BigLaw, it seems, has found a silver lining in the cloud of greenhouse gases.
Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, announced yesterday that it has formed a new global climate change practice. Lawyers in the section will advise clients on how to meet new restrictions on carbon emissions. But one of the group’s Washington leaders, Paul Gutermann, says the practice will also help clients navigate some of the more stringent environmental limitations. “Typically, our clients try to be sort of in compliance with whatever the environmental laws and restrictions are, but part of also what we do, is we try to help them keep their business objectives in a lawful manner,” says Gutermann, adding that “if there are gaps in the regulatory program, sure, we will help them [the client] try to fit within the law.”
Also minding the environmental gaps for the firm is Ken Mehlman, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee from 2005-07 who managed George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign. Mehlman is co-leading the climate change group with Gutermann. Though climate change has hardly been a hallmark of the Bush administration or of the GOP, upon joining Akin Gump this year, Mehlman has become vocal on the topic. In March, he told the Wall Street Journal, that he foresees “increased scrutiny of the emission of carbon” on the horizon.
Gutermann says the idea for the climate change practice arose once various members of the firm realized they were already doing a lot of work related to the issue, but not “in a cohesive, coordinated fashion.” The new practice draws from Akin Gump’s project finance, emerging markets, private equity and investment funds, public policy, and environmental and energy groups.
Gutermann anticipates that congress will eventually pass a cap and trade system that will set caps on carbon emissions. Under such a system, a corporation that reduces emissions below the cap is eligible for credits, which it can then sell to other companies who cannot meet the emissions cap. Gutermann says the climate change practice has a number of power plant clients. He says some are coal-based, some operate with a mix of coal and nuclear power, and others largely rely on natural gas. Akin Gump’s climate change lawyers can advise these clients about how to navigate the cap system.
Gutermann says the firm also has a client who is investing in a technology that allows captured carbon emissions to be “injected” into the ground. “With a need for people to be reducing their carbon emissions, they’ve got a great opportunity to sell their technology,” he says. And Akin Gump can help that client make the most of that opportunity.