James A. Marx ’97: Working Possibly the ‘Best Lawyering Job in the World’
The mood in the office building where James A. Marx ’97 works is directly correlated to 162 events in a calendar year. Then again, his office is the Great American Ball Park and home of the Cincinnati Reds. Nevertheless, whether the team wins or loses, Marx takes joy in the work he does and where he does it. “I brown-bagged it the other day, ate out on the ballpark and watched them cut the grass and line the field for a game, that’s not exactly something you can do in typical law office.”
Marx is the general counsel and vice president of Cincinnati’s Major League Baseball team and is grateful for his occupation. “It’s a unique job,” he said. “There are only 30 of these jobs and I’m one of the 30. I’ve had many lawyers stop me and let me know that I have the best lawyering job in the world.”
So how did Marx snag one the most coveted jobs in the sports legal community? “I was at the right place at the right time,” he said. “There was never a morning when I woke up thinking, ‘I want to be a sports and entertainment lawyer.’”
A native of Cincinnati, Marx attended University of Cincinnati for his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. He did a walk-up registration for the LSAT and applied to one law school, the Moritz College of Law. From 1998 until 2007, Marx worked at the Cincinnati office of Dinsmore & Shohl. He worked there as an associate for seven years and as a partner for two. But it was his years as an associate that changed his life.
“I still remember the date, Sept. 28, 2005. I got a call from Chris Fister, the CFO of the Castellini Management Company, to review a document,” he said. “That document was the first of many that started Castellini’s acquisition of the Reds.”
Marx was put on as lead lawyer for the case. “I went to Disney World with my family as planned the day after my call with Chris, but ended up sitting in a Disney World hotel room working on the letter of intent,” he said. “We worked around the clock from October 2005 through January 2006 and the acquisition was signed, sealed and delivered on January 20, 2006. Very few people thought we would have it done in January much less the start of the ’06 baseball season under new ownership.”
The Cincinnati Reds acquisition was the highest profile transaction of 2006 in Cincinnati, according to Marx. George Vincent, now managing partner of Dinsmore & Shohl, tapped Marx to handle the transaction while he was still an associate. “Talk about a vote of confidence.” Marx noted that he will forever be grateful to that vote of confidence from Vincent, Chris Fister and Mr. Castellini and without that vote of confidence and opportunity he would not be where he is today. “I’ve had a few teachers in my professional life, but George Vincent, Chris Fister and Bob Castellini have been my professional mentors and each has a profound impact on my life.”
As of Jan. 1, 2008 Marx left Dinsmore & Shohl, although he remains of-counsel at the firm, and was brought on board as general counsel of the Cincinnati Reds under its new ownership. “I’m a full service legal department, and as a one-person staff I still rely upon Dinsmore.”
Although Marx only has one client now, he has to deal with a wider range of legal issues. He deals with all the facets of business, legal and non-legal.
He grew up a Reds fan and loves that he is part of the club. “It’s the next best thing to being on the field as a player,” he said. “Not many people in this profession can say that less than 20 yards from their office is a baseball stadium.”
Taking advantage of the uniqueness of his job, Marx makes it a goal to catch at least 10 to 15 minutes of batting practice. “I smile when I walk into to the stadium,” he said. “I can’t believe this is where I work. I get paid for this.”
He says that his day-to-day life is not much different from the work he would have done in a large firm. But, since he is the only in-house lawyer for the Reds, he has to be a utility player. “It requires a pretty full tool kit,” he said. “You have to be nimble because you never know what things will be thrown at you.
One such case was when the Mitchell Investigation took place within Major League Baseball. The historic investigation, led by former Sen. George Mitchell, questioned professional baseball players’ use of performance-enhancing substances. “It was something that needed the cooperation of all the clubs,” Marx said. “It made an incredible impact on baseball. The problem was a lot more pervasive than people had originally thought.”
There are moments when Marx particularly appreciates the distinctiveness of his job. “During spring training, when the media isn’t there crowding around the players, you hear the outfielders on the field having fun,” he said. “It’s encouraging to see these professional athletes still enjoy playing the game they’re paid to play.”
But when April rolls around and the baseball season starts, Marx’s office gets ready. “There is a vibe or a life on game days. Eighty-one times a year, our front office puts on the equivalent of a Broadway play,” he said. “Game days are when I realize, ‘Hey, I am in the entertainment industry.’ And I’m extremely proud of that.”