How WolfBlock's Boston Office Offers One-Stop Shopping

Sunday, March 1, 2009 - 01:00
Robert B. Crowe

Editor: Mr. Crowe, this newspaper had previously interviewed you in 2006, shortly after the opening of the firm's office in Boston. Your story of how you came to open the office was a true win-win account. You and your partner were able to combine your expertise in political activism in what came to be WolfBlock Public Strategies LLC as well as establish the firm footing for WolfBlock's new Boston office. Would you mind highlighting the history of founding the Boston office?

Crowe: This process goes back over 25 years now. When Iand Chris Cushing, my Republican partner, started the original Commonwealth group, a Washington Public Strategies firm, he was friendly with Charlie Kopp, the managing partner of WolfBlock at the time. They became friends during the Dole 1998 presidential campaign. Because they did not have a Washington office, they referred much of their Washington business to our office. Then in 2004 when I became the Democratic National Committee Finance Chair for the Kerry campaign, one of our stops was in Philadelphia, among other cities, where there is good response to Democratic fundraising. At that time Mark Alderman had become the managing partner of WolfBlock. Mark, being a Democrat unlike his predecessor, raised a million dollars for the campaign in the 2004 presidential race. After the campaign Mark made an offer that I couldn't refuse - he was very interested in our Washington consulting office which led to the merger of that office with WolfBlock. Since I was practicing law in Boston, I opened the Boston law office for WolfBlock - the beginning of a happy marriage.

Editor: Back in 2004 at the time of John Kerry's nomination for the presidency you served as finance chairman of the Democratic National Committee. What was your role in the most recent presidential election?

Crowe: I had two very close personal friends in the race with whom I had been friends in Washington, Senators Joe Biden and Chris Dodd. I started out early in the campaign by raising money for those two gentlemen. I was thrilled that Joe became the Vice Presidential candidate. Following their departure from the contest, I joined my friend, John Kerry, in endorsing Barack Obama. Our managing partner, Mark Alderman, had endorsed him very early in the process. I decided that Obama was the right candidate to support and began raising money for him even though I had long-standing ties with the Clintons. Editor: In what ways has the merger between WolfBlock and WolfBlock Public Strategies benefited both parties?

Crowe: I think that the flow of business back and forth from our other offices has been just as we expected. In the last five years it seems that many national firms that did not have Boston offices decided to open one. Opening the Boston office has lent some prestige to the firm and changed it from a Mid-Atlantic firm to a Northeastern firm extending its reach from Washington, D.C. to New England. We do a lot of national work from our Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Delaware and especially our D.C. office, which has worldwide clients. The Washington office's activity was up by 80 percent last year owing to several factors. Many of WolfBlock's clients had needs in Washington that were not being previously met or they realized the advantage that our WolfBlock Public Strategies office offered as a result of the merger. The Public Strategies practice is booming, While it had been doing referral work for WolfBlock in Washington before the merger, when the two firms merged the combination was a true marriage made in heaven.

Editor: When we spoke with you in 2006, you had already grown the office to ten attorneys. What is the size of the professional staff today? What practice groups are represented?

Crowe: We are 20 attorneys today. The practice groups are litigation, corporate securities, brand equity, real estate, employment law (representing management), energy and environmental and, of course, government relations. We have a full complement.

Editor: How do you interface with WolfBlock's other offices when doing transactions?

Crowe: We call on the various skills of our partners throughout the firm, whatever the transaction may be. For instance, in Washington many of the matters have something to do with legislation - whether legislation in the healthcare area, the real estate area or the energy area. We have the great experience of all of our partners to call upon. For instance, Ken Reich, here in Boston, is the co-chair of the energy practice. Ken had been an environmental partner in my former firm, and because of the substantial reputation WolfBlock enjoys in the environmental field, was one of the early proponents of joining this office. I chair the government relations practice. The real estate practice chair and the corporate practice chair are in Philadelphia. We all collaborate, calling upon the experience and knowledge of our partners. We call ourselves the "Acela Firm" because with the high-speed Acela train moving between Washington and Boston, it is easy to move from office to office.

Editor: What kind of commitment have you and your colleagues in the Boston office made to pro bono work?

Crowe: All of our partners do charitable work in Boston and elsewhere. One of our high-profile efforts concerns actively assisting Project Rebirth, which entails documenting the entire reconstruction of the World Trade Center site and the experiences of individuals who were affected directly by 9-11. From this we plan to produce a feature length motion picture. We think it is important for the firm to show its commitment to many areas of civic and charitable work.

Editor: What is the condition of the real estate market in Boston? Are you seeing any large mergers among real estate developers?

Crowe: The real estate market is very difficult, and I think that it is going to get even tougher this year. I think that we haven't seen the fall-out of the commercial real estate market as yet. As far as mergers go, I think that the strong will survive. There will be some takeovers of smaller firms but I think that 2009 is going to be a very rough year in the real estate market in Boston and coast-to-coast.

Editor: What have you experienced by way of lending on the part of the banks? Besides the banks, are there other sources of funds available that clients are drawing upon?

Crowe: There is little or no bank lending. Clients are turning to insurance companies and private equity and private capital of various kinds, but that is also scarce. It is a major national crisis that we are in.

Editor: What do you see in the most recent stimulus package that might jump-start some quiescent industries or get the banks more active?

Crowe: There are quite a few things. As a matter of fact we were very involved in many matters and helped to add quite a few provisions into the stimulus bill that just passed, particularly in three areas. In the real estate area we were very much involved in getting included in the bill the tax credit of $8,000 for new home buyers. We represented the home builders and others in that effort. That measure should help the housing industry, which in turn will help the construction industry. If people are buying houses, that will be a spur to construction. In the healthcare area we were very involved with some clients who wanted to make sure that health information technology provisions and care management provisions were included in the measure. I anticipate there will be many healthcare companies working to institutionalize this technology provision. On the energy side, we represented some clients who were very much involved with the large-scale utility solar projects. We were able to include some bio mass incentives for some of our bio mass clients. We were very much involved with the block grants for renewable energy systems. I am just highlighting those three areas that I think will be a boost to the economy in 2009 and 2010.

Editor: I have heard critics of the law decry the fact that these remedial measures would be slow in coming. Do you think that they will be implemented in 2009?

Crowe: Yes, I think some of them will. I think the three areas that I stressed could start right now.

Editor: Because Boston is a major healthcare center, do you see this industry group benefiting from the package or from future Obama initiatives?

Crowe: From this package, especially as far as those technology incentives are concerned, the healthcare businesses will benefit, but even beyond these incentives I believe the healthcare industry will benefit from Obama's campaign promise to fix healthcare. Senator Daschle's departure as the prospective Secretary of Health and Human Services was a big loss, but I am sure that his replacement will be well thought out. While the slowdown of the economy may slow some of these reform measures, I believe that Obama is going to do all that he can to make sure that we have proper healthcare for all. That will certainly benefit our Boston healthcare companies.

Editor: How do you regard the future of WolfBlock's Boston practice?

Crowe: It is a great future. As a matter of fact, in the last month we have talked to two or three major partners at leading firms who are looking at joining us. They like our size. These are partners who have serious practices in a couple of practice areas that we would like to grow here. So I see a very promising future.

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