MiddleAtlantic Focus - Law Firms Adding Value To The Client's Business: WolfBlock Public Strategies LLC

Sunday, May 1, 2005 - 01:00
Robert B. Crowe

Editor: Mr. Crowe, will you tell our readers something about your background and professional experience?

Crowe: Following law school, I joined the District Attorney's Office in Boston in 1973. I then went into private practice while I pursued an LL.M in taxation from Boston University, which I obtained in 1976. After a brief stint with a law firm, I began my own general practice firm in Boston in 1978, with specialties in corporate law, taxation, real estate and labor law from the management side. While pursuing a private practice career, I also maintained an active involvement in the political arena. That led, in 1992, to the incorporation of The Commonwealth Group, for the purpose of providing government relations consulting and lobbying services to clients at both the state and national levels. My partner in this undertaking has been Chris Cushing. Chris and I have complemented each other well over the years, and when the organization represented a client I would handle the legal work while he engaged in legislative activities. We were also joined a few years back by Chris Greeley, a great political strategist and former Chief of Staff to John Kerry.Among us, incidentally, both Democratic and Republican interests have been served. I have served as the National Finance Chairman of the National Democratic Committee and co-chaired John Kerry's Finance Committee during the last election, and Chris Cushing has been equally active on the Republican side.

Editor: The Commonwealth Group appears to have offered an interesting mix of legal and lobbying services.

Crowe: I discovered that lawyers and lobbyist possess different skills, but that they are often in a position to leverage off of each other. Lawyers deal with the law and the ways in which it applies to particular factual situations; lobbyists attempt to develop strategies with their clients which will convince legislators - Congressman and Senators at the national level - that particular legislation is good for them and good for the public. As I say, we dealt with - and continue to deal with - both Democrats and Republicans, and our clients range from small entrepreneurial start-up operations to Fortune 500 companies. What we are attempting to do, in effect, is get the government to support the growth of a client's business. This might be by way of research and development funding, capital grants, regulatory approvals, and so on. The government might be in a position to locate investors, or, indeed, invest itself in what might evolve into a public-private partnership. In all of these undertakings, Congressmen and Senators are crucial to the discussion, and it is the function of The Commonwealth Group to ensure that they understand the project at hand and its potential benefits to our country.

Editor: Can you tell us something about the WolfBlock government relations practice?

Crowe: The Commonwealth Group has had a longstanding association with WolfBlock, particularly through Chris Cushing's work in Washington. The firm has had a government relations state practice, with offices in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Wilmington, Delaware and Trenton, New Jersey, for many years, but it did not have a Washington, DC presence. The Commonwealth Group did, of course.That state of affairs served to enhance relations between the firm and our organization, and about two years ago we put together a joint venture for future undertakings that has now evolved into WolfBlock Public Strategies, LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the firm.WolfBlock provides a good bipartisan blend - Mark Alderman and Alan Kessler are leading national Democrats and Hersh Kozlov and Charlie Kopp are leading Republicans.

Editor: Would you share with us the factors that went into the decision of The Commonwealth Group to join with WolfBlock?

Crowe: Having worked with WolfBlock over a considerable time, we knew the firm well. We knew that each of us possessed very similar organizational cultures. I should mention, in particular, WolfBlock's singular dedication to the interests of its clients, which we found very attractive. The firm is well run, and in Mark Alderman it has very impressive leadership. From our perspective, the sensitivity to potential conflicts of interest - something that defines The Commonwealth Group but not necessarily all, or even most, Washington. DC lobbying and legislative firms - on the part of WolfBlock was most important. We do not accept engagements with clients that may be in competition with other clients, and we found in WolfBlock the same sensitivity. I think each of us thought the other a good fit.

Editor: I understand that you will serve as CEO of WolfBlock Public Strategies, LLC and as Managing Partner of WolfBlock's Boston office. Would you give us an overview of your responsibilities in these two areas?

Crowe: I am currently building the Boston office, and I think my time is just about evenly divided between the two positions. Once the Boston office is fully established, however, I think I will be spending the majority of my time - perhaps 75 percent - on the work being done in Washington. I have homes in both places, so I do not have a problem moving between the two offices.

Editor: You indicate that the new entity is a subsidiary - a wholly-owned business corporation - of WolfBlock. This is an indication that it will engage in public policy advocacy, corporate counseling, and the like, and that legal representation is a function of WolfBlock in tandem with the services offered by WolfBlock Public Strategies?

Crowe: Yes. WolfBlock Public Strategies will not engage in legal representation, but rather will work in conjunction with WolfBlock on projects which entail both kinds of service. Chris Cushing is not a lawyer, so he will not serve in both functions. He will call upon WolfBlock attorneys for the legal work that connects to his role as a full-time public strategies consultant.

Editor: Please tell us about the new strategy. What do you hope to accomplish with WolfBlock Public Strategies? What does it do that its two constituent parts could not do on their own?

Crowe: This is a case of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. There will be great cross-pollination between the two firms for problem solving and marketing, and in each of these dimensions we can do together things that neither of us could do alone.

This project is really about adding value to our client's business. We help them conserve limited resources, time and capital - which is, essentially, the WolfBlock Public Strategies contribution - and we work with them to identify opportunities to minimize risk, which, in this context, involves the presence of heavy governmental regulation, whether local state or federal. The latter area, of course, brings the legal resources of WolfBlock into play. It is the ability to do these things in a coordinated and integrated fashion that makes the project unique.

Editor: Please tell us about the clients that WolfBlock Public Strategies will be serving.

Crowe: Many of our clients have come to us as small entrepreneurial operations, and they have stayed with us as their businesses have grown. As a consequence, our services come in many different formats and are directed at a great variety of organizations in different stages of development. Essentially, we can help any organization for whom government is a partner, either actual or potential. Partnership with government can be a positive and voluntary experience, where, for example, a client is seeking government aid or contractual rights; or it can be an involuntary proposition, where the client seeks to avoid governmental regulation. The services that we offer reflect a familiarity with all levels of governments in the Northeast Corridor and reflect an extensive bipartisan network of relationships. Our resources include more than 300 lawyers, many of whom are active politically and in both parties. In this regard, I believe we are now the premier firm in the entire region from New England to Washington, DC.

Editor: And the types of services you are offering?

Crowe: We sit down with clients and try to get to know them and their products and people. A strategy grows out of that exercise. Perhaps they have a manufacturing facility in a rural area of New York, and the right governmental grant or subsidy would enable them to hire several thousand additional employees. Getting the local Congressmen and both Senators on board such a project is relatively easy. Of course, many of these undertakings are a great deal more complicated than this and entail research and analysis across a number of disciplines and a variety of interests. One of the fascinating aspects of this work is that one never encounters the same problem twice.

Editor: Speaking of different disciplines, what practice groups are contributing to this project? How does WolfBlock Public Strategies connect with the rest of the firm? Are you able to draw upon the resources of the firm - expertise and personnel - for your work?

Crowe: Absolutely. There are, in all probability, few disciplines and practice groups that we will not call upon as the business of WolfBlock Public Strategies evolves. For starters, we work very closely with the firm's Emerging Markets Group. These are the lawyers who represent entrepreneurial clients and engage in business formation, incorporation, initial financing, and so on, and our role in this process is to help in the development of business plans and the identification of potential sources of capital. We call upon the firm's resources in the environmental area, in real estate and in taxation. We are involved in mergers and acquisitions work as a matter of course, and we have a role to play in the area of insolvencies and workouts as well. We have built an extensive practice in Homeland Security, and our expertise in this area is a resource for the entire firm.

To the extent that the government is involved in every area of the law, our work requires a familiarity with just about every practice area. The resources of WolfBlock constitute, therefore, a wonderful platform for a government relations operation such as ours.

Editor: As you know, the presence of a legal practice in Washington, DC entails more than a law office. Civic, cultural and community activities, as well as bar association and pro bono work, all contribute to the public image of a firm. Please tell us about WolfBlock's plans for this aspect of its Washington operation.

Crowe: I have been involved in community and pro bono activities over the course of my entire career, and I have a very clear idea of the importance these activities play in the reputation and standing of a law firm. As does WolfBlock, incidentally. Their record in this area is outstanding, and as the firm's Washington presence grows, its involvement in civic, community, bar association and pro bono activities will keep pace. WolfBlock will be present and accounted for in this arena.

Editor: What about the future? Where would you like WolfBlock to be with its Washington, DC presence in, say, five years?

Crowe: I am certain that we will grow and, indeed, become a major presence in the city. In just the month that WolfBlock Public Strategies has been in business, several major new client relationships have emerged. In light of the interconnection here, as the government relations business grows the firm's law practice will grow. And vice versa. The future is very bright.

Please email the interviewee at rcrowe@wolfblock.com with questions about this interview.