Texas Gov. Greg Abbott still has more than one week—20 days from the state lawmakers’ adjournment last month—to veto bills passed this session in Austin, and he this week scheduled a special summer session.
So lobbyists, including Jack Erskine, the administrative partner in the Austin office of K&L Gates, must wait for the final assessment on their rate of wins to losses.
One trend, however, already appears obvious to Erskine and other lawyers who lobby the Texas Legislature: Law firms’ market share may have diminished as many big firms pulled away from Austin lobbying, but opportunities have abounded for lobbyists in the Texas capitol.
According to Texas Ethics Commission reports, Erskine alone received as much as $1.4 million in compensation from 29 clients, including the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the American Legal Finance Association, Paypal, Perdue Farms and U.S. Steel Corp.
“We are getting hired on more issues by more clients,” he said.
With Washington often stymied by political gridlock, Texas and other state capitols have become more attractive for lobbyists’ clients, Erskine and other lawyers said.
“Some of the business came out of our Washington office from clients that had never been in Texas before,” he said. The adage—think globally, act locally—has taken on new meaning in light of this trend, he said.
Royce Poinsett, a senior attorney with Gardere, has seen the same trends: fewer law firms competing along with more business for those that stayed, including his.
“There are slightly fewer law firms, but certain firms like ours have increased our presence. There are a couple of us that are doubling down,” he said.
The Gardere team lobbied for Wal-Mart, Halliburton, Texas film director Robert Rodriguez’s Troublemaker Studios, the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Texas Veterinary Medical Association, and Archrock and Caterpillar and its Texas dealers. Poinsett received as much as $2.25 million in compensation from those clients for lobbying, according to the TEC records.
Neither Erskine nor Poinsett worked on one of the most heavily manned and highest-profile lobbying wins of this Texas legislative session: the victory scored by ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft.
Some 40 lobbyists for the companies succeeded in getting a law passed to place transportation network companies under state control and bar cities from enacting their own regulations.
The bill erases the standards that Austin, Houston and other Texas cities imposed requiring ride-hailing companies to have drivers undergo background checks. Among the big lawyer names working for Uber: Robert Miller, a partner at Locke Lord and one of Austin’s top lobbyists. He declined to comment for this article and referred questions to the company.
He will be compensated as much as $99,000 for his work for Uber in this legislative session, according to TEC reports.
Altogether in Texas, Uber and its rival Lyft, which joined forces to get Texas to join 41 other states that have statewide laws governing their industry, will pay $2 million or more to lobbyists this session, according to TEC records.
For those companies, the state lawmakers’ votes represent a bargain. In 2016, Uber and Lyft spent $8 million trying to persuade Austin voters to repeal a city ordinance requiring background checks for drivers. The two companies lost despite the millions spent. At the Legislature this session, the two companies made one-quarter of that spend on lobbyists and won a statewide victory.
Miriam Rozen covers the business of law with a focus on law firm-client relationships. Contact her at email@example.com. On Twitter: @MiriamRozen.