Posted: Oct. 27, 2006; updated: Oct. 30, 2006
NO MORE WOOD AND BYRD, BUT WOOD OR BYRD
By Celia Cohen
After an 18-year run together, William T. Wood Jr. and Robert L. Byrd are breaking up Wood Byrd & Associates, one of the premier lobbying firms in Delaware.
Byrd is the one making the move to something new. He is affiliating with Wolf Block Schorr & Solis-Cohen, a Philadelphia-based law firm, to form Wolf Block Public Strategies Delaware as the base for him to continue his lobbying in Legislative Hall in Dover.
Wood is staying put, more or less, with an operation renamed Wood & Associates.
Wolf Block, a century-old firm with outposts in Boston, New York, Washington and points in between, approached Wood Byrd, according to Byrd, and he was interested while Wood was not.
"This model has been done in other states -- a government affairs subsidiary of a law firm," Byrd said. "It's the next step of a sophisticated government affairs operation. More and more, you need lawyers involved."
Byrd's switch brings a new dimension to lobbying in the state, which is accustomed to a professional lobbying corps composed mostly of small firms, solo operators and lawyers, but it very well could be a new wave.
It comes at a time of another seismic shift in lobbying because of the death last week of Edward R. "Ned" Davis, who established the modern model when he opened Ned Davis Associates in 1974.
"Wood Byrd has been an institution for so many years. This is going to be a blockbuster in the lobbying world. It wouldn't surprise me if this started a number of law firms looking to see if it's something for them to do," said W. Laird Stabler III, who runs Laird Stabler & Associates, a lobbying operation.
As attractive as the new model was for Byrd, it was not for Wood. "At this time in my life, I wanted more freedom and less structure. I wish Bobby the best," Wood said. "I'm going to continue. I'm going to have 10 to 15 clients. Bobby and I are going to work collaboratively on certain issues of his choice. Who knows what can happen? This is a very fluid field."
Wood Byrd has been a standard-setter among Dover lobbyists. It was a political balancing act put together by Wood, a Republican who was a lawyer out of the DuPont Co.'s government relations office, and Byrd, a Democrat who was a state representative from a blue-collar district before starting his lobbying career with the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce.
Together Wood and Byrd had a huge clientele, heavy on business interests, including the Business Roundtable, the DuPont Co., Dover Downs, Anheuser-Busch, McDonald's and Verizon. All clients were notified Friday afternoon of the breakup.
Byrd in particular has been a fixture in Legislative Hall for more than 30 years, when he showed up as a member of the Watergate Class of 1974 and shared an office with another newly-elected Democratic representative named Ruth Ann Minner. To this day, he remains a confidant of the governor.
Byrd has the ear of most lawmakers and is a master of the deal. He also is an unofficial chief of the lobbyists, often traffic-copping legislation and enforcing the unwritten standard that whatever the lobbyists do, they are Delawareans who have to live here, too.
Byrd is famous for his Election Eve parties for political operatives and lobbyists, the centerpiece of which is a pool for picking the winners of the Delaware races. There is a gathering scheduled a week from Monday.
For Byrd, it will be mostly business as usual when the new session of the Delaware General Assembly convenes in January. He will be joined by Cynthia L. DiPinto and Kim Gomes, associates from Wood Byrd.
"I don't think you'll notice any difference in Dover. I'll still be there. I literally think I have missed less than 10 days in 30 years," Byrd said.
If there is a difference, it will be that Wolf Block Public Strategies Delaware will be linked with similar entities the law firm has in other states -- a reflection of the growing need for clients to have a presence representing them in Washington and state capitals.
"Wolf Block is looking to be the premier operation regionally. They see a strong lobbying presence in each state as meshing," said David S. Swayze, a lawyer and lobbyist with the law firm of Parkowski Guerke & Swayze. He said Wolf Block appears to be doing it right -- by latching onto local talent in a state with a strong preference for homegrown.
Byrd will be relocating from the Wood Byrd office at 12th and Orange streets in Wilmington to the Wolf Block office in the Wilmington Trust Building at 10th and Market streets, where there already are seven lawyers -- including a delighted Thomas P. McGonigle, once the legal counsel to Gov. Thomas R. Carper, now the Democratic U.S. senator.
"It really makes perfect sense for the firm. Bob allows us to expand our government relations practice in Delaware. It complements our law practice, as well," McGonigle said.
One reason law firms want to work with lobbyists -- cost effectiveness. There is a lot of wasted time in Dover, and it makes more sense for lobbyists on retainer to be standing around than for lawyers with billable hours.
"There are some days that you only need to be there 10 minutes, but if you don't put in the 10 or 12 hours, you're not there for the right 10 minutes," Byrd said.
Byrd, who will be the president and CEO of the new operation, is expected to retain his autonomy. "For Bob, it's the best of worlds -- law firm resources but the law firm headquarters doesn't tell you how to operate," McGonigle said.
Not that anybody ever could tell Byrd what to do. The letterhead at his new firm may read Wolf Block, but it is bound to resemble what there used to be. Wolf Byrd, anyone?