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The winds are changing at intellectual property powerhouse Alston & Bird, which is pouring significant investments into renewable energy and environmental work, most recently acquiring Los Angeles-based Weston Benshoof Rochefort Rubalcava & MacCuish next month. Richard R. Hays, Alston & Bird’s managing partner, is predicting that a storm of wind power, carbon credits and renewable energy will dominate much of the firm’s legal work in the coming years. To that end, the Atlanta-based firm, which boasts former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle as special policy adviser on its renewable energy team, brought in a group of about a dozen electricity regulation lawyers three years ago from Swidler Berlin, now part of Bingham McCutchen. Two years ago, a group of project finance experts focused on renewable resources, led by partners R. Thomas Amis and Nik Patel, joined from the Washington office of Houston’s Baker Botts. In a restructuring move, Alston & Bird earlier this year formed a new umbrella group encompassing more than 70 attorneys across various fields of expertise who work on renewable energy, carbon credits, tax, public policy and other fields associated with environmental work. With the Weston Benshoof deal, which becomes effective on Sept. 1, that group could number more than 100 of its 900 lawyers. “We think the energy business is going to go through an extraordinary transformation in the next couple of years,” said Amis, a partner in the Washington office and co-head of the renewable energy group at Alston & Bird. “The firm has made this one of its highest priorities.” The acquisition of Weston Benshoof, which has 83 lawyers, gives Alston & Bird its first Los Angeles office. Last year, the firm opened a small Dallas office; another dozen lawyers joined last month to open a Silicon Valley office. While Weston Benshoof does not reveal its finances, the firm’s profits per partner are regarded as strikingly lower than Alston & Bird’s, which reported more than $1 million in profits per partner last year, according to The American Lawyer, an affiliated publication of The National Law Journal. “Alston & Bird will, of course, have the usual integration issues to align everyone on its higher financial metrics and goals, and time will tell how this goes,” said Dan Hatch, head of the partner practice group in southern California at legal search firm Major, Lindsey & Africa. Hays, while declining to give exact numbers, acknowledged that the deal has an “investment component.” But, he said, “we wouldn’t do it if it didn’t make financial sense.” Ed Casey, managing partner at Weston Benshoof, said that his firm had planned to increase its rates next year, boosting revenue per lawyer closer to Alston & Bird’s figures. Alston & Bird’s revenue per lawyer exceeded $700,000 last year. The firms have different strengths as well. Alston & Bird’s intellectual property and litigation practices, each totaling more than 160 lawyers, are among the nation’s best known; 30 percent of Weston Benshoof’s attorneys work in environmental law or land use. But Hays said environmental work has become one of its “premium practices.” The firm’s clients are “investing more time, energy and thought into how to deal with the fact that gas costs $4 a gallon and there’s global warming,” he said. “That drives a lot of what’s going on in the economy, and we think there will be a lot more of that over the course of the next decade.” Alston & Bird’s focus on environmental law has attracted a new client base with significant renewable energy goals. For example, Generation Energy Inc., a developer of renewable energy power plants that is based in Leesburg, Va., retained Alston & Bird after Amis joined the firm. Amis is “new to them, but old to the wind industry,” said the company’s president, Danny McCrystal.

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