Legal Eagle

Glen D. Nager is back in the swing of things after his stint as president of the United States Golf Association

Published in 2014 Washington DC Super Lawyers Magazine — April 2014

Glen D. Nager knows the importance of a good approach shot.

In golf, the approach is the relatively short intermediary shot where the golfer attempts to land the ball onto the putting green. It’s not as flashy as the drive or dramatic as the putt, but it’s critically important, and one of the trickier facets of the game to master.

The same might be said for practicing law.

“In both the law and in golf, the great ones hit the ball straight and up the middle,” he says. “Advocacy is best when it’s simple and direct and straightforward. Golf is best when played from short grass to short grass and into the hole.”

In February, at the picturesque Pinehurst Resort & Country Club in North Carolina, Nager officially completed his term as president of the United States Golf Association, the influential governing body and national association of golf in the U.S. and Mexico. It’s a weighty, one-year term that Nager somehow juggled two years in a row while chairing the national issues and appeals practice out of the Washington, D.C., office of Jones Day.

While it’s safe to say Nager hasn’t had much time to perfect his own approach shot during the last few years, his steady influence at the nexus of golf and law has yielded big results in both worlds.

The USGA is charged with interpreting, maintaining and amending the rules of golf. It also regulates equipment standards, provides the national handicap system for golfers and conducts 13 national championships, including the U.S. Open.

During Nager’s term as president, the organization spearheaded a controversial rule change, which, beginning in 2016, prohibits golfers from “anchoring,” in which the club or hand gripping the club is held directly against the player’s body during a putt. The organization also signed off on a 12-year TV deal with Fox Sports.

For Nager, such initiatives are the culmination of eight years of involvement with the USGA. He picked up golf relatively late in life, but the hobby quickly evolved into a passion, and by 2005, USGA reps approached him and asked if he’d join the ranks as volunteer general counsel, a title he held from 2006 to 2008. He eventually ascended to the executive committee, becoming its vice president and chairman of the Rules of Golf Committee.

Meanwhile, Nager tinkered with the Jones Day rule book, too.

While many firms build their practice around a small number of powerful, big-name attorneys who carry the brunt of important Supreme Court cases, Nager has steered Jones Day’s issues and appeals division through what he refers to as the “multiple-star system.”

“The service we offer to clients is to find the best lawyer, no matter what office, no matter what practice area,” he says. “In order to fulfill that, what we’ve done is not build the practice around one high-profile lawyer but try to develop newcomers into stars.”

Over the past 10 years, the multiple-star system has paved the way for 19 Jones Day lawyers to present oral arguments in 32 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. “We have a deep bench,” Nager says, “and we get a lot of different lawyers that experience so we can service a lot of different clients.”

Nager himself has made 13 SCOTUS appearances during his 30-year career, in his wheelhouse subject areas of antitrust, civil rights, employment, environmental law, government contracts and intellectual property. He argued the much-publicized American Needle Inc. v. National Football League antitrust case of 2010, in which the court held that NFL teams are separate and independent businesses (and not united as a single, league-wide entity) and therefore subject to scrutiny under the Sherman Antitrust Act.

A newcomer in 1983, Nager found himself clerking for another relative newcomer, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who two years prior had joined the U.S. Supreme Court. The two remain close to this day. “We golfed together,” Nager says. “She even sponsored my membership at the country club.”

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