LEGAL TIMES: What effect, if any, is the ongoing budget fight having for clients?
FRANK (RUSTY) CONNER III: I don’t think there is any question that business activity has been constrained as a result of not only the sequester but the larger issue of fiscal and tax policy of the federal government.
The sequester is obviously having a lot of impact on the northern Virginia technology and government-contract practice. As the government reduces or curtails its spending, it’s going to have a major impact in northern Virginia, Maryland and the District. We expect to see a great deal of layoffs and reduction in economic activity in this particular market.
What business needs is certainty as to what the rules are going to be. They will make their investment decisions and align their business models accordingly. The worst of all worlds is when they don’t have that certainty because they don’t know what to do. They become less active and put off making decisions.
LT: What are your thoughts on the overall state of the legal market?
CONNER: The legal profession is going through transformation, and those firms that embrace change and are entrepreneurial and are willing to make tough decisions will fare very well.
LT: How do you spend your time outside of the practice of law?
CONNER: One way is serving as counsel to the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs. Last year it was one of the [nongovernmental organizations] whose offices were raided in Cairo. Our people were threatened with arrest and criminal charges. We spent a lot of time with the State Department and Justice working on that.
I am also a board member of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which has had its challenges and certainly has been in the paper quite a bit, and is responsible for helping to put the Silver Line [rail service] out to Dulles. That has been a fascinating ride.
LT: What are some of the challenges of this Silver Line project?
CONNER: No one could get that project moving. The state turned to the airports authority because it had credibility. It was not properly funded from the beginning. There was a de minimis amount of support for the whole project. There was support for phase one but not for phase two. I think those who were pushing it said, "This is an opportunity to get rail to Dulles, it keeps in the public sector, and we’ll figure it out as we go along." That’s what we’re doing.
Unfortunately, we are taking the heat in a lot of respects. That’s not to say some of it isn’t deserved for issues that were related to less financial planning. I think when all is said and done on the financing in about four months, that we will have $300 million from Virginia. It looks like we will also have a very significant [Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act] loan from the federal government. That is a project we have coming together and it ultimately is a great project for the region.
Clearly, people can criticize it for what it’s done to toll rates and the anticipated usage of Metro, but I think 10 years down the road, 20 years down the road, people are going to look back and say, "We needed this."