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TX. Legal trade Political bond is strong

  Legal Business  -   POSTED: 2007/10/01 15:00

One need only look to the names of Houston's law firms to see the city's political and legal landscapes are intertwined. Bracewell & Giuliani stands out most now — with former New York mayor and presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani's name chiseled in stone outside the downtown tower offices. The city's Big Three firms have political cachet, too. Vinson & Elkins is named in part for former political power broker and County Judge James A. Elkins. The Baker in Baker Botts is the ancestor of current firm member and former Secretary of State James A. Baker III. Fulbright & Jaworski's name includes that of Watergate special prosecutor Leon Jaworski.

Though smaller firms may have a party leaning and plaintiffs' firms usually back Democrats, large firms typically are happy to have their partners meddle in mainstream politics and run for office, no matter the party.

"It's totally encouraged," said Pat Mizell, a former state district judge and Republican activist who is a partner at Vinson & Elkins. "We've been at it a long time here, we've had John Connally, Howard Baker in D.C. and Congressman Mike Andrews." Connally was Texas governor, Baker a U.S. senator from Tennessee and Andrews is from Houston.

That's not even to mention political power broker and former partner Joe B. Allen, 2006 Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Barbara Radnofsky, and former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

Part of the synergy is the logical link between lawyers and lawmaking. But it has as much to do with the connections made in politics boosting the bottom line for law firms.

"It's better to know a lot of people as a lawyer. The more contacts you have, the better you can serve your clients," Mizell said.

Individual idealism can be involved, as well. Those ideals may vary within a large firm.

At Bracewell & Giuliani, managing partner Pat Oxford is heavily involved in the Giuliani presidential campaign and has been a Bush family crony for years. But partner Carrin Patman ran for Congress as a Democrat while at the firm a few years back.

Patman said political activity is a part of "the fabric of the firm." Founder Searcy Bracewell was a state legislator himself, she noted. "The firm likes to be represented on both sides," said Patman, who is raising funds for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Chris Bell, a former city councilman, mayoral candidate, congressman and last year's Democratic nominee for Texas governor, now works for Patton Boggs, a Washington, D.C.-based law firm known for lobbying — a profession that requires political activity and savvy.

"Not all professions lend themselves to public service from a scheduling standpoint like the law does," Bell said. He was at Houston firm Beirne, Maynard & Parsons while on the City Council and while running for mayor and Congress. The same firm is now home to former Republican state Rep. Joe Nixon.

A cursory view last week of 2007 federal elections filings for folks who listed their Houston law firms showed a wide variety of contributions within big firms.

As you'd expect, at Bracewell & Giuliani there were a lot of contributions for the name partner. But a few lawyers also gave to the campaigns of Democrats Clinton, Sen. Barak Obama, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, and former U.S. Sen. John Edwards, and on the GOP side, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Fulbright & Jaworski's two biggest presidential contribution beneficiaries as of last week were Obama and Giuliani. At Vinson & Elkins it was Clinton, Giuliani and Obama. And at Baker Botts, the favorites were Romney, Obama and Republican U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

Frank Harmon, a small-firm lawyer and local Republican activist, said one of the places law firms and politics interact the most is in judicial races.

"Right now, every day I receive at least one, and as many as three, invitations to a judicial fundraiser. Nobody could write a check to all these guys," said Harmon.

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