Paul Eberle, deputy CEO at Husch Blackwell

Husch Blackwell unveiled this week its plans to start a lobbying joint venture aimed at expanding its state-focused government relations practice to the federal level. The move came as the Kansas City, Missouri-based Am Law 100 firm acquired two new lobbying practices.

Husch Blackwell Strategies will house some of the law firm’s existing government solutions consultants and lawyers. Husch Blackwell’s lobbying practice has traditionally focused on statewide lobbying in Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska, Texas and Wisconsin, said Paul Eberle, the Milwaukee-based deputy CEO of the firm.

While Husch Blackwell does have some federal government lobbying capabilities, the firm is expanding that side of the house with the addition of Gregg Hartley’s Cloakroom Advisors LLC, which is based in Washington, D.C.

Hartley, founder and principal of the federal lobbying firm and a longtime adviser to former U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Missouri), will now be CEO of Husch Blackwell Strategies. His clients have included American Airlines Group Inc., AT&T Inc., BellSouth LLC, Cerner Corp., Expedia Inc., Eagle-Picher Corp., Emerson Electric Co./Liebert Corp., The Walt Disney Co. and Verizon Communications Inc., among others, according to his biography page.

Husch Blackwell Strategies will also now include Jefferson City, Missouri-based Statehouse Strategies, a lobbying shop set up in early 2016 by Roy Blunt’s son, Andrew Blunt, who will serve as chairman and COO of Husch Blackwell Strategies.

Eberle said the move to expand Husch Blackwell’s national lobbying practice is in part a response to many federal lobbying groups growing their statewide lobbying arms. Lathrop & Gage, a regional rival of Husch Blackwell, launched its own government relations and lobbying subsidiary after absorbing a Jefferson City-based shop late last year, while St. Louis-based Am Law 200 firm Armstrong Teasdale made a similar move in late 2016.

“With a more heavily focused state lobbying practice, we understand there is a lot of interplay between states and the federal government, and we need to be able to deliver on both ends,” Eberle said. “This is a strategic and important area for us and the ability to lead in this combination is our way of responding to the opportunity. Because we’re going to be deeper, we’re going to be bigger, we’re going to be stronger and we’ll be able to do more for our clients.”

Many firms have housed their lobbying arms in separate entities due to the different business models of lobbying practices and law firms. Freeing the the new joint venture from a law firm’s billable-hour model and overhead will allow Husch Blackwell Strategies to be more responsive to clients, Eberle said.

The past year has been a busy one for Eberle, who joined Husch Blackwell in 2016 as a result of its merger with Wisconsin-based Whyte Hirschboeck Dudek. Eberle, who is not a lawyer, was elected in August to serve as CEO of Husch Blackwell, a role he will assume next month.

While the first postmerger year for Husch Blackwell was a successful one financially for the combined firm, it also resulted in some internal changes, including the reduction of about 40 lawyers from its head count, mostly as partners or counsel retired or “transitioned” at years’ end. That represented about a 4 percent reduction in Husch Blackwell’s total lawyers.

But a focus on lobbying may help the firm grow. Husch Blackwell said this week that its new lobbying unit will look to add a “significant presence” in “key state capitals” across the country.

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