June 16, 2010 12:34 PM

As BP Oil Slick Spreads, Firms Follow

Posted by Brian Baxter

UPDATE: June 17, 8:00 a.m. BP showed up at the White House with its general counsel Rupert Bondy and outside lawyers from WilmerHale and agreed to escrow $20 billion in compensation funds for victims.

As plaintiffs lawyers race to sign up new clients for oil spill litigation against BP and other defendants--even resorting to social networking to do so--and as the Gulf slick spreads to other states, defense-side firms are making their own plays for a piece of the action.

The Daily Business Review, a sibling publication, reports that several leading Florida firms are advising corporate clients in oil spill-related litigation. James Miller, the chair of the litigation practice at Florida's largest firm, Akerman Senterfitt, has landed the lucrative work representing BP in the Sunshine State.

Akerman chairman Andrew Smulian declined to reveal the terms of the firm's contract with the London-based oil giant, but a former partner at the firm, which has struggled in recent years, told the DBR that the BP work could be a "year-maker."

"That contract could be worth tens of millions of dollars to Akerman," the ex-partner said. "It will keep the firm afloat."

Other Florida-based defense firms are also getting in on the bonanza. The DBR reports that Greenberg Traurig litigation bigwig Barry Richard in Tallahassee is representing Cameron International, manufacturer of the failed blowout preventer for the BP well. Richard told the DBR that he got the work though a referral from David Beck of Houston's Beck Redden & Secrest, which was retained by Cameron to coordinate U.S. legal efforts and hire state counsel in Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas.

Halliburton Energy Services, which was responsible for pumping cement into the BP well to cap it, has turned to Broad and Cassel's Steven Burton, the DBR reports. Burton, the managing partner of the firm's Tampa office, is heading up a team from the firm on the matter.

Transocean, owner of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that exploded and sank in April, has hired Jaime Betbeze of Hand Arendall to handle matters in Florida and Alabama. The Swiss-based offshore drilling contractor, which is citing an 1851 maritime law to limit its liability in litigation, has already tapped two top Am Law 100 firms for its national defense.

Citing sources familiar with the process, the DBR notes that Florida firms competed heavily in beauty contests designed to reel in oil spill defendants. Holland & Knight was one of the firms that competed and lost, according to the paper.

On Tuesday, the Obama administration named Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson litigation partner Michael Bromwich to lead its effort on oil industry regulation reform. In a televised address to the nation, President Obama also announced plans for the creation of a fund to compensate Gulf residents affected by the spill. The New York Times reports that Obama planned to set the terms for the fund in a meeting with top BP executives on Wednesday.

As noted by the DBR and another story by Bloomberg, plaintiffs lawyers are furiously competing for clients affected by the crisis in the Gulf even as machinations continue over the proposed BP fund. Susan Beck, a senior writer for The American Lawyer, will weigh in on the potential ramifications of the compensation fund on oil spill litigation later today for The Am Law Litigation Daily.

Related Stories:

V&E Gets BP's First Call on Gulf Oil Spill

Busy on the Bayou: N'Awlins Firms Seek Oil Spill Work

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