Continental Breakfast: Bracewell's Rudy Giuliani
American Lawyer chief European correspondent Chris Johnson meets regularly with senior figures in the legal world at their favorite breakfast joints to chew over the industry's tastiest talking points. Johnson's guest this week is the former mayor of New York City, Bracewell & Giuliani’s Rudy Giuliani. On the menu: fracking, future presidential ambitions, and some ridiculously expensive eggs.
I admit to approaching this week's "Continental Breakfast" with a mixture of excitement and apprehension. As the former mayor of the city of New York, Rudolph “Rudy” Giuliani remains one of America’s most widely known public figures, and is almost certainly the highest-profile individual I've featured—or am ever likely to feature—in this column. His leadership in the aftermath of the devastating 9/11 terror attacks saw him dubbed “America’s Mayor” by Oprah Winfrey, and led to him being named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year in 2001, and knighted by the Queen at Buckingham Palace the following year. He’s even hosted Saturday Night Live and appeared in an episode of Seinfeld.
He's also notorious among journalists—and some voters—for being more than a little cranky.
Now a name partner at Houston-based Bracewell & Giuliani—which changed its name from Bracewell & Patterson following Giuliani’s arrival in 2005—the former U.S. attorney is currently spearheading the firm’s efforts to revitalize its faltering London office.
We’re meeting at Park Avenue Autumn—a swanky restaurant on the Upper East Side, that, somewhat pretentiously, changes not only its menu but also its name and interior design with the seasons. Autumn’s current makeover is based on the travels of 18th century British explorer Captain James Cook—though the authenticity of the theme thankfully doesn’t extend to serving stale ship’s biscuits and rum—and is supposed to “channel the Pacific Northwest, envisioned through a classic, naturalist's lens, and then reinterpreted with a modernist's sensibilities,” according to its website. When I arrive shortly after 9:00 a.m.—a few minutes late, thanks to a malfunctioning number 5 train—the only autumnal reference I can see is the complete lack of any customers: Like leaves from a tree, they’ve all disappeared. Despite the abundance of empty tables, the waiting staff have seen fit to place us directly next to the only other party in the entire restaurant, making private conversation impossible.
To my surprise, Giuliani is not alone. Also at the table is his private security guard, John—a huge, barrel-chested slab of a man, who stays at Giuliani’s side for the duration of our meeting. In another interview first for me, when I place my dictaphone on the table and start recording, Giuliani does the same, fiddling with his iPhone in an attempt to work the voice recorder app. "Do you think it's recording, John?" he says. "I've never used this before. We’ll see.”
A waitress comes over to take our orders. Giuliani goes off-menu and asks for some Greek yogurt with blueberries. (I have to stifle a laugh—on Seinfeld, Giuliani was left worried when a contaminated cholesterol test delivers an artificially high result, which he blames on eating too much frozen yogurt.) I haven’t had a chance to look at the menu, so the waitress asks if I would at least like some coffee while I wait. It’s good: strong and scaldingly hot.
Bracewell has actually had an office in London since 1979, but has failed to make much of an impact in what is one of the world’s most fiercely competitive legal markets. In fact, up until its recent push, which has seen a number of new arrivals, the firm had just one partner in the U.K.: capital markets specialist Adam Mozel.
“I don’t think they ever really had a good plan for what they wanted to be [in London]—they kept changing what they were,” Giuliani says of Bracewell’s previous efforts. “At one point, they were just going to be a firm that serviced their clients in London. That would make a profit, but maybe it’s an office of 20 people. Then they thought of being a more full-service British firm, but that didn’t work. Then then went back to [servicing existing firm clients], and when business in the Middle East picked up, that was a pretty successful period in terms of profit, probably the most successful that it was, but it wasn’t the most successful in terms of making a coherent office. Our people were in and out [traveling between London and the Middle East]. We could have had that office in a London hotel and saved money.”
That all changed at the beginning of the year, with the arrival of Simmons & Simmons energy partner Julian Nichol—who displaced Mozel as U.K. managing partner—signaling the start of the firm’s plans to radically expand its presence in London. (Mozel subsequently left the firm. A Bracewell spokeswoman says the firm is "unaware of where he is practicing now.")
Nichol’s hire was quickly followed by that of Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) corporate associate Alastair Young, who joined the firm as a partner. Bracewell further bolstered its London energy practice in June with the recruitment of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius partner Martin Stewart-Smith, and two oil and gas associates—Ben James from Linklaters and Darren Spalding from Allen & Overy, both of whom are now partners of the U.S. firm. The trio were joined by HSF senior associate Olivia Caddy, who specializes in structured debt financings in the energy sector. (Bracewell currently has six partners in London, but that will increase to seven in November, when HSF's former finance practice head, Jason Fox, joins the firm as London senior partner.)
The waitress finally returns. I still haven’t looked at the menu—Giuliani talks pretty relentlessly once he gets going—so just ask for a plate of scrambled eggs, which, when they arrive, are bizarrely accompanied by a side of fried new potatoes. I curse Captain Cook under my breath.
Giuliani says the refocused London office will be built around what he refers to as "world class propositions"—areas in which the firm believes it can occupy a leading position in the market.
"We’re not looking to market ourselves as the best law firm in the world for everything—we’re not," he mumbles through a mouthful of yogurt. "We’re the best law firm in the world for eight things."
I raise my eyebrow questioningly. He clarifies his statement accordingly: "We’re as good as anybody in the world for eight things."
One of those things, Giuliani says, is energy, which will form the core of Bracewell's new London strategy. The firm is particularly interested in the fledgling U.K. market for shale gas extraction, which is generating excitement and controversy after a ban on the process was lifted by the government last December. A moratorium had been placed on hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”—whereby pressurized liquid is injected into rock, creating small fractures through which gas and petroleum can be extracted—after the drilling of three exploratory shale gas wells off the coast of Blackpool in 2011 was blamed for a series of minor earthquakes.
Bracewell boasts one of America’s leading fracking practices, and Giuliani also sees considerable potential in the U.K. for overlap between the law firm and his consulting business, Giuliani Partners (GP), which already advises several U.S. shale gas companies on security issues. (Giuliani says he splits his time evenly between Bracewell, GP, and speaking engagements for the Washington Speakers Bureau, which sees him tour the world—in private jets that his contract states must be a Gulfstream IV or bigger—delivering speeches on energy and economics for a fee of up to $100,000 a pop. The remaining 10 percent of his time, he says, is spent playing golf. It’s good work if you can get it.)
“Fracking is second nature in Texas—it’s been going on for 18 years and isn’t a big deal,” he says. “But for a community, it’s a two-edged sword. There’s a lot of business, a lot of people get wealthy, and a lot of people get jobs. On the other hand, there’s this big fear that the water is going to get polluted or there’s going to be an earthquake. [GP] has lots of experience in mitigating the risk and then explaining it [to communities] to lower resistance.”
The London office will also be targeting white-collar work, Giuliani adds. The U.K. government’s introduction of a new and wide-ranging Bribery Act in 2011 has led to a significant increase in white-collar work for U.K. law practices, and its broad jurisdictional reach creates strong ties to the U.S. market and the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which Giuliani says he has been involved with “since the day it was born. ” (He testified against it twice when it was first proposed in the 1970s.)
Giuliani already has experience in developing Bracewell’s office network. When he joined the firm in 2005, his main task was to help it launch and establish itself in New York. (He was handsomely rewarded for doing so: The New York Times reported that Giuliani received $1.2 million in compensation from Bracewell in 2006, including a $1 million base salary and 7.5 percent of the profits of the New York office.)
“Part of [the reason Bracewell hired] me was I knew New York,” Giuliani says. One of his first moves was to bring in Marc Mukasey, the former deputy chief appellate attorney and chief of the narcotics unit for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, who now leads Bracewell’s white-collar practice. "Half of the litigators in New York [have] worked for me, so I could pick out the good ones," he adds.
Giuliani admits that his knowledge of the London legal scene is less intimate—“I don’t know London the way I know New York, so I’m not going to be helpful picking out [lateral hires]”—but says he will help the firm “in any way” he can. He'll be interviewing incoming partners, and helping the London office develop business with both the Middle East, which he says he knows “really well,” and Africa, which he visited in 2012 but is “more a work in progress.” Indeed, for all of his experience and prowess as a lawyer, it is clear that Giuliani’s principal role at Bracewell is to serve as an ambassador. His is a name that opens doors, while his access to senior contacts at government agencies and regulators could prove invaluable to clients—particularly in sectors as heavily regulated as energy.
I ask Giuliani whether his name carries as much weight on the other side of the Atlantic.
“It does, yes—people know me,” he says without even a hint of modesty. “Not as much as in the U.S., but if I call someone, I can get their attention. If I call up [former U.K. prime minister] Tony Blair, he’ll return the call, just as an example.”
Giuliani says Bracewell’s success in New York—having started with just five attorneys, the office has over the past eight years grown to almost 100—has given the firm renewed confidence in its ability to better tackle London. It would have done so earlier, in fact, had the recession not got in the way.
“We were all set to do this back in 2007,” he says. “When I lost [the presidential primary race] in 2008, one of the things I was really excited about was that we were going to [build our] office in London. But then the world fell apart, and we had to take off the board all our projects, because we didn’t know where we were going to be the year after.”
Does Giuliani himself know where he’ll be in a few years’ time? Each of his previous stints in private practice—with White & Case and Anderson Kill & Olick—lasted no more than three years. His last political run ended disastrously, after he failed to win a single caucus or primary election, but does he still harbor any presidential ambitions? With an American flag button pinned to his left lapel and a pair of ostentatious gold cufflinks bearing the official seal of New York City, he still looks every inch the politician.
“I haven’t ruled anything out, but right now I’m not thinking about that—not even in my deep dark thoughts,” he says. And then, with a wry smile: “Ask me a year from now, when the temptation is greater, and we’ll see.”
When he considers the prospect of sitting in the Oval Office, and given his previous experience as mayor during one of the city’s most dramatic and terrible events, does returning to the more mundane practice of law not feel a bit, well, anticlimactic?
“No!” he shouts, erupting into a belly laugh. “This is where I started. My reputation may be as mayor of New York, but I’m much more of a lawyer than a politician. At the back of my mind, I always [knew that I] wanted to practice law again—it was my first love, my great love. I’ve always been happiest as a lawyer.”
For the first time during our meeting, I feel like I am now speaking to the real Rudy Giuliani, rather than the character that is the former mayor and presidential candidate. While Giuliani has been engaging, friendly, and thoughtful in his responses to my questions, it has at times felt like he was on auto-pilot. But now, as a smile envelops his face, it seems that if you manage to break through the carefully constructed veneer of Giuliani's public persona, he is, at heart, a bit of a legal geek.
“The greatest fun for me is when I have a legal problem to work on,” he says enthusiastically. “I love that—it’s a source of relaxation for me. I get back to playing the game that I enjoy the most, which is being a lawyer.”
Breakfast for two (with extra coffee for a security guard) came to $78.41, with service.
Chris Johnson is The American Lawyer's chief European correspondent. Reach him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @chris_t_johnson.