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Big government is John Newton’s bread and butter. Newton, a partner in the Tallahassee, Fla., office of Berger Singerman, a 41-lawyer firm based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., represents clients in administrative suits against the state. On behalf of the NAACP, Newton currently is challenging Florida’s decision to stop considering racial diversity in university admissions. He’s fought to allow optometrists to prescribe drugs. He’s sued the state on behalf of shrimp fishermen to overturn a Florida rule requiring the use of turtle protection devices. When he conducts seminars on regulatory law, he always starts by asking attendees to raise their hands if they believe there is less regulation now that Florida has a Republican Legislature and a Republican governor. “They just laugh,” he says. Newton and other lawyers in the field of governmental affairs representation bank on the fact that a plethora of laws, bills and rules will come out of Tallahassee every year — no matter which party is in control. That’s particularly true this session, from March through May, when the Legislature meets. Right now, the city is in the midst of a feeding frenzy of lawyers and lobbyists, both attorneys and non-attorneys, who are swarming the Capitol to help their clients pass or block legislation, shape state policies and steer public dollars toward their projects. But the Republican takeover of both the Florida governorship and the Legislature in 1998 has altered the landscape, creating new opportunities for former GOP lawmakers, while forcing traditionally Democratic lawyers and lobbyists to scramble. Law firms face mounting pressure to raise money from clients for politicians’ campaign war chests. Meanwhile, lawyers and law firms, which long dominated the lobbying business, increasingly are facing challenges from nonattorneys and nonlegal lobbying firms. As a result of the growing importance of government, Tallahassee has become the epicenter for Florida lawyers. In Leon County, more than one in every 100 residents is a lawyer. That’s four times the state average, and more than twice the concentration in lawyer-rich Miami-Dade County. The county’s total of 2,671 registered lawyers, who practice in 218 firms, exceeds the totals in Jacksonville, St. Petersburg or Sarasota — all cities with significantly larger populations than Tallahassee’s 200,000. Several large statewide firms have major government representation practices in the capital, including Akerman Senterfitt, Carlton Fields, Greenberg Traurig, and Steel Hector & Davis. There were 978 registered legislative lobbyists as of the end of January, 276 of whom are attorneys, according to the Florida Bar. The others include former legislators, legislative staffers and officials of business and trade groups. Lobbyists are a facile and adaptable group of people, Newton says. For a good lobbyist, it doesn’t matter if he or she is a Republican or Democrat. “It has more to do with being able to be nonpolitical and with being a good [campaign] fund-raiser,” explains Newton, whose firm has close ties to the Democrats and was heavily involved on Al Gore’s side during the presidential recount war. Indeed, a majority of lobbyists don’t align themselves too closely with either political party, says James Harold Thompson, a partner with Ausley & McMullen, a law firm with 30 attorneys practicing in Tallahassee. “Lobbyists generally don’t take on their party colors too strong because of what they do for a living,” says Thompson, who was speaker of the Florida House of Representatives in 1985 and 1986. “I don’t lobby for any causes or policy considerations. I just lobby for business, by and large, and when you deal with business, that’s the same to both parties,” he said. When the day’s legislative battles are over, the lobbyists call a temporary political truce and belly up to the old brick bar at Clyde’s & Costello’s, just a short walk from the Capitol. There, the horse trading continues — with journalists often listening in. A lot of that drinking, you can be sure, is done on the client’s tab. Still, many more Tallahassee lawyers make a living litigating against and negotiating with the government than lobbying state officials. “Government, not lobbying, makes the legal market run,” says Newton. IT’S WHO YOU KNOW To the dismay of Tallahassee’s law firms, some of the hottest lobbying firms in town are not law firms. They are politically connected “consulting” companies with close ties to state Republican leaders. Two of the most influential are Southern Strategies and Tidewater Consulting. Former Florida state Republican Party chairman Tom Slade, who’s not an attorney, is at the helm of Tidewater. Former House Speaker John Thrasher, who is an attorney, heads Southern Strategies. Although state law prohibits former lawmakers from lobbying the House and Senate for two years after leaving office, they are free to lobby the executive branch, the Cabinet and state agencies. Thrasher, who led the Republican-controlled House from 1998 until last year, registered as an executive branch lobbyist. Thus, he’s free to try to persuade his old friend Gov. Jeb Bush to adopt his clients’ positions on a range of issues. However, in February, Thrasher became the target of an ethics complaint after he got caught sending a letter to invite some legislators to have lunch with University of Miami president Tad Foote and the school’s legislative lobbyist, Barry Horenbein. Thrasher recently was hired to represent the school in matters pending before the Legislature. He later apologized. However, this wasn’t the first ethics complaint filed against Thrasher. He was rebuked on the House floor in 1993 for lobbying a state medical board on behalf of the Florida Medical Association, where he was its general counsel. Thrasher’s partners include Paul Bradshaw, whose wife, Sally, was Bush’s chief of staff and gubernatorial campaign director, and David Rancourt, a nonattorney who served as elections chief for former Secretary of State Sandra Mortham. Both have close ties to the governor. Thrasher represents Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida, Florida YMCA, the St. Joe Co. and Jacksonville Greyhound Racing Inc. This year, the former speaker was hired by DuPont Pharmaceuticals to help the drug maker block passage of a bill that could cost the company millions in lost sales. That bill would make it easier for consumers to purchase a cheaper generic substitute for the DuPont-made blood thinner Coumadin and four other brand-name drugs. Despite their friendship, Thrasher may have a hard time convincing the governor, who has been a strong proponent of reducing prescription drug costs, particularly for the state Medicaid program. Thrasher’s leap into lobbying illustrates the impact of term limits, which broadly affected the Legislature — and lawyers throughout the capital — for the first time last fall. The forced turnover led to a new Legislature top-heavy with rookies — 63 in the 120-member House, 11 in the 40-member Senate. That, in turn, has made state government veterans such as Thrasher — with their long institutional memories — hot commodities in the lobbying market. Their knowledge of fund raising, bill writing, compromise brokering, and political strategizing gives them unprecedented influence in Tallahassee and makes them particularly attractive to clients who want to influence state government. Term limits also have increased the power of the dozens of staff attorneys who work for the governor’s office, the Legislature and the various state agencies. The staff attorneys direct the flow of information to lawmakers, craft legislation and amendments, and guide legislators on complex legal issues. An inexperienced Legislature almost certainly will rely more heavily on them. Thrasher, who was a lobbyist for 20 years before being elected to the House in 1992, acknowledges that his value has increased since his days of lobbying on behalf of the Florida Medical Association. He attributes that to his experience and his reputation as a brass-knuckles operator. “Basically, I’m paid a lot more money than I used to be,” he says. Other lawyer-lobbyists, however, are critical of the new breed of lobbyists, who market themselves primarily on the basis of their ability to gain access to powerful elected officials and bureaucrats. Steve Uhlfelder, a partner in the Tallahassee office of Tampa-based Holland & Knight, a firm with 1,150 attorneys, says clients need to realize that access peddlers are a short-term solution for long-term lobbying needs. Why? Because their political cronies won’t be in office for long. “People who sell themselves as ‘I can get you in the door’ [are] a two-year or four-year relationship,” Uhlfelder cautions. FINDING A NICHE Lobbying is not to all attorneys’ taste. But those who do it say they wouldn’t trade places with litigators or transactional specialists. Jodi Chase originally wanted to be your basic lawyer. But after graduating from Florida State University law school in 1988, she couldn’t get a law firm job and took a staff position working for a state cabinet member. She then cut her teeth working for Associated Industries of Florida, the 800-pound business lobbying gorilla. From there she moved to the Tallahassee office of 155-lawyer Broad and Cassel. Chase, who recently launched her own firm, has become one of the most influential lobbyists in the capital, representing the HMO industry, among others. Now she’s working the corridors on behalf of the nursing home industry, whose campaign for restrictions on patient abuse and neglect lawsuits is one of the toughest battles in Tallahassee during this legislative session. Today, she laughs at her old idea of doing traditional lawyering. The slow pace would “drive me nuts,” she says. She loves the 60 frantic, caffeine-laced days of the legislative session. Lobbying is “hand-to-hand combat,” she explains, where you have to balance many competing interests and try to get them to see things your client’s way. Richard Watson agrees. He left a traditional law practice at Isler Brown Smoak & Watson in Panama City and moved to Tallahassee after working on the re-election campaigns of U.S. Sen. Bob Graham and former President Jimmy Carter. Once there, he took over lobbying efforts for then-Insurance Commissioner Bill Gunter, before eventually forming his own firm. Watson now represents Orlando-based Associated Builders and Contractors of Florida Inc. (ABC), a trade association for builders and contractors that has five chapters across the state. Today, Watson lobbies for numerous public interest groups. Lobbying, Watson says, “is like being in a trial. There’s a real adrenaline high.” THE RULES ARE DIFFERENT Fresh from a clerkship at the Florida Supreme Court, John Newton started out thinking lobbyists were sleazy. While many Americans still regard them that way, many lobbyists take it in stride. Business lobbyists who try to fend off environmental regulation jokingly call themselves the “black hats,” he says. He half-jokingly describes what goes on in Tallahassee’s smoke-filled backrooms as “Chinatown,” a reference to the classic Jack Nicholson movie about political and moral corruption. “But, 20 years later, I have a high regard for lobbyists,” he adds. “They deal with complex issues in a short time frame in an arena that has no set rules and no real enforcement. They have to be smart, good with people, and have to have good instincts and courage.” On the other hand, Newton says, some lobbyists are “frustrated” by the growing pressure on them from politicians to raise political campaign money. That pressure has intensified in the past several years, since Republicans have risen to power and the two parties have battled for control. “The game has changed in the last few years,” he says. “The pressure to raise money and pick sides has increased.” WHO NEEDS A LAWYER? But not all lobbyists are lawyers. Surprisingly, some lawyers think that’s a good idea. Alan Katz, of Tallahassee-based Katz Kutter Haigler Alderman Bryant & Yon, was one of the first managing partners in Florida to use nonattorneys as lobbyists on a large scale. His firm has thrived using this approach. The key to lobbying, he says, is to know the process and the players. You don’t have to be a lawyer to know how government works. “Some of the most important people in our firm, and I would say most firms in this community, are nonlawyers. Five or 10 years ago people would have never said that,” he notes. Katz Kutter’s Tallahassee office has grown to 58 lawyers, the largest legal shop in town, and the firm has opened offices in Miami, Orlando and Washington, D.C., in the last five years. Katz’s firm does more insurance regulation work than any other firm in the state. “Some old-line law firms will say we only want lawyers here,” Katz says. “It is one of the advantages of not being an old-line law firm [that we] were not burdened with that kind of mindset. It was to our advantage.” Harry Spring, Florida governmental relations director for Humana Inc., the large managed health care insurer that is a Katz Kutter client, praises Katz’s lobbyists, saying he’s turned away other law firms who want to represent his company. “I would put [Katz Kutter] high on the list of folks we work with around the country,” Spring says. But Mark Wylie, executive director of the Central Florida chapter of ABC, says he feels more comfortable using a lawyer-lobbyist like Watson than a nonattorney lobbyist. That’s because he typically wants help passing, blocking, or amending legislation. And who knows laws and statutes better than lawyers, he reasons. “If I’m looking for medical advice, I’m going to a doctor,” Wylie says. “If I need legal advice or legislative advice, I’m going to see a lawyer.” For other corporate clients, however, a lobbyist’s subject-matter expertise is more important than whether he or she is a lawyer. Florida Power & Light Co. uses a combination of in-house and external lobbyists to tap a wider range of knowledge. That’s because its business is affected by bills and rules on issues ranging from taxes to the environment to transportation to utility regulation. Paul Hamilton, an in-house lobbyist for FPL who’s based in Tallahassee, hires a number of lobbyists from various law firms to supplement his efforts. “We have issues that cover so many areas,” he says. “I don’t know any one person who is an expert in all those areas.” While lobbying in the capital can be exciting work and brings in a reasonably steady income, there is a tradeoff. “You aren’t going to get rich,” Chase laments. Government-related work never produces the type of big payday that can come from being the winning plaintiff attorney in a big lawsuit, Chase says. “There’s no lobbyist who makes as much as any single one of the plaintiff lawyers who come up here to lobby. Not one. They can make on one case what a lobbyist makes in a year.”

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