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Despite disappointing early election results rolling in from the rest of the nation, U.S. Senate candidate Ron Kirk wasn’t ready to call it quits yet. “It’s really early, let’s just take a deep breath,” the Texas Democrat told the Dallas crowd of supporters at 10 p.m. on Nov. 5. “This is going to be a race that is going to be won late.” He noted vote-counting problems in Tarrant and Bexar counties and predicted the results would not be definitive until 4 a.m. But by 11:30 p.m., Kirk stepped up to the small podium at the Women’s Museum in Fair Park — backed by a lighted sign displaying his campaign banner — and conceded his loss to Texas Attorney General John Cornyn. If Kirk had won he would have been Texas’ first black senator. When Kirk — who garnered 43 percent of the vote compared to Cornyn’s 55 percent — conceded defeat on election night, the broad-shouldered candidate beamed more broadly than one might expect. “Maybe I should be sad, but I’m not,” he told the crowd. He hugged his mother and talked proudly. And after expressing his gratitude to his family and campaign staff, Kirk extended thanks to a group that many candidates don’t bother to remember publicly at such a time: his law partners. He told the television cameras, seemingly in jest: “I am going back to work tomorrow. I know [my partners] will be thankful.” But the immediate return to Dallas’ Gardere Wynne Sewell was no joke. Steve Good, the firm’s managing partner, says Kirk kept his election-night pledge and showed up for work Wednesday morning at the Dallas firm where he has been a partner for the past six years. “I got here at 11 and he was already here,” recalls Good. “We appreciated that.” If he had won, Kirk would have been required by Senate Rule 6a to leave private practice behind. Kirk’s subsequent return to Gardere should ultimately end up being advantageous for the 284-lawyer regional firm. Lawyers at competing firms, consultants and Good agree that the exposure Kirk gained from an election that drew national attention will pay back the firm big time. Specifically, they say, the revenue that Kirk will likely generate for the firm in the wake of his historic bid will dwarf the salary he received in the past years. While serving as mayor of Dallas and then running for the Senate — duties that left little time to practice law — Kirk received more than $200,000 annually in partner payouts, according to reports he filed with the Federal Election Commission. The government requires such disclosure for candidates for national office. “He is very charismatic, and he’s very talented,” Good says. “No question about that. Clearly he has met a lot of people and made a lot of connections, not only on a statewide but also on a national basis.” Those contacts will help the firm with recruiting and business development, Good says. Outsiders agree. “He has great people skills. He’s going to be very effective, even on a national level,” says Charles Blau, a former partner of Kirk’s when both were with the now-defunct Dallas firm Johnson & Gibbs. “He gave Gardere the best chance they’ve ever had of getting someone on a national stage. There may be a few naysayers over there who have complained about paying him but they just don’t understand his potential for generating business. If I were a partner there, I wouldn’t be at all worried.” Kirk, who appeared on CBS’ “60 Minutes” and was featured in a flattering profile in The New Yorker magazine, has honed his abilities as a lawyer and a communicator on the Senate campaign trail, says Blau, now a partner in Dallas’ Meadows, Owens, Collier, Reed, Cousins & Blau. “There were times when I saw [him campaigning] and darned if he didn’t look like he liked what he was doing,” Blau says. Thomas Bond, a partner in the Austin office of Dallas’ Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, a firm with a national presence and reputation for attracting former politicians, says he most likely will compete with Kirk for legislative and lobbying-related clients. Bond agrees that Kirk, as a former U.S. Senate candidate, will have distinct advantages. “Ron had a lot of clout before he ran for the Senate,” Bond says. “But I think this has given him a national base. The firm could make a lot of it but it depends how the firm manages its resources. Our firm started in Dallas 50 years ago and we had a guy named Strauss who moved to Washington, D.C., and that’s the beginning of quite a tale.” After Robert Strauss served as then-President Jimmy Carter’s personal representative to the Middle East, Akin Gump grew into a national powerhouse known for its lobbying strengths. About Kirk’s partners, Bond says, “They’ll get back many times in prestige, in stature, whatever they have paid him, particularly from the Senate race.” Bond says he believes the Senate race has developed Kirk’s acumen and contact list with much more depth than his work as mayor of Dallas. Kirk did not return calls seeking comment by presstime. Cornyn also did not return a call seeking comment. NAME RECOGNITION Robert Rowland was a former partner of Kirk’s at Johnson & Gibbs. The current owner of Associated Counsel of America, a temp agency for legal staff, he also consults with firms about growth and marketing strategies. Rowland says he sees a bigger future for Gardere with their most-famous partner’s return to law. “He can get in a lot of doors that they couldn’t get in without him,” Rowland says. “He’s a lot more valuable now than he was before he ran for the Senate. He has national name recognition. In that kind of spotlight, he comported himself well.” The challenge for Gardere, says Rowland, will be to make the most of Kirk’s national presence even though the firm is largely considered regional. A merger for that firm with a national powerhouse would not be out of the question now that Kirk is back, says Rowland. Managing partner Good declines to comment about any merger possibilities. Blau, Rowland and others speculate that Kirk may get offers — for federal posts in Washington — that will be hard to resist. But even if Kirk stays only briefly at Gardere, Rowland believes he’ll offer immediate advantage. “There are a lot of politicians who use law firms as rest stops, and it helps the firms.” As far as the specifics of Kirk’s immediate tasks at Gardere, Good says, none of that has been spelled out. “Personally, I hope he gets to take a vacation,” Blau says. Good says he suggested to Kirk that he might need more time to decompress. But Kirk seems raring to go. While not ready to pinpoint precisely all of what Kirk will do, he says he expects Kirk — who was a lobbyist before becoming mayor — will work in Dallas but also have a presence in Austin. Earlier this year, Gardere opened an Austin office, which now has five lawyers. Good says that Kirk probably will be handed a big share of business development responsibilities.

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