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The recent Democratic takeover of Congress has led to a power shift among law firms jockeying for government relations talent and preparing for the expected deluge of congressional investigations and legislative proposals. At least a dozen firms have announced key appointments of government relations attorneys since the elections last November, or revealed ongoing negotiations with potential hires. Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw of Chicago and Washington-based Venable formed new practice groups dedicated to congressional oversight and investigations work. Firms known for their Washington power base, such as Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Preston Gates Ellis; Hunton & Williams of Richmond, Va.; and Washington-based Patton Boggs, also say they’re poised for an upswing in legislative work. The Democratic takeover of Congress during a Republican administration fosters a climate ripe for investigations as legislators seek to embarrass and outdo the administration, lawyers say. New House of Representatives ethics rules implemented in January to restrict gift-taking also added deposition powers to the House’s main investigative body, the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. In the year ahead, Congress is expected to target a wide range of industries and subject areas, including the energy, financial services and pharmaceutical industries. Also, probes of government contracting, which will involve reviews of spending on reconstruction in Iraq, are in the offing. Growth of 20% expected Holland & Knight expects revenue growth of 15% to 20% in its government relations practice, which took in about $34.5 million in 2006, according to Washington-based partner Rich Gold. So far this year, the firm has hired former Florida Democratic Representative Jim Davis, Davis’ former chief of staff Karl Koch and former Florida Governor Bob Martinez. The firm expects to hire six to eight more people, Gold said. Budget and appropriations work, a key Holland & Knight specialty, is expected to be in the spotlight in the current climate, Gold said. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has pledged to look at “waste, fraud and abuse,” with his first hearings on that theme slated for the week of Feb. 6. Part of the focus will be on Iraq, according to a committee spokeswoman. With five former congressional counsel, and the expansion of its government relations practice group over the past few years, Hunton & Williams is prepared for investigative work in the energy and environment and financial services arenas, said Washington partner Joe Stanko Jr. Although the investigation never went public, Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Preston Gates Ellis’ prior work representing clients questioned in the Enron Corp. probe gives it credibility with the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, said Michael Missal, a Washington-based lawyer who leads K&L Gates’ policy/regulatory practice area. K&L Gates also expects government relations work “across the board” based on the combined strength created by the firm’s Jan. 1 merger, with most early investigations originating from the House committees on Oversight and Government Reform, and Energy and Commerce, and the Senate’s permanent subcommittee on investigations in the Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs. “There’s a lot of anticipation that they’re going to be pretty active to embarrass the administration and demonstrate their role and responsibility,” Missal said. Prior relationships Having an experienced congressional investigator in the firm’s corner is critical, Holland & Knight’s Gold said. Former Minnesota Congressman Gerry Sikorski, who spent a decade on the subcommittee on oversight and investigations of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, leads Holland & Knight’s government section. “He’s one of the few who has lived and breathed it,” Gold said. Boston firms Brown Rudnick Berlack Israels, and Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo’s government relations consulting arm ML Strategies LLC, point to their firms’ long-term relationships with the newly powerful Massachusetts congressional delegation. The delegation includes the chairman of the House Committee on Financial Services, Barney Frank; the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, Ed Markey; and Senator Edward Kennedy, who now chairs the Senate’s Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. Jim Bonham, who founded a political consulting group and served as executive director of the Democratic Party within the past several years, joined Brown Rudnick’s Washington office as a principal this month. “There’s a lot of legislation going through committees where members of the Massachusetts delegation have authority,” Bonham said. ML Strategies expects its ties to Massachusetts congressional leaders to help it advise clients facing investigations or pushing public policy change in the energy, finance, health care and telecommunications industries, said President and CEO Stephen Tocco. “Having a relationship with those [Massachusetts delegation] members is well founded,” Tocco said. Venable launched a congressional investigation group with Raymond Shepherd III, former chief counsel and staff director to the Senate Homeland Security Committee’s permanent subcommittee on investigations. Venable expects to work on energy and pharmaceutical investigations and to draw on its bench strength for homeland security probes, particularly former Arkansas Representative Asa Hutchinson, whose resume includes a stint as a Homeland Security undersecretary. Hutchinson plans to split his time between the firm and a consulting business in Arkansas. “Hutchinson’s return to our firm and his prior service in the Department of Homeland Security would make us a logical choice [for those types of investigations],” said managing partner Karl Racine. Dickstein Shapiro is touting its experience helping financial services and health care companies with government investigations and promoting the policy goals of pharmaceutical, securities and energy companies, said Mike Nannes, chairman of the Washington-based firm. The firm also expects to lure more energy work with its late November addition of two former senior members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s legal team, Mark Paoletta and Andrew Snowdon. In the current environment, businesses need law firms with a deep understanding of Capitol Hill protocols, Nannes said. “You need to know-if you’re a reputable organization-the business of doing business with the government,” Nannes said. Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney has been fielding calls from clients and potential clients who note the Pittsburgh-based firm’s close relationships with key congressman, said Ronald Platt, the firm’s Washington-based senior director of federal government relations. Among the names mentioned are John Dingell, D-Mich., who chairs Energy and Commerce; Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, D-Wis.; and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel, D-N.Y. Overall, the firm expects substantial government relations work related to tax, health care and financial services issues. “[They say] we’re going to need some help and would you come talk to us,” Platt said. Once the first company is fingered for wrongdoing, Platt expects more calls. “I watched this back in the 1980s with Ways and Means,” Platt said. “When one company is investigated for something, everyone in the industry tends to lawyer up.” Early warning Companies and individuals that find themselves under scrutiny by the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform may find the glare of the spotlight a little hotter, thanks to recent rule changes that give deposition and subpoena authority to committee members and their legal staffers. Nick Allard, a Washington attorney who co-chairs Patton Boggs’ public policy department, said that the Jan. 4 resolution was a “very, very early warning” sign of an increasing tide of subpoenas and investigations. “That should be expected to expand greatly the depth and breadth of investigations in a broad number of sectors,” Allard said. Although the firm said the hire wasn’t election-driven, Patton Boggs is ready for hedge fund investigations with the January addition of Fred Hatfield, a former commissioner of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Washington-based regulatory body that monitors the futures and options markets. A formal deposition process should also boost the committee’s preparation for public hearings by giving members an official avenue to explore topics outside of the time constraints of the public hearing process, said Steven Ross, a public law and policy partner in Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld’s Washington office. “It’s a way to test different theories and explore what the witness will say rather than having to do it with the lights on,” Ross said. Akin Gump expects more tax policy work with this month’s addition of former House Ways and Means Committee legal staffers Robert Leonard and Jayne Fitzgerald, who both jumped to the private sector in the mid-1990s after lengthy Ways and Means tenures. Akin’s other recent public law and policy hires include former House Armed Services Committee staffer B. Ryan Vaart as a policy adviser and new policy associate Melissa Laurenza, who was previously a Federal Election Commission staffer. With a former secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Tommy Thompson, on the firm’s roster since 2005, Akin Gump is also “well situated” to help clients with health policy issues, Ross said. “There are a lot of pent-up legislative ideas that Democrats feel they had not had a chance to get on the table,” Ross said. “They are now going to be served up.” The experience level of the newly appointed Democratic leadership is also a factor, said Allard, who noted that the congressional leaders have the advantages of prior experience running committees and veteran staffers, Allard said. “These chairs are all very experienced and effective chairs,” Allard said. The congressional power shift will transform the relatively quiet government relations scene of the last eight to 10 years, said Gary Slaiman, a partner in Bingham McCutchen’s Washington office, who expects investigations from government oversight committees, the finance committees, the judiciary committees and the commerce committees in each house. Last month, the firm’s government relations subsidiary, the Bingham Consulting Group, added Sarah Reznek, former chief counsel of consumer protection for the National Association of Attorneys General, who also has Federal Trade Commission trial experience. “Republicans were not as aggressive as Democrats had been before and will be going forward,” Slaiman said. “It’s going to be such a higher pace than what you’ve seen-it will be quite extraordinary.”

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