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High-powered law firm coming to Phoenix

James Bruce (File Photo)

Bruce James (File Photo)

Top law and lobbying firms in the Valley will have to keep a closer eye on their employees after the first of the year.

The Denver-based firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck will open its Phoenix office in January and plans to poach some of Arizona’s top talent from its new competitors. The firm already has lured a couple of prominent attorneys, and others may soon follow.

Marty Shultz, who will retire at the end of the year as vice president of government affairs for Pinnacle West, will join the firm’s Phoenix office as its senior policy analyst, and attorneys Jeff Crockett and Carlos Ronstadt have already left Snell & Wilmer to join Brownstein. Bruce James, the firm’s managing partner and CEO, said he expects Ronstadt to bring the Central Arizona Project, a longtime client, with him to his new firm.

Brownstein isn’t stopping with Crockett and Ronstadt. James said the firm will announce six more high-profile hires in January. He wouldn’t say who, but said the new additions will be big enough names to raise some eyebrows in the legal and lobbying communities and bring instant credibility to the Phoenix office.

“The people who are coming on, as you will see, have tremendous history in this state and in this region and are really substantive,” Shultz said.

James said Brownstein will be among the top firms in Arizona as soon as it opens its doors.

“Our philosophy when we enter a market is we don’t want to be in that market unless we’re at the top,” James said.

With its Beltway connections, sprawling Western empire and high-profile local hires, the firm has the credentials to back up the boast.

Brownstein is already in the top tier of lobbying firms in Washington, D.C. A July article in the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call named Brownstein as one of the top five lobbying firms at the nation’s capital in terms of total earnings. The article noted that Brownstein broke into the top five earners for the first time in 2010.

In 2009, Brownstein got Congress to include a provision in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that gave tax breaks to businesses that bought back their own debt from other companies, which James said was a low-key but critically important issue. And the firm helped its clients get about $400 million from the stimulus for alternative energy and infrastructure projects, James said.

Brownstein also was instrumental in bringing the 2008 Democratic National Convention to Denver. Steve Farber, one of the firm’s partners, co-chaired the convention’s host committee and raised about $40 million, according to media reports.

James called Farber “the Marty Shultz of Denver.” He said both men share a commitment to their communities that transcend titles and personal success.

The firm played a key role in the 2007 renegotiation of the compact that divides Colorado River water rights between seven Western states, and serves as general counsel for a company that is converting a former Air Force base in Denver into a massive biosciences campus.

When Brownstein opened its Las Vegas office in 2007, it merged with a firm that James described as the top gaming-law practice in the state. Brownstein now represents many of the biggest casinos on the Las Vegas Strip.

The firm’s expansion into New Mexico included the acquisition of a top corporate and public financing firm, and as a result Brownstein served as counsel for about 90 percent of the state’s bond issues last year, James said. And Brownstein’s 2008 merger with the California-based firm Hatch & Parent made it a leader in water law.

“There’s no other law firm with a presence in Phoenix that is a top five or top ten lobbying operation in D.C.,” James said.

Brownstein already has a dozen offices in California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Washington, D.C.

“So that philosophy we’ve carried forward to Phoenix, because if you look at this market, there’s a tremendous number of law firms here. So why do you want to be here unless you’re something unique or different?” James said.

Inquiring minds are already asking about joining the new office. Crockett, Ronstadt and James said they’ve gotten numerous inquiries and unsolicited résumés.

“There is a buzz, and we have been approached by some folks who are interested in what the firm has to offer,” Crockett said.

Crockett and Ronstadt are working out of Brownstein’s temporary office at Central and Adams streets in downtown Phoenix. Crockett said the firm is negotiating with several landlords, and expects Brownstein’s permanent Phoenix office, which will also be downtown, to be open and operational within six months.

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