While there are many notable attorneys in the world, it’s a safe bet that Ben Meiselas has had one of the most remarkable careers of any 33-year-old lawyer working today. As partner and head of the civil litigation department of Geragos & Geragos, he headed up two of the most high-profile legal cases in recent memory: Colin Kaepernick’s lawsuit and recent settlement with the National Football League (and his deal with Nike), and successful class-action suits against the disastrous Fyre Festival and its founder, Billy McFarland.
Meiselas also serves as general counsel for Ice Cube’s Big3 basketball league; he was recently appointed nationwide lead counsel in a billion-dollar class-action against CenturyLink for overcharging subscribers; and he’s deeply involved in charity work, including Kaepernick’s Know Your Rights campaign, which teaches young people about their constitutional rights and how to interact with police; and civil-rights litigation representing victims of sexual assault and police brutality.
Unusually enough, it’s all a logical extension of his high school and college internships, which included work at Sean “Diddy” Combs’ Bad Boy Records and several years in the Washington, D.C., offices of then-Sen. Hillary Clinton and Rep. Steve Israel.
“I don’t look at this as work — I’m passionate about all of these things,” says the Long Island native, who grew up accompanying his father, veteran music-business attorney Kenny Meiselas, to recording sessions and meetings. “Every day I’m living out the dream that I had when I was a kid and saw what my dad was doing.”
Mark Geragos, the younger Meiselas’ boss, is unsparing in his praise. “He’s an interesting combination of things in a lawyer,” he says. “He’s got dealmaking in his DNA, his father is one of the greatest dealmakers and negotiators that I’ve seen, but he also has all the great instincts of a trial lawyer. I’ve watched him do depositions and cross-examinations and had opposing counsel take me aside and tell me they’re shocked at how young he is, because he’s got the chops of a 25-year-experience trial lawyer.”
While many of the details are confidential, it’s clear that the Kaepernick case combined multiple elements in Meiselas’ sweet spot: entertainment, civil rights, a sense of virtue and the fight of an underdog. It was work in civil rights and with wrongful-death cases against the Bakersfield, Calif., police department, which resulted in several officers being convicted or stepping down, that first brought the firm to the attention of the former San Francisco 49ers starting quarterback.
Kaepernick “knew of us through our civil-rights work, but he saw we were doing police and class cases and wanted to meet,” Meiselas says. “And we came up with a strategy that I think was groundbreaking, which was to utilize the collective bargaining agreement: In that, there was basically a loophole where a player could hire an independent counsel of their choosing and prosecute a collusion case and then be entitled to basically the full discovery rights that you would be entitled to in other proceedings — whereas if you’re in federal or other proceedings, by the time you’d get to those basic steps, it would be 2025.”
That strategy ultimately led to a positive outcome, and while he can’t talk about the specifics of the settlement, Meiselas says, “Representing Colin was one of my proudest moments. He is exactly who you’d think he is: incredibly thoughtful, optimistic and his spirits were never low, even though he was being deprived of a job that he had worked for his entire life. He recognized that he was sacrificing everything, and in any era there’s someone like him who can stand up — or kneel — to protect our basic values from authoritarianism or corruption or the chilling of free speech. He has certainly solidified his place for fighting back and not giving up.”
Geragos is quick to point to Meiselas’ contribution not only to the case’s successful outcome, but also his relationship with Kaepernick. “Colin and Ben have forged a very strong bond,” he says. “At one point, Ben was engaged in [a separate case], and when he finally got on the phone, you could tell that Colin had actually missed him: He said, ‘What, Ben, are you blackballing me now?’,” he recalls, laughing.
It’s a long way from his childhood of tagging along with his dad to meetings with rappers. “Some of my earliest childhood memories are of places like Uptown Records,” he says of the location where he first met a then-teenage Combs. “One of my dad’s earliest clients was Father MC, and Diddy was the A&R for his record as well as Mary J. Blige, and when all that took off I was in the mix of it.”
Combs soon took Meiselas under his wing, resulting in a precocious and priceless apprenticeship. Yet as anyone who’s seen “Making the Band” will know, interning for Diddy is no joke, even if he calls you his nephew and attends your bar mitzvah.
“I started at the bottom,” Meiselas says of the internship at Combs’ Bad Boy. “I was the first one to get in every morning, and he would send me on every possible errand. I’d be helping his assistants get ready for an event and I’d hear things like ‘That’s not the Diddy spoon!,’” he laughs. “But it taught me to be a perfectionist and gave me insight into leadership.”
Oddly enough, the Bad Boy gig gave the young Meiselas his entrée into politics. “In 2004 Puff led the ‘Vote or Die’ [voter-registration and awareness] campaign at MTV, and my role morphed from intern-gopher to working with his team on those events. I attended the Democratic convention that year, and through it all I developed a real love for politics.”
He enrolled at George Washington University in D.C. as an undergraduate and interned in the office of Israel, the congressman in his home district of Brooklyn, which led to a similar role in the office of Clinton.
“My job with Senator Clinton was kind of the same as my job for Puff — except instead of picking up espresso or watches, I’d get sunflowers from Union Station, along with responding to constituents’ mail and running to deliver speeches to her at the Capitol building,” he says.
Bitten by the Washington bug, Meiselas enrolled in Georgetown Law School, attending an international law program in China at the Kenneth Wang School of Law during his first summer — and the following year, beginning his work for Geragos.
While renowned at the time for high-profile criminal cases involving Winona Ryder, Michael Jackson and Scott Peterson, Geragos’ firm was gradually transitioning to civil work. “He was opening a D.C. office with two partners, so I joined that firm as a clerk during my second year [in law school],” Meiselas recalls. “Mark was based in L.A. and the others were in Baltimore and San Jose, so I was probably doing way more than I should have as a law clerk, but I was getting the most unbelievable experience, doing discovery and pleadings and writing motions.”
Meiselas continued working for Geragos until he received his degree, and expected to remain in D.C. But, he says, “Mark said, ‘If you want to be a real trial lawyer and do real law, you’re going to have to come to California. It’s not gonna be easy for the first few years, but once you put in your time, it’ll be worth it.’ And he was right: True to his word, almost immediately I was doing things most lawyers wouldn’t do until their 10th year.”
Geragos was also true to his word that it wouldn’t be a cakewalk, as Meiselas quickly learned from what they call a “sink or swim” moment.
“I had written this very long and [strongly worded] demand letter on behalf of a client, which led to the other side wanting to go into mediation,” Meiselas recalls. “It was a big case, a big client; the corporate reps and other lawyers from our firm were there, lawyers for the other side were there with their brows furrowed, and I’m this newly minted 24-year-old lawyer.
“The mediator asked Mark to give his opening statement, and he said, ‘I’m going to defer to my colleague Ben Meiselas’ — he hadn’t told me he was going to do that! I had nothing planned. My heart was racing, but I had written the letter so I knew the facts, and I took a deep breath and did it. It was good — it wasn’t great, but it ended up being a significant resolution.”
Geragos laughs at the memory, and disputes Meiselas’ lukewarm take on his performance. “At that point in his career, he would not have been the best poker player; I did see the look of fear in his face,” he recalls. “But I wouldn’t have done that if he wasn’t prepared. It took him about 10 seconds to collect himself, and there was a little hesitation initially. But he got his sea legs and delivered a brilliant 15-minute synopsis, and it had the intended effect: It grew him up immediately, and he’s since turned into one of my superstar partners.”
Yet the work that is truly closest to the superstar partner’s heart is the charity work that he and the firm do for Know Your Rights and all the others. “Donating money is important,” he says, “But to me, genuinely getting your hands dirty is the number one job. So if I’m taking a case that involves civil rights, I’m not just gonna be the lawyer in the courtroom: I’m gonna be on the ground, meeting the families, leading the rallies, putting my money where my mouth is but also my time.”
Indeed, a quick Google search of the Bakersfield cases turns up photos of Meiselas, microphone in hand, surrounded by people carrying “End police brutality” signs, and he’s done the same for the other organizations the firm is affiliated with.
“Between Bakersfield, the Big3 basketball league and Colin’s Know Your Rights foundation, there’s not a week that Mark and I aren’t hosting a charitable event for an organization close to our clients.”
And while his workload seems daunting, Meiselas keeps it in perspective, with an eye toward the bigger goals.
“I’ve had great mentors in my father and Mark, and as much as I juggle things, Mark juggles even more,” he concludes. “It’s about making every interaction important and meaningful.”