Meghan Carroll loved to watch and play sports growing up, she even captained Middlebury College’s Varsity Softball team as an undegrad. So when Carroll was presented with the opportunity to work as a lawyer at the National Football League (NFL), she jumped at it.
Today, as the vice president of labor policy and health, Carroll is a member of the legal team that negotiates, drafts, and oversees the implementation of the NFL-NFLPA Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). The CBA is a more than 400-page document that “governs every aspect of the relationships between the players, the clubs, and the league,” according to Carroll. Part of her job is to help NFL clubs abide by the current agreement. If there are disputes, it’s her job to represent them.
Carroll received her law degree from St. John’s University School of Law, a place near and dear to her family’s heart. Both of Carroll’s parents attended St. John’s Law School, and it eventually became the place where Carroll would meet her future husband. Her sister, too, is a lawyer at another professional sports league.
“I would probably say that I’m a lot like my father, and he has a litigator’s personality. So, it was kind of always my personality too,” Carroll recalls. Her father and one of his longtime mentors also instilled in her a great respect for the profession. “My dad is a strong believer that ours is an honorable and storied profession, and that we lawyers should feel privileged to be part of it.”
She has carried that deep respect for law throughout her career. Prior to working at the NFL, Carroll was a general practice litigator at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP. She’s grateful to have learned from the highest quality lawyers and developed and honed her skillset there. Carroll believes the opportunity to write, take depositions, and get time on her feet prepared her to succeed in any practice area.
When Carroll joined the NFL as an assistant labor relations counsel in 2014, she didn’t have a traditional background in labor law, but the tools she learned early in her career helped her navigate the learning curve.
“I probably spent the first year sitting in the more experienced and longer tenured lawyers’ offices just listening: listening to them when they talked to our teams, listening to them when they talked to our outside lawyers, and listening to them talk to each other,” Carroll says.
Working with an extremely collaborative team accelerated her successful transition to the NFL and is something she has continued to promote as a more tenured member of her team over her nine years at the company.
Carroll, having benefited from a space where she could listen, ask questions, and learn, recognizes the value in having a team of lawyers with varied experience levels. “A commitment to collaboration gives the newer lawyers the benefit of learning from people with more experienced views. It gives the people with more experience the benefit of newer lawyers’ ideas that may not have considered before,” she says. “And frankly, it helps all of us learn from perspectives on both ends of that spectrum.”
Jodi Avergun, a partner at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP, speaks highly of Carroll’s leadership philosophy. “Over almost a decade of working together, I have seen how Meghan’s skills at listening and collaborating, and finding opportunities for solutions where others see problems, have made her a highly respected and sought-after adviser across constituencies in the [NFL],” Avergun says. “Her clients value her intellect and her pragmatic advice, as well as her unflappable demeanor. Meghan’s accomplishments and success are particularly noteworthy because they have undoubtedly paved the way for an increased number of women lawyers to counsel the league and the clubs in the traditionally male-dominated world of professional sports.”
Her demonstrated excellence is underscored by how she establishes trust, which she says is not only essential among the members of her team, but it is also necessary for cultivating relationships with the thirty-two NFL teams with which she works and advises. She is a firm believer that trust is earned not given. Because her clients generally remain the same, earning trust and working hard to foster those relationships are a big part of her job, Carroll adds.
The importance of developing and maintaining that trust was highlighted amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think it was a challenge for sports in particular, because you can’t play sports remotely. Law firms and businesses can go remote, but sports can’t if they’re going to play,” she explains.
Acting on the advice of medical experts, Carroll was tasked to help develop the NFL-NFLPA COVID protocols and to educate clubs and their medical staffs on how to implement those protocols. “And we did it. I think we were all super proud of it and everyone involved,” Carroll says. “We safely played every game in both seasons.”
Being in daily contact with the clubs during the pandemic helped her develop stronger relationships across the league; she calls it “a silver lining” to the unique challenges the pandemic presented.
Carroll has cultivated those relationships to continue making an impact in her role, working collaboratively to in support of a game that serves teams, players, and fans alike. As the league continues to navigate opportunities and challenges, her trusted counsel will be as valuable as ever.
Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP is a leading transatlantic law firm providing outstanding legal counsel to many of the world’s top financial institutions, corporations, and funds. Founded 230 years ago and with offices in New York, London, Charlotte, Washington, and Dublin, the firm advises clients on matters across the business landscape, addressing and anticipating their wide range of commercial and regulatory risks and opportunities. Cadwalader’s sports group is widely known for its broad range of services, including commercial and corporate litigation, enforcement and compliance investigations, antitrust matters, intellectual property disputes, employment and compensation arrangements, and municipal finance and securitization transactions.