Lobby firms sweep up new clients

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Several K Street firms reeled in dozens of new clients in 2013 despite a down year for the influence industry.

About 50 firms managed to pick up the equivalent of a new lobbying client each month in 2013, according to a review of disclosure documents by The Hill. 

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Some of the biggest lobby firms in Washington — including Patton Boggs, Van Scoyoc Associates, Capitol Counsel, Holland & Knight, Podesta Group and Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld — ranked among the top 15 in registrations for the year.

Registering a large number of clients does not necessarily translate into success for a lobby shop. Almost all of the firms who signed the most clients still had double-digit client terminations, for example.

Still, the registration numbers can point to industry trends and reveal what firms are on the rise.

Signing up new clients is “an art, not a science,” said Al Mottur, the managing partner of Brownstein’s Hyatt Farber Schreck’s Washington office. His firm signed 27 new clients last year and made more than $22 million in lobbying revenue.

“It's almost like scoring a goal in soccer — you don't score a lot of goals all the time, but when you do, it's because you've done a lot of things right to get there,” he said.

“I've seen clients sign up with us two years after our first outreach to them. Just by staying in front of them, continuing to be visible and showing them your value even if they're not asking for it. “

J M Burkman & Associates signed 70 new clients last year, the most of any K Street firm. 

Jack Burkman, the public and government relations shop's chief executive officer, says he is overly cautious when it comes to registering clients. 

"We come from the school of thought that it pays to be squeaky clean, because lots of folks watch these registrations," he said. "So, if it's close, you file."

The four-lobbyist firm specializes in helping companies secure contracts with the federal government. Since it typically works with clients on a project basis, the firm also had nearly 40 client terminations last year. 

“Lobbying has come into a watershed time, a lot of old stuff — like appropriations and earmarks — have gone away,” he said.

Burkman said his firm has signed up a number of new clients that want to take advantage of the Defense Department’s experimentation with energy efficiency technologies. 

“The congressional [appropriations] piece has gone away, but the Defense Department is exploding,” he said. “Funding for fighter jets is down. But what are people doing? People are doing energy.”

While some firms are seeing an uptick in clients interested in short-term representation, law and lobby firms are finding more growth in interests seeking to have a permanent presence in Washington.

Holland & Knight filed 30 new registration forms in 2013, and said the firm’s clientele largely sticks around for the long haul.

“The work we do for clients, we don't get hired for a specific issue. … They hire our whole team as their outside team,” said Rich Gold, a partner at the firm. 

Many of Holland & Knight’s new registrations are issue-campaign and coalition-oriented, he said.

One of the difficulties in reading the registration numbers is that new firms created by mergers or spin-offs register their clients en masse.

FTI Consulting, for example, acquired C2 Group in March, then registered 43 lobbying clients under the new firm FTI Government Affairs.

Similarly, Forbes-Tate filed 30 new clients in 2013 after merging with Cauthen Forbes & Williams. Co-founder Dan Tate also brought in some work from former employer, Capitol Solutions.

In addition, lobbyists moving from one firm to another often take their clients with them.

Joe Corrigan, Dave Hickey and Mike Williams left Greenburg Traurig for Barnes & Thornburg’s lobbying practice last year, which helps account for the firm’s 22 new registrations. 

About half of Thorn Run Partners' 19 new clients followed its newest healthcare lobbyist, Billy Wynne, who joined the firm last January, said Chris Lamond, who founded the firm in 2010.

In the case of Republic Consulting — formed by former Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) staffer Hunter Bates and former Rep. Geoff Davis (R-Ky.) — some lobbyists decide to ditch the large-firm digs and hang a shingle of their own. 

Although Bates drummed up some new business in 2013, a good portion of Republic Consulting’s 18 registrations were holdovers from his old firm, Bates Capitol Group.

Competition for new clients can be fierce on K Street, especially now that revenue is flat or falling at many firms.

“The pie that we're competing for isn't growing,” said Rob Smith, the co-chair of Venable's legislative practice group. 

Although Venable is always seeking new clients  — it registered 19 new ones last year — Smith says the firm primarily wants to cultivate the ones it already has.

“If you're not focused on your current clients — they have options,” he said. “You have to protect your own slice of pie before you reach for another slice.”

REGISTRATIONS 2013

Firm

New clients 

Rank

J M BURKMAN & ASSOCIATES

70

1

FTI Government Affairs *

43

2

Patton Boggs LLP

38

3

K&L GATES LLP**

34

4

Van Scoyoc Associates

32

5

Forbes-Tate *

30

6

Holland & Knight LLP

30

6

Strategic Health Care

29

7

Capitol Counsel, LLC

29

7

Hall, Render, Killian, Heath & Lyman, P.C.

28

8

BROWNSTEIN HYATT FARBER SCHRECK, LLP**

27

9

Hogan Lovells US LLP

26

10

* Merged with an existing firm

 

 

** Numbers include clients who terminated and returned to the firms in 2013.