By Megan R. Wilson - 07/21/14 09:30 PM EDT
The lobby shop Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld has dethroned the king of K Street.
Akin on Monday reported earning $8.6 million in lobbying revenue from April to June, enough to eclipse longtime rival Patton Boggs after more than a decade of coming up short.
The merged firm Squire Patton Boggs still reigns supreme for the year, squeaking ahead with $17.75 million in earnings for the first six months versus $17.17 million at Akin.
But Squire Patton’s earnings are likely to nosedive in the third quarter due to massive staff losses. The defections included a lucrative, 11-person healthcare practice that had been comprised of clients worth more than $5 million last year — and is now part of Akin Gump.
With that healthcare team led by veteran
lobbyist John Jonas — who had been at Patton for more than two decades — Akin Gump is poised to shed the No. 2 label that it has carried for so long.
“We are certainly pleased with these results because they speak to the trust our clients have placed in us,” said Don Pongrace, the head of public law and policy practice at Akin Gump. “However, these results do not drive us except to the extent that they reflect that trust.”
Pongrace said Akin sees the lobbying business “trending in the right direction” after years of slow growth.
“We are very pleased with our year-over-year growth in revenue overall, which is attributable to both our growing client base and our focus on advocating for our clients in whatever forum is most appropriate to their interests in any given reporting period,” he added.
Ed Newberry, the global managing partner at Squire Patton Boggs, stressed that the revenue numbers do not capture a substantial chunk of the firm’s business, since regulatory and other legal work is not reported.
He said the merger has given Patton Boggs the ability to work for clients on a sweeping scale.
“In today’s world, it is critical for global companies to consider the role government plays in all of their major disputes and transactions around the world,” Newberry told The Hill through a spokesman.
“Given our global platform and depth of experience in governmental decisionmaking, we already are handling many significant matters for clients that are not measured under the [Lobbying Disclosure Act],” he said. “Looking ahead, our focus is on taking full advantage of what we can achieve through our combination of two great firms.”
The turmoil at Patton has also been a boon for another top firm, Holland & Knight.
Holland hired away senior members of Patton’s government contracting practice and took over an entire office in Alaska.
Those moves provided new earnings fuel, as Holland saw a nearly 10 percent boost in lobbying revenue in the first half of this year compared to 2013, taking in $9.76 million during the first six months of 2014.
Rich Gold, the head of the firm’s public policy and regulation group, said its lean lobbying structure and focus on attainable goals has led to strong growth.
“We are tending to take on issues that have a potential solution. It’s not like we’re not working on tax reform; we are, but we’re also working on things that have to do with executive branch action and things that aren’t necessarily controversial,” Gold added.
The changing of the guard comes at a time when some of Washington’s major lobby shops are seeing a slight jump in their earnings. At least 11 large firms saw a decline.
Hogan Lovells managed to keep its midyear revenue stable, bringing in about $6.32 million in the first half of this year. It tallied $3.38 million during the second quarter, representing a slight bump over 2013.
Mike House, the chairman of the legislative practice at Hogan, said the firm was able to maintain its footing because a majority of its regulatory work is reportable under the Lobbying Disclosure Act.
“The things that have helped us this year, outside of the ordinary [policy areas], have been telecom, tax and energy,” House said.
K&L Gates saw modest gains in the second quarter, reporting just more than $4.5 million from April through June and a total of about $9 million in the first half of 2014.
Darrell Conner, the co-practice group coordinator for the firm’s public policy and law group, said he is “pleased” with the boost in earnings, attributing it to a “stable” roster of lobbyists and a growing client list.
Although lawmakers will take a break from legislating in the coming months, Conner expects “regulatory activity to continue at a crisp pace.” After the November mid-terms, he says, “Congress will have a lot on its plate.”
But the work for lobbyists won’t stop in the meantime, Conner said. To get ahead of the lame-duck rush of legislating, he said, clients need to be at the table with lawmakers now.
Capitol Counsel remains the hottest lobby shop in town, which continued to post incredible growth not seen by other top-earning shops in the second quarter.
It earned about $4.5 million during the second quarter of this year, a million-dollar jump from the same time year before. Capitol Counsel’s midyear revenues are up by almost 30 percent over the first half of 2013, for a total haul of $8.62 million.
“We have a really talented group and we added even more really good people this year,” said the firm’s founding partner John Raffaelli. “We’re trying to become a better firm. So far it’s working.”
Podesta Group saw a dip in its lobbying figures across the board. Although revenue dipped 10 percent in the second quarter to $6.25 million, the firm saw an increase of about 69 percent in its foreign lobbying and PR work, according to figures sent to The Hill.
Revenue at the top shops could slump in the second half of this year, given that the August recess and the midterm election campaign will keep lawmakers away from Washington for all but a handful of days in September.
Some lobbyists said the business environment isn’t likely to improve markedly until this time next year, after new members of Congress and new leadership settle in. There could be chances, others say, to try and make a mark before committee leaders are forced to step down.
That will be an additional boost to earnings, as companies try and forge relationships with new members and leadership, said Moses Mercado, a principal at Ogilvy Government Relations, which earned more than $2.1 million from April through June.
“Everyone is watching to see what happens after the election,” he said.