Opening Statements

Greenbacks for Going Green


When law firms talk about going green, they may be doing more than simply recycling scratch paper.

A growing number of firms are launching so-called greentech or cleantech practice groups. These groups combine the ex­pertise of energy, project finance, tax, land use and environmental lawyers to guide clients through the morass of government regulations, guidelines and incentives aimed at climate change and sustainable development. They’re also assisting clients in the development of renewable energy sources and other related technologies. And with a market segment valued at more than $70 billion a year, business is blooming.

The practice area sprouted when a number of client interests coalesced, says Los Angeles lawyer Edwin Feo, a partner at Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy. “If you went back 10 years, there was a clear difference between those in the cleantech side—which consisted of venture capital and new technologies—and the renewable energy or greentech side. Today, those two groups have blended together.”

But it’s not just the big firms that are getting a bite at the apple. In Albany, N.Y., for example, the 70-lawyer firm Whiteman Osterman & Hanna launched a practice last year because of the unique role it could fill in upstate New York for its clients. For example, financing a wind farm can require involvement from both Wall Street and big firms, explains partner Terresa Bakner. “But a lot of this is local. Big Wall Street firms are not comfortable in local towns of 3,500 people, where half of the population is related. A lot of local and regional work has to occur, and that is what is driving so many firms into this space.”

So, too, is politics. The 40-lawyer Denver firm Fairfield & Woods found itself following cli­ents into the practice after mandates from state and local government officials that have put climate change and other eco-friend­ly practices on the front burner, says firm partner John Eckstein.

“Our governor told us to get going on it,” he says. “If we didn’t do it, we were going to lose [client] relationships.”

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