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    December 2, 2008  
 
 
Sheppard Mullin;
Reed Smith;
FTC

Bisnow and award-winning director Karim Chrobog cordially invite our readers and friends for a holiday happy hour tomorrow at Midtown at 1219 Connecticut Ave. Sign up for free! (Karim's award-winning documentary Warchild will be playing Dec 5-11 downtown. Click here to learn more about the movie.)

 

Seems like a lot of lawyers these days are eager to style themselves as doing energy, but Sheppard Mullin's DC managing partner Ed Schiff resists the temptation. Amazing, since he's working multiple alternative energy matters, while his California partners have plum client T. Boone Pickens. We dropped in on Ed to see if he gets any money out of those ads we see every five minutes on TV.

 

Ed says the folks in his 6-person DC department are corporate lawyers who just happen to be working transactions in the energy area—not a bad place to be while deals and M&As slow elsewhere. He's now working the acquisition of seven landfill sites across multiple states for FirmGreen, a company that turns methane to natural gas that can go through pipelines or even power cars. It's similar to work the California branch has done for client Pickens, who's been using some of his $3 billion net worth pitching the "Pickens Plan" for more development of natural gas and wind power. Sheppard Mullin took his Clean Energy company public and in August acquired a Dallas landfill project, adding capacity to an operation that already fuels bus fleets in California.

 

The firm got into alternative fuel transactions after passage of the '05 energy bill, when associate Jason Northcutt, left, helped private equity joint venture White Energy buy an ethanol plant in Bob Dole's Kansas hometown. But these guys don't spend all their time in the heartland. Luca Salvi brings a little Italian flair (note the in-office cappuccino machine). Maybe it was the caffeine talking, but they call the down times an opportunity for Sheppard Mullin to develop its own ranks (the firm picked up 12 lawyers from Heller) and practices like their energy work and representation of "opportunity funds" that invest in distressed assets. So far, they've formed and advised a $100 million fund for corporate properties and a $1 billion fund investing in hard real estate assets.


The Next Asbestos?
 

That's the question some scientific studies have raised about nanotechnology, or the construction of materials on an atomic scale (in scientific terms, they are even smaller than our chances of dating Kate Winslet). Plaintiffs' attorneys' ears pricked up at the suggestion that carbon nanotubes may have properties similar to asbestos fibers, and a group called the International Center for Technology Assessment has filed petitions asking the EPA to stop the sale of nano-sized silver (used as fungicide) and the FDA to regulate the use of nanoparticles in sunscreen. Sounds like a confusing time for nanotech firms, which explains how Tony Klapper of Reed Smith has carved a niche in getting them up to speed on their legal risks.

 

Tony tells us that nanotech is already used in some 500-800 consumer products (it's how they make that zinc oxide on lifeguards' noses clear instead of neon), and he's far from telling anyone to stop production. Toxic tort cases, he says, are driven by causation, company conduct, and punitive damages. His high-level tips to GCs, based on those elements, sound like good advice in any industry potentially facing mass tort claims down the road: (i) monitor and participate in the latest studies on any health threats, (ii) avoid making blanket statements about the safety of your product unless you're absolutely sure, and (iii) act to make your product as safe as possible—the worst thing to do, he says, is put your head in the sand.


HONORING AN FTC LEGEND

 

We were on hand yesterday afternoon at the FTC as Bryan Cave's Jodie Bernstein (a former director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection), left, and current FTC Chairman Bill Kovacic presented the Kirkpatrick award for lifetime FTC achievement to 88-year old Mary Gardiner Jones, an LBJ appointee and first woman FTC commissioner.  Jodie recalled being told by the FTC executive director back then to "manage Mary, because she's a girl and you're a girl." She says she decided to learn from her instead.   

John Ford, Bisnow's Legal Editor, loves a good eggnog. Invite him to cover your firm's holiday party at john@bisnow.com.

 
 
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