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Monday, Apr 22, 2024

Law Firms Find Opportunities in Stimulus Package

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), or the Stimulus Package as most know it, is turning out to be a boon to some in the legal industry, offering local firms new business in compliance, environmental, and employment law. But, say attorneys, working for Stimulus money is hard work. With California receiving the biggest single chunk of Stimulus money-$50 billion-it’s no wonder companies are turninig to lawyers in order to eek out their share. “It is very definitely an opportunity,” said Encino-based Michelman & Robinson, LLP partner, Steve Castleberry, who heads the firm’s financial services practice area. “Any time you have new legislation that affects consumers and business, there’s a need for legal representation and interpretation.” But, according to Castleberry, ARRA doesn’t necessarily present the legal industry with low-hanging fruit. Unlike recent years, when corporate clients often brought in more work than firms could keep up with, today Castleberry and his colleagues have to work hard to find opportunities. “It’s identifying the opportunities first,” he said. “We are analyzing the (Stimulus) legislation for our individual clients and businesses to maximize the potential benefit to them.” Castleberry said Michelman & Robinson is “proactively” going out to clients and making sure they are aware of any new business opportunities ARRA might offer. “We’re taking these opportunities to clients and asking them to consider taking advantage of them.” In fact, the Stimulus Package has attorneys across the region sifting through its provisions, page by page, line by line in search of revenue-generating prospects. In response to the activity around Stimulus-funded projects and agencies The San Fernando Valley Bar Association has plans to organize a seminar to help members benefit from the recovery program. Searching for opportunities “There is no direct funding to help lawyers,” said bar association executive director, Elizabeth Post. “But there may be opportunities; even though a lot of what the stimulus package did was fund projects that were already in progress or ready to begin construction.” Post told the Business Journal that collections issues have been the number-one concern among her organization’s membership in recent months, but accessing recovery-oriented business opportunities has also been an area of great interest for the legal community. “It’s really a tough environment out there, and like everybody, attorneys are looking for solutions that will help them stay afloat. While there is no direct-funding program to stimulate the legal industry, Post said there is a bill in Congress now to increase funding for community legal services corporations that help the poor. “Our Neighborhood Legal Services locally has 40 attorneys in Pacoima, Glendale and an eastern office in El Monte,” she said. “Those kinds of organization might get their own sort of mini-stimulus package if the bill passes and President Obama signs it.” Maureen Gorson is an environmental attorney and a partner at Alston Bird, LLC, a 950-attorney firm with offices in Westlake Village. The Stimulus Package has been a boon for her practice area. “All people want to do is access that money,” Gorson said. “It’s a frenzy; we’re packed 40 deep at the pig trough.” Gorson was in Sacramento the day we contacted her, representing clients at an Energy Committee event. “The hydrogen people and the ethanol people got there early,” she said. “So out of $157 million in Stimulus money available, we only got a couple million for our clients; they got the rest.” Gorson’s clients, based in Rialto, are in the renewable diesel business, meaning they create diesel fuel from recycled material. The fact that Alston Bird was not as early as the other industries’ attorneys to this day’s alternative energy-investment meeting testifies to the difficulty of identifying the nexuses of Stimulus money, business opportunities, and procurement. “By the time it’s on the government’s website, it’s already well known by the key people at various levels of the public and private sectors,” Gorson, who was a lead attorney for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s administration, said. ” Even though the government agencies are actually pretty good at getting the information up quickly.” A good “for-instance” as far as ways in which attorneys make the difference for clients seeking to maximize Stimulus contracts is her discovery that the fiscal value of renewable diesel can be trebled when mixed at a three-to-one ratio with nonrenewable fuel. Keeping compliant “The other way is by making sure you don’t screw up on compliance,” Gorson said. “There are provisions like buy-American, prevailing wage, and all kinds of prohibitions.” Gorson said there are myriad individuals and organizations watching every dollar of Stimulus allocations. “There are people watching this money very closely, and you don’t want to become the poster child for waste and fraud.” The business model for attorneys doing Stimulus work unfolds one of two ways. A firm either identifies or verifies a potential ARRA opportunity for a client and takes a fee for doing the front-end work. Or they “go down the rabbit hole,” as Gorson puts it, with the client, getting paid only when the client gets a check.

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