Whiteford, Taylor in venture with Rasmussen 'This is the direction that lobbying seems to be moving'

Public relations

September 17, 1998|By Sean Somerville | Sean Somerville,SUN STAFF

Moving to mesh legal and lobbying practices, the Baltimore law firm Whiteford, Taylor & Preston LLP and former Baltimore County Executive Dennis Rasmussen said yesterday that they will form a government relations joint venture.

By creating the Rasmussen Whiteford Public Affairs Group LLC, the law firm and the Towson-based Rasmussen Group said they would be able to offer a broader array of services to clients of both firms.

"We do lobbying work, but it is a tremendously difficult task," said Albert J. Mezzanotte Jr., a member of Whiteford, Taylor's management committee. "It's very time-consuming and difficult to fit into a routine. Dennis Rasmussen is a quality person, and he's got experience that is, frankly, unmatched in my view in terms in government experience."

Rasmussen called the agreement a response to an ever-broadening scope of services demanded by business clients. "For us, this is an affiliation with one of the state's most respected law firms," he said. "This is the direction that lobbying seems to be moving, as well as law firms."

Semmes Bowen & Semmes, another Baltimore law firm, formed a similar offshoot about three years ago headed by American Joe Miedusiewski, a former gubernatorial candidate.

That company, originally called the Semmes Public Affairs Group, is now regarded as the law firm's general business and government affairs practice. "We're alive and well," Miedusiewski said, adding that the practice draws clients from the law firm and on its own.

Rasmussen and Whiteford, Taylor would not disclose the terms creating the new limited liability corporation, which will be led by Rasmussen as president.

The law firm has about 140 lawyers -- including 90 in Baltimore and 25 in Towson -- as well as in offices in Columbia, Washington and Alexandria, Va. Rasmussen's company employs six people -- about nine when the legislature is in session -- in Annapolis and Towson.

Whiteford, Taylor's clients include physician groups and the Upper Chesapeake Health System. Rasmussen's clients include Nextel Communications Inc., the Mortgage Bankers Association of Maryland, Comcast Corp. and Johnson Controls Inc.

The new corporation will operate mostly out of Towson. Rasmussen said his current practice keeps him busy with city, county and state governments.

"One of our objectives is to expand into the federal government arena more aggressively than we've done," he said. While the new venture is not expected to immediately add jobs, Rasmussen said he hopes to hire more lobbyists as business picks up.

Both firms said the deal reflected the difference in the skills required by legal work and lobbying. "The attraction for us is that there are a number of things our clients may be involved in that don't fall specifically into our attorney-client responsibilities," said Harry Johnson, a partner at Whiteford, Taylor. "Dennis Rasmussen knows the terrain, has the contacts and knows what will play in certain areas and knows what won't play in certain areas. He is an inside guy who knows who the players are."

Rasmussen, a 12-year veteran of the state legislature who served four years as Baltimore County executive, said: "Lobbying has its own separate set of skills and abilities. Someone could be an excellent lawyer and not an excellent lobbyist and vice versa."

Pub Date: 9/17/98

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