Cooley-Dow Lohnes merger leaves lobbyists out


Ryan Naftulin, managing partner at Cooley. (Jeffrey MacMillan/Ffor Capital Business)

When District-based law firm Dow Lohnes announced this month that it would combine its D.C. office with the much-larger Silicon Valley-based law firm Cooley, leaders at Cooley touted the move as a way to gain instant credibility in Washington.

But the deal — in which Cooley will absorb 54 Dow Lohnes attorneys in D.C., effective January 2014 — left out Dow Lohnes’ lobbying group, a roughly $3 million-a-year practice that is now shopping itself out to other firms.

Dow Lohnes Government Strategies, founded in 2007, is a subsidiary of Dow Lohnes, the 95-year-old District law firm best known for telecommunications regulatory work. The eight-member group has met with about 10 law, consulting and public relations firms, and is continuing discussions with some of those firms, said Rick Kessler, president of Dow Lohnes Government Strategies.

“We looked at [the Cooley deal] and said, ‘This isn’t the right fit for any of us,’” Kessler said. “We’ll need to find a place where there are synergies such that we grow and whatever firm we’re with also grows ... We’d have better ability to grow our business with another platform.”

Kessler declined to name the firms, but said they include large national and international law firms as well as smaller lobby, public relations and consulting firms. Last year, the group earned about $2.9 million in lobbying revenue, and its biggest client was Chevron, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Kessler is the only member of the group who is a partner at Dow Lohnes, and the unit’s lobbyists and public policy consultants work on retainer, unlike Dow Lohnes lawyers who bill by the hour. Kessler said he hopes to keep that arrangement if the group joins another law firm.

In addition to the lobbying group, there were 13 Dow Lohnes attorneys in D.C., as of the day the combination was announced Oct. 15, who will not be joining Cooley. Those attorneys are spread across several practice groups — corporate, intellectual property, litigation and tax — and were notified in late August that they would not be part of the Cooley move. Some have lined up other jobs and others are weighing their options, firm leaders said.

Such an arrangement in a law firm merger is not unheard of, but it is unusual and could indicate a shift in how law firms approach future mergers and acquisitions with their competitors. In typical law firm mergers, one firm combines with another in its entirety. But in this case, there were only a few practice areas from Dow Lohnes that Cooley agreed to pick up: communications, media and higher education.

“We put together what we felt was a strategic proposition that would be a strong practice, not to say that the other practices aren’t strong, but a strong practice that would be attractive to a merger partner,” said John Byrnes, managing partner of Dow Lohnes. “We focused around our core areas, which are communications and education regulatory ... We were putting together a group of attorneys who could carry out that strategic vision. That’s what the proposition was.”

Ryan Naftulin, head of Cooley’s Washington office, did not elaborate further, saying only that Dow Lohnes did not pitch a merger involving the entire firm, but put together a deal based around the firm’s core practices.

Cooley, founded in San Francisco in 1920, has about 700 lawyers in the United States and China, including 150 in the District and Northern Virginia. It is a relative newcomer to the Washington legal scene, having opened an office in Reston in 1999 and the District in 2005.

Dow Lohnes, founded in the District in 1918, is best known for representing telecommunications companies regulated by the Federal Communications Commission. The firm also represents for-profit and nonprofit education companies and universities, and cable and media properties on regulatory issues. It was once one of the 200 largest U.S. law firms, but over the last three years lost nearly half of its lawyers, according to the American Lawyer.

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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