TWO BLACK VULTURES recently made K St. their home, prompting the sort of jokes that one would expect when the caricature of an entire industry nests on its doorstep. When lobbyist Charlie Dewitt was informed of the vultures’ arrival, he provided the most telling response: “of the bird variety?”
Yet generalizations of any sort would seem unfitting after reading the Washington Post’s brief sketch of K St.’s “new landscape.” The article provides short portraits of four firms – Franklin Square Group, Chamber Hill Strategies, Policy Resolution Group, and lobbying powerhouse Holland & Knight – each of which is distinguished by some unique characteristic. Holland & Knight, for example, was the first lobbying group within a law firm to cease using billable hours. According to Rich Gold, the firm’s head of public policy, this decision meant “not having to worry about how many people to put on a client matter for fear that their collective hourly billing might surpass the monthly retainer the client is paying.” Policy Resolution Group is equally notable for being a wholly-owned subsidiary of the law firm Bracewell & Guiliani. According to senior leaders in the firm, “having a separate subsidiary allows non-lawyer lobbyists and professionals to rise to a position that is equivalent to partner, and that helps recruit the best people.”
And it’s not just structural and operational nuances that separate these firms from the pack. Franklin Square Group, which specializes in technology, prides itself on being the “bridge” between the vastly different cultures of Silicon Valley and Washington. Of course, they too have a structural distinction in that every partner owns some form of stock option in the firm, but they prefer to see themselves as straddling the line between the fast-moving and risk-driven milieu of the Bay Area and the stodginess of the Beltway. Taken together, all of these differences account for nothing when the K St. stereotype is very much alive. The vultures’ choice for nesting grounds helped drive this point home.