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After White & Case announced in February it would be closing its San Francisco office, at least two dozen law firms solicited energy partners Jerry Bloom, Joseph Karp and Lisa Cottle. The trio eventually came up with a short list of three and then landed at Winston & Strawn at the end of last month. Bloom, Karp and Cottle are known for project finance and regulatory expertise, representing clients such as the California Cogeneration Council, a group of companies that own and operate 2,000 megawatts of cogeneration capacity in California, along with independent power producers like Mirant and Calpine corporations. Now, five years after the California energy crisis, lawyers like Bloom, Karp and Cottle are in demand for another reason: Investors of all stripes are looking west, encouraged by the region’s insatiable demand for power, according to several energy lawyers. These forces, along with the state’s reputation as a haven for alternative power generation, are fueling legal work. “Basically, during the energy crisis, a lot of things were frozen for one reason or another,” says Gordon Erspamer, a partner in Morrison & Foerster’s Walnut Creek, Calif., office. “A lot of companies viewed California as an unfavorable climate to do business. There was a lot of bashing going on and making the assumptions that all companies were like Enron. We are starting to come out of that.” While there has always been interest in California — which is at the nation’s forefront when it comes to alternative energy — Bloom said that now “there is a renewed vigor because of the war in Iraq and the fuel shortage that has come with it and the development in China and India.” As a labor attorney, Charles Birenbaum, who manages Winston & Strawn’s San Francisco office, said he had already handled union issues here on behalf of power developers, but the firm’s energy practice didn’t have the necessary regulatory, corporate or finance lawyers on the West Coast. “Their vision of strong domestic offices in the United States matched with what we want to do with our energy clients,” Bloom said. Bloom’s group originally came from MoFo, and White & Case opened the San Francisco office specifically for them, he said. Although Bloom himself worked out of Los Angeles, the lawyers relied on their Bay Area office because they regularly appeared before the San Francisco-based California Public Utilities Commission. Meanwhile, other national firms say they are building up their California corporate energy practices. David Allen, partner in charge of the L.A. office of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, said the firm is definitely hoping to recruit more project finance and regulatory energy lawyers in California. “It is one of these areas that is hot,” he says. “There is a fair amount of competition.” “Judging from the number of calls that I get from headhunters, a lot of the large firms with good reputations are looking into the energy area,” agrees MoFo’s Erspamer. Just over a year ago, the firm brought on Stoel Rives’ Anne Mudge, a lawyer who does some work in the wind energy area, he said. She now serves as co-chair of MoFo’s land use and environmental law group. “We are trying to bring on more lawyers in the energy area and have been for some time, particularly in project finance,” he added. Similarly, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman recently represented a New York-based investment bank in a solar energy project, and the firm’s lawyers are generating work as a result of the private equity interest in acquiring and re-powering plants in California, according to San Francisco partner Robert James. With a thought of working such deals, the firm has beefed up its forces in Houston, added to its public policy practice in Washington, D.C., and made hires in California, such as the addition of San Francisco partner Scott Sommer earlier this year. Litigation resulting from the California energy crisis, red hot from 2000 to 2005, has tapered off, but smart lawyers know that is par for the course. “Some of these deals will end up in litigation in a few years,” Erspamer says.

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