Just last month, Brian Nelson, general counsel for the Los Angeles bid to host the Olympics, experienced the sweet taste of success. The International Olympic Committee Executive Board voted to recommend the full International Olympic Committee membership award for two consecutive summer games, instead of the usual four-year interval. If approved by the full membership this month, Los Angeles and Paris could each host a Games – one in 2024 and one in 2028 – a decision that may mean Brian will be working in his current role for many years.
He says having a job centered on the international sportsmanship and comradery rooted in the Olympic and Paralympic movements makes the work particularly rewarding. “Being part of a team with a grander social mission than the lawyering itself, is really gratifying.”
Brian, who began in his current post in 2015, has a mammoth multi-pronged task that includes obtaining agreements with a substantial number of private partners – Games venues, hundreds of hotels and operators of outdoor advertising spaces, and financial supporters of the bid.
He also manages the government relations aspect of the games. This governmental engagement encompasses, in part, shoring up security and transportation planning, developing a strategy for meeting the IOC’s environmental requirements, and even smoothing the path via immigration and customs for Games athletes and international workers.
Brian notes, “I have taken the lead on talking to our friends in Los Angeles, talking to the White House and talking to the leaders in the state capital so that we are all partners in a transparent and accountable process. Ultimately, all of these relationships must be reduced to some form of paper agreement.”
His past roles make him uniquely qualified to handle that governmental component. Brian formerly served on the California Attorney General’s senior executive staff, directly advising now-Senator Kamala Harris when she was attorney general. Before that, he held positions as special counsel to the assistant attorney general for National Security and then as the National Security Division’s deputy chief of staff.
Brian also credits Sidley, where he was an associate with the Supreme Court and Appellate group in the Washington, D.C. office, from 2006 to 2009, with informing his current role. “A lot of the work we did was of course, regulatory, but I also had the opportunity to develop a little bit of a sovereign nation practice and had a foreign country as a client on a Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act question. I also advised another country on an issue relating to NAFTA. It was an incredible experience for a young lawyer.”
His relationship with Sidley has endured. Aside from the fact that partner Joe Guerra attended his wedding, Brian has reunited with Sidley in its capacity as a pro bono advisor of the bid to host the Olympic and Paralympic Games. The firm was also the primary legal partner during Chicago’s 2016 bid to host the Games. Brian was particularly excited to work with Sidley due to its prior bid work. “A lot of people don’t appreciate what goes into the bidding, with all of the contracts and agreements you have to develop. Sidley has that history and has been an excellent partner.”
Beyond all the papering of agreements and bureaucratic tangles inherent in his job, Brian has also been thrilled to meet former and current Olympic athletes. This includes Janet Evans, a world champion swimmer and current chair of LA 2024's Athletes' Commission. Evans, who specialized in distance freestyle, and won a total of four gold medals at the 1988 and the 1992 Olympics, has shared many a memory with Brian. One in particular resonates deeply—about the time she passed the Olympic torch to Muhammad Ali during the 1996 Atlanta games.
“She describes running into the stadium where Ali was standing and then looking out over the crowd and seeing a hundred thousand people cheering. The story gives me goosebumps every time,” he marvels. “So getting to know her and the other athletes she brings into the office who talk about what it would mean to have the Games back here in the United States—it’s very powerful to know that what we are doing is so important to them.”
However fulfilling his work is, Brian has another Olympic-size role at his Santa Monica home, where he resides with his wife, Lane Dilg, who was recently appointed the City Attorney of Santa Monica, and three-year-old son. “The truth is, we just follow our child around and mostly do whatever he tells us to do. Really, it’s fun. Well, it’s exhausting, but it’s also fun.”
Published June 2017 - UPDATE Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence at U.S. Department of the Treasury
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