Many Marylanders dream about being part of the Baltimore Ravens, but for most people, it is just a pipe dream. Brandon Etheridge, Senior Vice President and General Counsel for the Ravens, not only achieved the goal of becoming part of the Ravens organization but did so relatively early in his career. The MSBA was fortunate to have the opportunity to speak with Etheridge and learn more about his career as part of the 2022 Legal Summit. You can watch Etheridge’s entire conversation with MSBA President M. Natalie McSherry here.
As the son of a military police officer and the grandson of the first Black police chief in Goldsboro North Carolina, Etheridge “grew up with a strong sense of justice,” which he thought would lead him to a career in law enforcement. Etheridge’s focus turned to the practice of law after he took a constitutional law course as a student at Yale University. After graduating from Yale, he took a year off before going to Harvard Law School.
As a new lawyer, Etheridge pursued a career in sports law and ultimately joined Covington and Burling, LLP, in Washington, D.C. The firm was high on the list of places he wanted to work because the former NFL Commissioner, Paul Tagliabue was a partner, and he thought what better place to start a career in sports law than with the former NFL Commissioner.
Etheridge’s dream of working in sports law was slightly deferred, as he spent his first six months at Covington working on a pro bono matter involving the illegal transportation of frogs and toads. For those just starting their legal career, Etheridge advises focusing on doing good work, establishing a solid reputation, and seizing opportunities to work on projects that interest them when they arise. When Etheridge started at Covington, he had a dream of being the right-hand man to Tagliabue, but it took him about a year and a half before he could work on NFL matters. He also cautions new associates against saying they practice sports law, as he thinks there’s really no such thing—some people are just lucky enough to apply substantive areas of the law in the sports field.
Etheridge spent three years at Covington before joining the NFL as Assistant Labor Relations Counsel. He was with the NFL for two years when he got a phone call offering him a chance to work as General Counsel for the Ravens. He thinks it was incredibly helpful to his career to have been able to spend some time at a law firm, and as a junior lawyer at a major corporation before going in-house, as it gave him insight into what it meant to have effective communication between an in-house and outside counsel.
When Etheridge got the call to join the Ravens organization, they did not have a General Counsel, and Etheridge essentially created the office. When he started,he was expected to review and sign-off on contracts and vendor agreements. Over time the role has grown into more of a strategic business advisor for the organization, and Etheridge finds himself on the front lines of key business objectives and plans, as well as increasingly providing advice on labor law and compliance. Etheridge thinks this is a natural progression, because “at the end of the day as lawyers we’re advocates but we’re also natural problem solvers and so to me if you’re a business and you have a problem to solve, why wouldn’t you have some of your best problem solvers doing it?”
Etheridge has also had the opportunity to use his legal training and skills to assist Ravens players with using their platforms to advocate for meaningful societal change. As the Ravens’ General Counsel, he’s been able to take a leadership role working with players to identify legislation they may be interested in supporting, explaining to players what that legislation says, and advocating on the players’ behalf for the legislation’s passage. Etheridge noted that when an organization with a diverse membership takes a stance on an issue, there are going to be those who don’t agree with what they are advocating for or the means they use to express themselves. To that end, the Ravens executives are very intentional about checking themselves at the door and letting efforts for societal change to be player-led.
Etheridge was very involved in the Attorney General’s Access to Justice Task Force on COVID-19 and its implications in the legal arena. He stated one of the biggest things he learned since he became General Counsel is how influential a corporation or a business can be when it comes to advocating for reform or policies. When he was first asked to join the Task Force, he looked across the board and saw people who were in legal clinics or courtrooms helping people every day whereas he went to an office to work on contracts. He was quickly persuaded that there’s a certain synergy between what they did as the Ravens in terms of criminal justice reform and what he thinks the Access to Justice Task Force was doing in terms of civil justice. Etheridge realized that similar to the Ravens’ players, he had a platform and a voice to push for meaningful change that he believes in. As such, he has taken to seeing it as part of his responsibility to stand up and help people that are struggling and advocate for corporations to donate their time, talents, and funds to causes such as civil access to justice.