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December 13. 2012 11:48PM

Law firm to take on lobbying

CONCORD - McLane Graf Raulerson and Middleton is the latest New Hampshire law firm to expand into government relations and lobbying with the hiring of two influential former chiefs of staff.

Joel Maiola, who was Republican Judd Gregg's chief of staff during his days as a U.S. senator and governor, and Rich Sigel, chief of staff to Democratic Govs. John Lynch and Jeanne Shaheen, have joined McLane to form a new government and public strategies group, McLane GPS.

Maiola was part of a "Republicans for Lynch" group during the 2010 campaign, but this year supported Republican Ovide Lamontagne. He said he and Sigel, working with the McLane legal operation, "will put together a powerhouse government relations firm."

Former Democratic state Sen. Joe Foster, chair of McLane's management committee, said Maiola and Sigel "are two of the most respected figures in New Hampshire government and politics" and will bring an important bipartisan approach to the new entity's mission.

Maiola, since leaving Gregg, has had his own firm, Granite Edge Consulting, whose clients have included the players associations of the NFL, NHL, NBA and Major League Baseball. He said he also does strategic planning, but not lobbying, for other local clients.

Maiola said he will retain existing clients separately, but said all new clients will be represented by McLane GPS.

A growing niche

Sigel said businesses with issues involving the state or federal governments "need advice on how to navigate the system and how to communicate with different audiences.

"If you want to try to achieve a favorable result, it's important to think about how you communicate," Sigel said. "And I think Joel and I, based on our experience and our different backgrounds, are going to be able to provide a unique service for clients."

He said McLane "had been doing some government affairs work but were looking to enhance that service."

Lobbying/government relations firms have long practiced in Concord, as they do in every state capital and in Washington.

But the Gallagher Callahan and Gartrell law firm was an early entrant into government relations and lobbying, well more than a quarter-century ago.

Attorney Tom Rath followed by making government relations a key part of the Rath Young and Pignatelli firm, which celebrated its 25th anniversary earlier this year. In 2005, he formed The Rath Group, which focuses on government relations for clients in Washington.

Rath said his law firm now has "seven or eight full-time or mostly full-time" staffers working on government relations and lobbying, while the Rath Group employs three full-timers.

Over the years, several other firms jumped into the field, including Sheehan Phinney Bass and Green, Devine Millimet, Preti Flaherty, and Orr and Reno. The Bianco Professional Association is another law firm with a long-established government relations practice.

One-stop shopping

The growth of the number of law firms with lobbying/government relations components "is a reflection of the fact that businesses are looking for more creative solutions to issues and problems that require guidance than traditionally has been the case," said Rath.

"This allows you to provide an opportunity for one-stop shopping for your clients," said Jim Merrill, managing director of Devine Strategies, which became a subsidiary of the Devine Millimet firm in 2008. "Clients that have need of legal services can also benefit from the political, grassroots and communications services that often come up with larger-scale projects."

Rath said, "What you see now are law firms hiring people who are not lawyers to do this. Lots of clients understand the need to find solutions that are creative and not the result of litigation and corporate planning."

Whether there is room for still another firm adding government relations "will be determined by the marketplace," Rath said.

"That's the beauty of the free market," said Merrill. "It's healthy."

Bruce Berke, a longtime lobbyist and government relations specialist, is president and managing partner of the Sheehan Phinney Capitol Group, an arm of the Sheehan Phinney Bass and Green law firm.

"Is there a saturation point? You never quite know until you go out of business or retire," Berke said jokingly.

The new McLane entity "is not a surprise," said Berke. "Certainly the McLane firm has had strong contacts in the world of government relations over the years and this is a formalization of that."

The independents

The rise of government relations firms associated with law firms has not noticeably hurt independent establishments.

"The law firms used to give the business to folks like us to take care of the lobbying side," said Ed Dupont, a former state Senate President who established The Dupont Group in 1993.

"And we've been approached by a number of law firms over the years wanting to acquire us," he said. "But I've always felt that we do a great job on the lobbying side, and I think it's better for us when clients have legal issues to go out and get the best attorneys to come in and help them."

Michael Dennehy, co-founder of the bipartisan Dennehy and Bouley, said independent firms "have more flexibility and less overhead, which is an advantage as compared to a big law firm with a large infrastructure."

Like Dupont, "We have relationships with several attorneys who will do whatever is necessary on a moment's notice," said Dennehy.

"The lobbying industry balances out," said James Demers, who said he formed independent The Demers Group about 20 years ago, after being an in-house lobbyist for Marine Midland Bank of New York City.

"As new firms come in, there are many that either retire or close due to retirement," said Demers. "It's a specialized niche business. Clients know the good ones and the mediocre ones."

Maiola called his experience with Gregg and Sigel's work for Lynch and Shaheen "a unique blend. I think we bring a lot to the table."

He said their clients will be primarily New Hampshire-based, but will have issues in both Concord and Washington.

McLane does much legal work before quasi-judicial government agencies, such as the Public Utilities Commission, the Banking Department and state Securities Division.

Foster said that while he and attorney Gregory Smith have lobbied, "this is a more definitive focus in that area of practice."

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John DiStaso may be reached at jdistaso@unionleader.com.



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