probably tell from my last answer, I like being in the middle of everything. A revelation that I know lots of team counsel experience is that sports franchises operate like small businesses. Because teams have such a prominent presence, that concept is hard to grasp from the outside. There are lots of benefits to that structure, though. The other organizational leaders and I are very close. As I’ve mentioned a few times, I don’t feel like I’m cabined to engaging on strictly “legal problems.” I’m part of a highly creative, collaborative and responsive team that is working together to solve whatever we are facing organizationally.

PW: What advice would you give to junior attorneys interested in sports law or working in-house for a sports franchise?

Max Kosman: I’d encourage them to take advantage of every opportunity to work on matters that are sports-related. I did a very bad job of this when I was at Paul, Weiss. I remember being asked in my second or third year if I could help on an internal investigation for a sports league client. Even though I was eager for the opportunity to break into sports law, I felt like my plate was too full and I turned it down. That was a big mistake. There are just so few roles in the sports realm and so many people that are interested in them, that anything that showcases experience is valuable.

I’d also encourage junior attorneys to develop and cultivate relationships. I know how stilted and unnatural “networking” can feel. It is well outside of my comfort zone, too. But I think there is a big difference between networking for the sake of networking, and sincerely engaging with people you want to learn from. I’ve come to realize that I enjoy talking about my job with people who are passionate about getting into sports. So when the interest is real, don’t be shy about reaching out and saying “How did you end up where you did? What do you like about your job? What advice do you have for me?” I think those conversations are fulfilling for everyone involved. I’m cognizant, too, that my ending up with the Guardians was an accident of relationship development and I’m eager to pay it forward. I suspect lots of people feel the same way.

PW: Tell us about your life outside of work. What are some of your hobbies?

Max Kosman: Life outside of work is great. I got married last year, and now that we’re done wedding planning, my wife and I are dedicating our attention and energy to decompressing and spending more time with our dogs and our friends. Although I’ve been here for almost four years, part of that of course was during the height of the pandemic, so Cleveland is still a pretty new city for me. I’m trying to get to know it better and to find ways to become more involved in the community. Before I took this job, one of my favorite hobbies was following the Cleveland Guardians baseball team. I still do that, but it does feel like less of a hobby now.

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