You might still be scrounging for a party to crash, but Jack Strausman has big plans for New Year's Eve. And he's hoping it's the most tedious night of his life.
A lawyer for Potomac Electric Power Co., Strausman will be working when the clock strikes midnight Dec. 31. Actually, he'll be busy well into the wee hours, manning the company's command center at an undisclosed location in Montgomery County and monitoring the electrical grid for Y2K-related troubles.
"I can't stress how much we're hoping for a dull New Year's Eve," said Strausman, 38.
Plenty of businesses, as it happens, are keeping lawyers on hand for the millennium countdown, particular those lawyers working for telecommunications and electric power companies. Their jobs? To vet public comments that might emanate from the company in case of a major meltdown. None of these companies expects problems, mind you, but should the worst happen, they'll have a legal mind ready to parse the language of news releases.
This legal mobilization could be pointless if the Y2K problem turns out be overhyped piffle. But keep in mind that a few hundred plaintiffs lawyers are poised to sue the bejesus out of Corporate America over year 2000 computer snafus. That's giving corporations a recurring nightmare that goes something like this: Company gets waylaid by a glitch. Riots ensue. Damages happen. Some company official then hits the airwaves to confess, "Man, we botched this one big time! I thought we'd tested all this equipment out months ago. Major disaster. Our mistake."
Seems unlikely, doesn't it? Still, even if nothing happens, some on-call lawyers are expecting a decent show.
"In one sense, it's a lot of potential boredom," said Jack Farris, an attorney for Bell Atlantic Corp. who will be one of two lawyers working the phone company come New Year's. "But there will be so much tension generated by the media that even if things go fine, it won't be boring. Uneventful maybe, but not boring."
On the other hand, Ronald Palenski, an attorney with GTE Corp. in McLean, anticipates more yawns than alarms. "I'm stocking up on other work," he said, getting ready to fly to the company's Irving, Tex., branch. "I was there for the 9/9/99 transition" -- another date that generated some computer anxiety -- "and it was like watching the grass grow."
As for Strausman, he won't see his family or get a sip of bubbly the whole night. So if it's as tedious as he hopes, what will he do all night? Maybe surf the Internet, he said. He has few other options.
"They took solitaire off our computers a while ago."
Surviving a Marriage
Now that Mobil Corp. and Exxon Corp. have won the Federal Trade Commission's approval for their epic $81 billion merger, the companies are starting to shed overlapping employees. So will they lay off one of their Washington antitrust lawyers too? Exxon has a longstanding relationship with Covington & Burling and was represented in this deal by partner Charles "Rick" Rule. Mobil retained Jan McDavid of Hogan & Hartson. With the companies buying out or laying off redundant accountants and engineers, it's all but inevitable that one of these lawyers will get the heave-ho.
Which will it be? The early handicappers are betting that Rule keeps his job, mostly because Exxon essentially acquired Mobil and is expected to have the upper hand when doling out plum assignments. But the choice raises an interesting question: How did these lawyers perform during the nearly year-long FTC review of the Exxon Mobil deal?
Turns out there are two schools of thought. The first is that Rule and McDavid ought to be commended, having secured a thumbs up from an agency that was initially pretty skeptical about this marriage of behemoths. Yes, the companies were forced to part with as much as $2 billion in assets, a record for the FTC. But that's only 1 or 2 percent of Exxon Mobil's total holdings, and not the most profitable 1 or 2 percent, either.
There are second-guessers, however. (In the Washington legal world, there are always second-guessers.) With the details of the merger talks coming to light, some Washington lawyers question whether the settlement talks really needed to span 11 painstaking and expensive months. Though the companies announced the deal last December, it wasn't until September that they finally agreed to the FTC's terms, so trying the patience of enforcers that a lawsuit was eventually threatened. And apparently, some staffers found Rule's manner just a tad, well, high-handed. Maybe some of them have long memories; when Rule headed Justice's antitrust division as a Reagan appointee back in the 1980s, he advocated abolishing the FTC on the grounds that one government competition agency was plenty.
It might be unfair to blame Rule and McDavid for the lengthy delay. These lawyers were probably taking cues from bosses who reportedly could not believe that the feds were asking them to divest any service stations, let alone 2,431. And credit the pair with marshaling something like 20,000 cubic feet of documents for the FTC to review.
Compare the result with the big "forget it" that BP-Amoco received last week from FTC staffers, who recommended against the company's $29 billion acquisition of Atlantic Richfield Co. Word is that counsel involved in that deal, including Mike Sohn of Arnold & Porter, erred by courting the state of Alaska and all but ignoring the FTC lawyers, banking that the companies could win over key states and then plead their case directly to the commissioners.
Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom signed a lease renewing and expanding their office space in two D.C. buildings to a total of more than 300,000 square feet, about double the firm's present capacity ... Covington & Burling has lured away Paul Rogers, a senior partner at Hale and Dorr. Rogers will help C&B expand its corporate and regulatory expertise in the technology sector, the firm said ... George P. Stamas of Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering is leaving the firm to join Deutsche Banc Alex Brown. Wilmer, meanwhile, is opening an office in Tysons Corner that will wheel and deal with Stamas.
A Partridge and a Big Fee
Gift shopping for the lawyer who has everything? Well, thankfully the new "For Counsel" catalogue is here, 56 pages of trinkets, prints, chocolates, bookcases, ties, T-shirts, clocks, framed historical documents, key chains and figurines for your favorite attorney. Among the offerings: a sign that says "Please don't tell my mother I'm a lawyer. She thinks I play piano at a bordello," and a coffee mug emblazoned with the words "I love rich clients."
Blab to Hearsay at firstname.lastname@example.org. Maryann Haggerty contributed to this report.