Alumni Spotlight: Cyrus Ghavi (2010-2013; New York)

February 15, 2022

Cleary Gottlieb alumni often reflect upon their time at the firm with fondness and gratitude.

Cyrus Ghavi, Senior Counsel at the National Football League, shares some of his thoughts below.

When were you at Cleary, what group were you in and why did you chose Cleary/the group?

I was a corporate associate at Cleary, working primarily on capital markets and corporate governance matters. Coming out of law school, I wasn’t sure what area of law was the best fit – I was interested in litigation and corporate work and felt that I wouldn’t really know what was “right” until I gave it a try. Part of the reason I chose Cleary was there seemed to be more room to “course correct” if I felt the need to change my focus. Ultimately, corporate work generally, and capital markets and corporate governance more specifically, was a great fit for my day-to-day. Plus, I still got a taste of litigation by doing pro bono asylum work.

What skills did you learn or experiences did you have at Cleary that have served you well at the NFL?

Quite a few, but I’ll highlight one! At Cleary, it’s common to juggle a number of clients and important matters at the same time. That experience has been helpful at the NFL, where there are 32 member clubs and several internal business departments that may have matters for my attention.

Being a lawyer for the NFL sounds like a dream job. What do you enjoy most about your current job?

It’s great knowing that my work is in support of a product that I, and literally tens of millions of others, enjoy. Depending on what I’m working on at the time, the connection to what we see on Sundays (and Mondays, Thursdays…and some Saturdays) can sometimes be attenuated but it’s nevertheless nice to have that connection.

What’s the biggest misconception about your job?

It seems like a lot of people assume I meet players frequently or have unfettered access to free tickets, but neither are true! Also, while there a lot of interesting things that I work on, like most jobs, there are definitely a lot of less exciting things that need to be taken care of in this role.

What legal issues do you often need to consider?

There’s quite a range, especially because we are supporting the clubs in many respects and regulating them (in the interest of the other clubs) in others. Legal issues in my world also include a significant amount of policy development and enforcement – internal “NFL law,” if you will.

What has surprised you?

I think that the level of direct involvement by the NFL owners is something that I did not appreciate prior to working here. There is a deliberative, democratic process for decision-making and ultimately each club has a vote on key decisions.

Any Super Bowl anecdotes to share? (and do I have to call it “The Big Game” in this interview?)

“The Big Game” always makes me laugh, but it’s a real issue (but not for this interview!). Working roles at the Super Bowl are tough to get, but I have been fortunate enough to go to several by working with a program that gives one fan (and a guest) from each team an all-expenses paid, VIP Super Bowl experience. It’s a nice gig because, as the primary contact for a group of these fans, I get to experience a lot of the events and perks (including pregame field access!) alongside them.

There are definitely some good stories from those experiences, but my favorite was at Super Bowl LIII in my hometown of Atlanta. In between responsibilities, I was waiting in a small staff room before kickoff when the room started filling up with 20 or so NFL Hall of Fame players that were gathering before making a pregame appearance on the field – pretty cool, but I distinctly remember chuckling and thinking “act like you’ve been here before” while watching a couple of my younger co-workers get worked up and try to take photos. The players left and the room was quiet for a few moments before Congressman John Lewis walked in. I did not do a remotely good job of “acting like I had been there.” I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to meet a national and local hero of that magnitude, so I introduced myself and asked for a picture with him. True to form, he was incredibly warm and gracious – a great memory.

Do you have any favorite memories from your time at Cleary?

Many! I still reminisce with friends about a lot of the summer and holiday events. One memory that I will share is from a Friday afternoon during my first year at the firm, when the New York bar exam results were accidentally posted online early. Since you are supposed to be notified of your results before publication, the results were removed once the error was realized. This happened in the middle of the workday, so not everyone was able to access the site before while the results were up – what resulted was a very tense couple of hours of reaching out to friends to see who had seen the list and whether they happened to check for your name before the results were removed. Eventually, the Board of Law Examiners, realizing the mess they created, posted the results again – just in time for wine and cheese. I remember Jeff Karpf, who I believe was the head of the Associates Committee at the time, toasting the first year class and a raucous celebration that followed and eventually moved to Stone Street….I’ll stop there!

What advice do you have for a young Cleary associate who may want to pursue a similar career path?

Keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities. I was lucky enough to have other people point out the opportunity at the NFL – I could have easily missed it because I was not looking to make a career change. I did not think that a career in sports was in the cards, so I didn’t do anything specific to the industry, but a job opened up that required the training that I received at Cleary and I jumped at the chance.

What advice would you offer any young associate that you wish someone had offered you?

Taking the time to understand the client’s perspective is an incredibly effective way to become a better associate and to prepare yourself for the possibility of a future in-house role.

Is there anything I haven’t asked you about yet that you would want to share with the Cleary community?

I’ll take the opportunity to say that I am incredibly grateful for my time at Cleary – for the training that I received and for the people that I met, both are invaluable to me.

Learn more about Cleary’s global alumni network here.