New York-based construction law firm Peckar & Abramson has launched a Philadelphia-area office with the hire of a local attorney who focuses on public-private partnerships.
Frank M. Rapoport is no stranger to being the lone man in Philadelphia for an out-of-town firm. He is joining Peckar & Abramson from McKenna Long & Aldridge, where he was the only Pennsylvania lawyer at the firm.
Peckar & Abramson launched a new Devon, Pa., office upon Rapoport’s hire. He will be working out of the 100-lawyer shop’s New York and Devon locations.
Rapoport’s hire comes less than a year after the July 2012 passage of Pennsylvania’s Act 88, P3 enabling legislation that creates a state board to review possible opportunities for public-private partnerships. The board will look to identify opportunities and will also accept unsolicited proposals from private entities. New York and New Jersey are eyeing similar legislation, Rapoport said.
Rapoport had been with McKenna Long for the last 12 years, but it wasn’t until about 2006 that the idea of a P3 legal practice really began to take off. There are only a few firms in the city who handle the work — perhaps most notably Ballard Spahr, whose 50-plus attorney P3 practice includes former Governor Edward G. Rendell.
Rapoport said he was doing P3 work before it was really called that. He represented GMH, now known as Balfour Beatty, in its $2 billion privatization of military housing. In that deal, the private company absorbed the cost of renovating all of the housing and then collected the soldiers’ housing stipends when the homes were ready to be lived in.
The real push for P3 work took off in 2009 when the country began focusing on the need to redo its infrastructure and there wasn’t taxpayer money to fund it, Rapoport said. Now, private equity funds and pension funds are interested in rebuilding the nation’s roads and bridges with the idea that they will then be privately run after the improvements were made, he said.
The northeast, including Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Maryland, are some of the last states to the P3 party, but this is now the region that is expected to see the most deal flow, Rapoport said. He said his old firm didn’t have offices in New Jersey or much of a presence in New York or Pennsylvania. Peckar & Abramson has offices in New York, New Jersey, Washington, D.C., California, Florida, Chicago and Georgia. A call to McKenna Long was not immediately returned.
Rapoport said about 75 of Peckar & Abramson’s 100 lawyers are pure construction attorneys. He said he adds the finance piece to the P3 table, focusing his practice on getting state and local governments on board and then pairing investors and contractors together who can take on these deals.
Much of Rapoport’s early engagement on a project is not legal work but more on the government relations side. He often charges clients a small monthly retainer for this work with the idea that his firm gets the legal work that comes when the P3 deal is agreed to.
"I think the lawyer of the future, particularly in this practice, is one where you really need to understand the politics of it," Rapoport said.
Rather than representing governments in these deals, Rapoport focuses his representation on contractors and investors.
While the spotlight has been on road and bridge redevelopment, Rapoport said there is other legislation being discussed that could extend government P3 support to social infrastructure such as schools, housing and parking. Other assets that could be P3 targets include energy, ports, water and even public transportation, Rapoport said.
One of the biggest P3 projects on the table in Pennsylvania is Philadelphia’s possible decision to sell gas utility PGW to a private investor. Ballard Spahr, along with The Smyler Firm and Andre Dasent, are leading the legal effort as the city and PGW’s primary transaction advisers, including negotiating any agreement of sale on the city’s behalf. Manko, Gold, Katcher & Fox will represent the city on environmental issues and Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller will handle litigation needs. Kleinbard Bell & Brecker will be involved in government relations issues.
Peckar & Abramson said in a statement that it was looking forward to expanding the firm’s alliances with political lobbying organizations, financial institutions and insurance entities to support P3 initiatives. The firm will offer guidance on legislative advocacy, insurance and risk management and financial modeling for P3 work around the country, it said.
Peckar & Abramson said it is seeing increased demand from clients looking to do these deals.