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Hosting parties at both political conventions was a natural thing for David Fitzgerald’s old firm, the lobbying powerhouse Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson and Hand, where Bob Dole and George Mitchell once resided. Large law firms with strong presences in Washington, like Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, also throw splashy parties for both sides. But Fitzgerald’s new firm is 175-lawyer Sullivan & Worcester. Based in Boston with offices in New York and Washington and an emphasis on corporate, tax and securities law, the firm had never hosted a convention party before this year. Now they’ve thrown two, and though some partners were slow to warm to the idea, they’ve found them not only enjoyable, but also surprisingly cheap marketing tools. “You want to have an event where you can be around your clients in a different setting,” Fitzgerald explained one morning last week, shortly before the guests arrived at the Harvard Club in midtown Manhattan. “It helps build relationships.” “For a lot of firms it’s just a very normal thing to do,” added Douglas MacKinnon, the firm’s director of federal affairs and communications. “It’s good politics.” MacKinnon, a Republican lobbyist and syndicated columnist, is also a refugee from Verner Liipfert (since swallowed by Piper Rudnick) who was Bob Dole’s communications director and adviser to Senator Elizabeth Dole. Senator Dole was one of the “invited guests” listed on the invitation, and she did show up, though she left before the speeches. Three other invited stars didn’t make it: Andrew Card, Bush’s chief of staff, the president’s senior adviser Karl Rove and Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie. But MacKinnon was able to land another big name, not mentioned on the invitation, who was first up at the podium: Larry King, the CNN talk show host. “It’s nice to meet Massachusetts Republicans. I thought we were going to meet in a phone booth,” cracked King, surveying about 85 lawyers and clients eating eggs and bagels at round tables in a banquet room. The Brooklyn native said he’d never seen a police presence like the one mustered in Manhattan last week to deal with protesters and possible terrorist threats. “It’s robbery heaven in the Bronx!” he joked. King was followed by U.S. Senator Larry Craig, R-Idaho, who told the gathering: “Lobbying is not a dirty word. Your firm and the information it has and the work it does in bringing it to me is critical.” Low-cost marketing How much did all this cost? Victoria Arnold, the firm’s marketing director, estimated the bill for the room and food would total less than $5,000. The tab in July, when the firm hosted an afternoon cocktail party for the Democratic National Convention in Boston attended by about 300 people, was less than $20,000, she said. And the marketing value extended beyond the clients who actually attended. The invitations alone told clients that Sullivan & Worcester is a player, Arnold said. After the speeches, as clients and lawyers mingled, Clint Vince, managing partner of the Washington office, said he’d urged the firm to host the parties. Head of the firm’s energy practice group and another veteran of Verner Liipfert, Vince leads the firm’s Democrats. In the current partisan climate, it can be difficult to navigate the political shoals, he acknowledged, but he’s tried to be centrist. “We want balance in our legislative practice,” he said. “We don’t want to be subject to shifting political winds.” Employees’ contributions this cycle have split right down the middle, according to statistics provided by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Now that the firm has demonstrated it can balance Republicans and Democrats, one question lingers. Can its New York and Boston offices survive the race between the Yankees and the Red Sox? “Last year,” New York managing partner George Lindsay recalled with a smile, “I was sent baked beans through interoffice mail.”

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