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Former Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission Chairman Glen Thomas joined Blank Rome in early 2005 to help build a national energy practice at the firm. He left May 31, but didn’t sever all ties. Thomas formed a new venture, GT Power Group, to craft regulatory, political and legal strategies for electric, telecommunications, natural gas and water companies nationally. And this week, Blank Rome announced that it had entered into a strategic alliance with its former partner’s company to provide legal, government affairs and communications services to their mutual clients. Thomas said the energy market is evolving in an “intricate and delicate way,” and he needed a slightly different platform to provide regulatory and political strategic advice. The best legal argument, Thomas said, may still not produce the desired result if the political and regulatory dynamics aren’t taken into consideration. Over the past two years, Blank Rome had created a specific niche in representing clients with interests in the electricity arena, Thomas said. Their clients are in a range of energy-related fields, however, and Thomas said they represent both utilities and those looking to invest in energy-related industries. Now that Thomas has left the firm and his role as a de facto industry group leader within Blank Rome, Managing Partner Carl M. Buchholz said corporate mergers and acquisitions partner Ronald Fisher will take over that role. His practice focuses in large part on the electric utility industry. Thomas will still attend Blank Rome’s energy group meetings and the two firms will jointly market their alliance, Buchholz said. The energy field is a practice growing at several firms, and Thomas said it is picking up on both the regulatory and transactional sides. Those sides are often brought together, he said, now that several utility mergers have run into trouble at the state regulatory level. The rising costs of energy fuel an increase in legal-related work as well because utilities more frequently request rate increases, Thomas said. Blank Rome isn’t the first firm to enter into a strategic alliance focused on energy. Pepper Hamilton announced in 2006 its alliance with The Abraham Group, a strategy and political affairs firm led by former U.S. Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham. Firms have approached the creation of an energy practice in several different ways. Blank Rome, for example, has several bankruptcy attorneys in its energy practice. Thomas said that stemmed from the firm’s involvement with the U.S. bankruptcy of Powergen. Bankruptcy also plays a role in an energy practice, he said, because utilities are often one of the higher-priority creditors when a manufacturer or other company goes bankrupt. Buchholz said the firm’s energy practice is pretty evenly split between transactional and regulatory attorneys. The industry group brings in attorneys from the firm’s government relations subsidiary as well as its real estate, litigation and corporate practices. Some of the firm’s clients, Buchholz said, include chemical and petroleum companies and utilities. Both Pepper Hamilton and Blank Rome held conferences in the past few months revolving around their energy practices. The differences in the topics illustrate how differently firms can build energy groups. Pepper Hamilton, along with The Abraham Group, looked at energy and environmental legislation, energy investments and project finance, regulatory activity and geopolitical considerations. Blank Rome’s conference focused on climate change and the energy policies of the United States and the European Union. Pepper Hamilton has focused its energy practice more on the transactional side as opposed to the regulatory arena, according to one of the alliance’s intermediaries, Washington, D.C., partner George A. Lehner. He said the firm saw greater opportunities on the transactional side because of the growing merger activity in the energy industry. Pepper Hamilton doesn’t represent many utility companies, he said, but focuses more on companies looking to invest in or create alternative energy projects or those that have legal issues regarding the sometimes competing interests of energy needs versus global warming concerns. The firm’s energy practice brings together 22 attorneys from a mix of practice areas, Lehner said, including construction, real estate, public finance, corporate, mergers and acquisitions, international trade, environmental, intellectual property and antitrust. Pennsylvania firms are looking for ways to gain work in the energy industry, whether it be through practice area focus or opening an office in energy-heavy markets like Houston. A look back at recent news shows several firms making moves based, at least in part, on the development of an energy practice. Duane Morris’ construction group is beginning to focus on energy and nuclear power work through the representation of plant designers, engineers and builders. When Duane Morris opened a Singapore office earlier this year, firm Chairman Sheldon Bonovitz said he hoped to build the firm’s energy practice through that office. DLA Piper Joint Chief Executive Officer Francis B. Burch Jr. said in April that his firm might be in Houston within a year in order to capitalize on the city’s energy work. Morgan Lewis & Bockius opened up a Houston office in January, in part to bolster the firm’s energy work out of Washington, D.C. Post & Schell opened a Washington, D.C., office with the addition of an energy partner from Morgan Lewis in March 2006.

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