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SAN FRANCISCO � Helping clients find the right approach to take with government alcohol regulators can be like choosing the right wine for dinner: stressful, complex and you don’t have all day. That’s why Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman hired Jerry Jolly, a 31-year veteran of the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, as a nonlawyer consultant for its five-person wine, beer and spirits practice group earlier this year. “[Jerry]‘s provided us valuable insight on the way that the agency makes decisions,” said James Seff, a longtime Pillsbury partner who heads the practice from San Francisco. “There was a surprising amount that I didn’t know.” While nonlawyer industry experts have populated some practice groups for at least a decade, such as in the science-heavy intellectual property arena, now they’re being hired in new areas. “In part to differentiate themselves, [firms] are looking to less traditional areas to bring them in,” said Susan Raridon Lambreth, a practice group expert with legal consultancy Hildebrandt International. For alcohol lawyers the argument is simple: Consultants provide expertise, most often on regulatory and compliance issues, to their practice group, and they usually bill out at a far lower rate than attorneys. “What people are seeing is that as you build groups you just can’t charge lawyer rates for some of the work that needs to get done. But it’s really important work � it’s essential,” said Robert Carrol, the San Francisco partner who heads Nixon Peabody’s beverage alcohol team. A ‘waxing’ practice Carrol’s firm just added three new consultants earlier this month, including wine trade expert Jeannie Bremer in the San Francisco office, bringing the group’s head count to 10. While attorneys in the group bill out from $400 to $500 an hour, the consultants bill out at around half of that amount, Carrol said. At Pillsbury and Nixon, lawyers say that they’re seeing more work in the practice area � in part, spurred by the new hires. “Since January, the phone hasn’t stopped ringing,” said Seff. “Some of it is Jerry. Much of it is old clients with new problems. The practice is waxing right now.” For example, Seff points to his representation of private equity firm TowerBrook Capital Partners as special liquor counsel in its purchase of Beverages & More Inc. Nixon lawyers also report more matters for real estate investment trusts that need all of their liquor licenses when buying or selling properties, which can include resorts and restaurants. Still, the bread and butter of the practice remains commercial disputes and trademark, contract and regulatory work. Perhaps the most nettlesome regulations are the so-called “tied house” laws that restrict cross-ownership of suppliers, wholesalers and retailers. These alcohol industry regulations (which originated with Prohibition repeal), as well as many others aimed at curbing alcohol use, vary from state to state, so new companies on the California scene come to the lawyers � and now the consultants � for advice. “It’s a lot of the same issues, but you just have different players in the California market,” said Pillsbury’s Jolly, who works in the firm’s Sacramento, Calif., office. So far, he’s consulted for Anheuser-Busch Inc. and other clients on marketing and distribution issues. He’s also prepared a training program for Rite Aid clerks on things like proper ID checks.

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