The attorneys at Washington-based Wilkinson Barker Knauer specialize in representing some of the biggest names in the communications business.
The 47-lawyer firm’s client list includes NBC Universal, Verizon, T-Mobile, Cox Enterprises Inc., Cisco Systems Inc. and Dish Network Corp.
“We handle all aspects of regulatory policy for the major corporations including transactions, policy work and compliance,” said managing partner Bryan Tramont. “We run the whole gamut of communications regulatory issues.”
Despite its small size, Tramont said, the firm is larger than many large law firms’ communications practice groups. “We compete in part because of our great depth and a stronger value proposition than the big firms can offer,” Tramont said. “We bring tremendous breadth and depth with small-firm flexibility and value.”
Tramont said it is the value and quality of service that attracts big-name companies as clients. In June, Chambers USA named Wilkinson a top-tier telecommunications firm in its 2011 rankings alongside other large firms such as Wiley Rein and Covington & Burling.
Many of the partners have spent time working either at the Federal Communications Commission or closely with the agency. Tramont was formerly the chief of staff of the FCC under Chairman Michael Powell. Last week, the firm welcomed Rosemary Harold, former legal adviser to FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell, to the fold. In mid-July, President Barack Obama nominated Wilkinson partner Maureen Ohlhausen to be a commissioner at the Federal Trade Commission.
A small-firm size and deep bench were two characteristics that attracted Cheryl Tritt and five other lawyers to make the leap from Morrison & Foerster in March 2010. Tritt said the firm’s small size gives it greater flexibility with pricing, which in turn can become the tipping point for many companies. “In the big firms, your rates are expected to be at a very high level,” Tritt said. “Not all companies are willing to pay that money for policy work.” Tritt said that Wilkinson does some transactional work for other large companies, but wouldn’t say which ones.
Kathy Zachem, senior vice president at Comcast, was formerly a Wilkinson partner for 26 years. Zachem started out working as a law clerk and worked her way to partner. She said the firm is very top-heavy in that it’s mainly comprised of partners rather than associates. This allows a small group of partners to work collectively, which consequently “makes the work more efficient for the client.”
“We didn’t have to bill out 750 or 900 an hour in order to justify our various levels of attorneys,” Zachem said of her former firm. “In a large law firm you have policies and you have to follow them. We were able to work on fee arrangements.”
The firm did regulatory work for EchoStar when it acquired Hughes Communications for $1.3 billion in February.
Wilkinson also represented NBC Universal, doing regulatory work related to the company’s $30 billion partial acquisition by Comcast as part of a joint venture with General Electric Co., which was finalized in January. As part of the deal, NBC Universal had to give up its management of video-streaming site Hulu, which it jointly managed alongside News Corp. and The Walt Disney Co. The company also pledged to expand Internet access and not quash access to online video content. In addition, NBC Universal pledged to expand Spanish-language programming and help increase Internet access in libraries and schools. Comcast owns 51% of NBC Universal, while General Electric owns 49%.
Zachem provided in-house advice for Comcast throughout the merger and said her former firm handled the merger with expert precision.
“They’re very good lawyers and they know their substantive areas,” Zachem said. “They also stay very much on top of the goings-on at the agencies, so that they bring practical advice in addition to the legal advice.”
Matthew Huisman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.