The Washington Post

At lobbying unit of Drinker Biddle & Reath, testing out a new consulting model

District Policy Group, the lobbying unit of law firm Drinker Biddle & Reath, is experimenting with a new model of using outside consultants to capture new business in the health-care field.

The group, which lobbies primarily on health-care policy, has taken the unusual step of forming an advisory board that includes external consultants. The outside advisers are not employees of the firm and instead receive a consultant’s fee, which means the firm does not have to pay their salary or benefits, but can still tout their services to clients.

The board was formed in July and is made up of four Drinker Biddle attorneys and two outside consultants, Tracy Sefl, a Democratic communications strategist, and Michael O’Grady, a health economics specialist and former Health and Human Services assistant secretary under President George W. Bush. Both Sefl and O’Grady have day jobs running their own consulting shops. The internal Drinker Biddle board members are employee benefits attorney Brad Campbell, education lawyer Charles Rose, corporate attorney Jesse Ruiz and white collar defense attorney Scott Coffina.

The model is a cost-effective way of giving clients access to services that the lobby shop does not do itself. It is an extension of the rebranding effort the lobbying group began earlier this year, when it renamed itself District Policy Group and began more aggressively marketing services that go beyond traditional lobbying and include grass-roots organizing, social media training and political intelligence.

The firm has used Sefl and O’Grady in the past to consult on individual projects for clients, but the new arrangement gives the network more structure without the financial commitment of hiring the consultants full-time, said Ilisa Halpern Paul, president of District Policy Group. Paul declined to specify whether a portion of fees go back to District Policy Group, other than to say the model gives clients access to expanded services, but without overhead and other costs, which boosts the firm’s revenue.

“If we were to have them full-time, it’d be a much more expensive endeavor,” Paul said. “And the reality is we don’t need a full-time health economics person right now, but we do need one sometimes. Our clients don’t want to pay exorbitant fees to have a full-time person when there’s not the demand for it. It’s a nimble way to staff things.”

The setup brings Sefl and O’Grady into the firm’s operations more than they were before — the board meets regularly to strategize and talk about clients — so that when they are brought in to work on a specific project, they don’t have to spend as much time familiarizing themselves with the client, Paul said.

Law firms have been testing out new ways to provide health-care consulting that is not traditional legal work. McDermott Will & Emery recently created a consulting subsidiary, McDermott + Consulting, led by lobbyist Eric Zimmerman that focuses on health-care lobbying, data analytics and policy analysis.

“There’s been a lot of innovative activity in the health care consulting space within law firms,” said Steve Nelson, managing principle for the law and government affairs groups at the McCormick Group, an Arlington-based executive search firm. “It’s sort of been accepted as an adjunct service in the law firm space, certainly in the regulatory practices. We’re seeing a lot of firms doing things like this.”

Catherine Ho covers lobbying at The Washington Post. She previously worked at the LA Daily Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the Detroit Free Press, the Wichita Eagle and the San Mateo County Times.



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