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Note to all those law firms licking their chops over a possible bonanza of work from Bechtel’s new contract to rebuild Iraq: You can forget about it. Bechtel Group Inc. — the San Francisco-based construction giant — is relying on an in-house lawyer to handle most of the legal details of $680 million in U.S. government work in post-war Iraq. While the deal is the subject of a mountain of media coverage, Bechtel’s lawyers say it’s a relatively run-of-the-mill legal assignment. The terms are generally set by the government, and the company had only been working on its bid for a few months. In fact, a single lawyer — Douglas Price, a senior counsel for Bechtel National Inc. — on Bechtel’s 54-attorney team is covering the project. Richard Burt, Bechtel’s general counsel, said the company is well versed in handling massive construction contracts and generally doesn’t need much outside assistance on those matters. “Our business is doing large engineering and construction projects,” Burt said. “Our legal department is very much equipped to do these things.” The U.S. Agency for International Development awarded Bechtel the coveted contract to repair and build power plants and municipal water and sewer systems in Iraq. The contract also allows for Bechtel to expand its efforts to include building schools, hospitals, government buildings and other infrastructure. One of the nation’s largest engineering and construction companies, Bechtel is a regular player when it comes to high-profile projects. The company has handled the Chunnel linking the United Kingdom and France, the Alaska pipeline, Hoover Dam and, closer to home, the BART system. Thelen Reid & Priest has long been Bechtel’s chief outside counsel but the Iraqi contract doesn’t immediately generate more work for the firm. Bechtel calls in Thelen when the company has a dispute or labor issues as well as general corporate work, Burt said. Sandra Ogden, the general counsel of Bechtel National — the corporate division that won the contract — said the company sometimes taps Thelen for help with government contracts if the in-house team is too busy. Bechtel has four lawyers assigned to government contracts while seven lawyers work on investments; the rest work on engineering and construction projects, Ogden said. The company’s lawyers are largely spread out in facilities in Houston, Frederick, Md., and London, in addition to the San Francisco headquarters. However, Bechtel has some 20 other lawyers who work for separate divisions that manage projects for the federal government, she said. That includes clean-up projects at former weapons production sites and the Yucca Mountain Project in Nevada. The Iraq deal, Burt said, “is what we’re accustomed to. Most of our lawyers spend most of their time working on the legal work associated with large projects.”

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