After falling off the list of the 50 highest-grossing lobbying practices for 2008, Arent Fox jumped 73% with $10.7 million in revenue last year, the largest increase of any firm on the Influence 50 survey.
Arent Fox’s rebound was tied to work it picked up as a result of the faltering economy. Its lobbyists worked with clients seeking a piece of stimulus funding and they also repped car dealers trying to blunt the fallout from the General Motors and Chrysler bankruptcies.
The firm boosted fees in all categories, including a 12% increase in revenue reported under the Lobbying Disclosure Act, to $2.9 million. Arent Fox more than doubled revenue from activities such as legislative monitoring, representation before government agencies and political law, for a total of $6.4 million.
Jon Bouker and Dan Renberg, co-managers of the firm’s government relations practice, said partners made a concerted effort to increase the number of referrals that came from within the firm, partly by marketing to clients of practices for which the firm is known, such as real estate. For instance, Bouker and Renberg said they worked with developers to help them secure government leases, though they wouldn’t name any examples. Lobbying registrations show the firm made $80,000 last year representing real estate brokerage Cassidy & Pinkard Colliers concerning development of property in Washington for federal use.
“When the stimulus bill was passed, we became experts in the stimulus bill and we basically went out to our clients, and pitched new clients, on what was in the stimulus,” Bouker said. “We were able to stay very, very busy as a result of that. We are engaging in a similar effort now with health care reform.”
Meanwhile, one internal referral from the firm’s bankruptcy group became a marquee client. The Committee to Restore Dealer Rights, an organization of auto dealers who lost their franchises as part of the spate of automobile manufacturer bankruptcies, signed up with Arent Fox in June and paid $530,000 in fees in 2009.
Congress ultimately passed legislation creating an arbitration process for the dealers, many of whom have had franchises restored. The group is still a client, though work has trailed off.
Another new client in 2009 was the Mountain West Conference, a league of universities that lobbied Congress as part of an effort to press changes to college football’s post-season system. Arent Fox made $260,000 representing the schools last year.
The firm has also been hiring. Last April, Arent Fox picked up former Rep. Philip English (R-Pa.) as a senior government relations adviser. English, a former member of the powerful House Ways and Means panel, said old relationships with partner Craig Engle, head of the political law practice, and Renberg, whom he knew from his days as an aide to Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), helped bring him to the firm. He wasn’t able to lobby last year because of ethics rules but offered strategic advice to clients and helped pitch potential new ones.
“What I was looking for was the kind of team that I could join that could make effective use of my full background and, at the same time, give me a strong platform to reach out to prospective clients,” English said.
The firm also hired for the political law practice, adding Brett Kappel as counsel. Engle said the political law group also picked up more campaign finance work in 2009, such as handling Federal Election Commission reporting for political action committees, campaign committees and candidates.
Obviously, the firm’s growth rate during the past year is going to be hard to sustain, and next year’s picture is still muddy. Defense giant Raytheon Co. paid Arent Fox $320,000 in lobbying fees in 2009 but ended the relationship at the end of the year, lobbying registrations show.
Renberg said that “although engagements always have an ebb and flow,” he and Bouker hope to hold steady or grow more in 2010. He said the two have not yet pulled together the first-quarter numbers for the practice, which are due later this month, but that new work continues to come in. So far, the firm has filed three new registrations during the first quarter of 2010, compared to one in the first quarter of last year. Renberg and Bouker said they expect the government relations practice to make more hires this year, and for internal referrals to continue.
And Engle said political law work is plentiful going into the midterm elections. “This kind of success breeds success,” Engle said. “Once a law firm gets even better and better in the groove of referring matters to their divisions, it keeps getting better and better.”
Carrie Levine can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.