Although it’s one of California’s largest law firms, Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP is still known mostly for its insurance defense practice. So the recent addition of former Los Angeles Department of Water and Power head H. David Nahai as partner is a boost to the firm’s efforts to broaden its reputation.

Nahai, who stepped down from his post as chief executive and general manager of the DWP last October, will co-chair the L.A.-based firm’s real estate practice, and energy, environmental and water practice. One of his first orders of business will be to gather attorneys at various offices into a team he can coordinate. His practice will include representing renewable energy companies, and advising clients on environmental laws and regulations.

“I’m building on a foundation that already exists, but perhaps helping elevate it to a new level in terms of effectiveness,” said Nahai, who will work out of the downtown L.A. office.

Nahai won’t be at the firm every day, as he will continue to run his own environmental consulting group and serve as an adviser to the Clinton Climate Initiative, an effort by the former president to address global warming.

R. Gaylord Smith, a member of the firm’s management committee, said Nahai would bring stature in the areas of renewable energy and water law.

“He’s managed to attract contacts which place him at the level of decision-makers in both government and private industry,” he said. “He will be a very useful resource for the firm.”

Nahai said his departure from the DWP could be attributed in part to the instability of the top position. Since his departure, he has advocated for changes to insulate it from political turbulence, such as giving the general manager a contract. When he left, Nahai had reportedly lost support from the employees union and was under criticism from ratepayers regarding fee hikes.

But Nahai pointed to several accomplishments during his tenure, including moves to reorganize the department. Some of those efforts are only just beginning to bear fruit, he said. For example, about 20,000 homes in the city lost power during last week’s heat wave.

“Three or four years ago you could have expected those numbers to be well above 100,000,” he said. “What we were able to do was reorganize internally to anticipate power outages.”

Expanding Westward

Toxic torts litigator Kevin C. Mayer has joined the downtown L.A. office of Washington, D.C.-based Crowell & Moring LLP, adding to the firm’s growing California presence.

The firm opened its L.A. office in late 2008 with eight attorneys; it now has 23 there. It also opened a San Francisco outpost last year, and has about 75 attorneys statewide.

Mayer, 51, comes from Westwood-based law firm Liner Grode Stein Yankelevitz Sunshine Regenstreif & Taylor LLP, where he was partner. Before that, he was a partner in the L.A. office of Steptoe & Johnson LLP for 11 years.

Mayer’s previous clients include Honeywell International Inc., Exxon Mobil Corp., Dupont and Procter & Gamble Co.

He said he made the move because of Crowell’s international presence.

“Certainly what we’re seeing is that the clients we represent are national and international companies, with national and international problems that need national and international law firms to help them solve those problems,” Mayer said. “It became clear to me in order to continue doing what I have done for the majority of my career that it was necessary to be with a firm that had that platform.”

John Vandevelde, head of the firm’s L.A. office, said Mayer would complement the firm’s toxic torts practice in D.C.

“Kevin is the latest of what’s really been a natural addition of partners who’ve come in from other practice areas,” Vandevelde said. “The office will continue to grow and expand when the right opportunities present themselves.”

Small Outpost

California has long had a reputation for aggressive employment lawsuits, but a four-attorney employment law and litigation firm in the Washington, D.C., area says its clients are running up against so many issues that it opened a Burbank office last month.

Herndon, Va.-based Welter Law Firm P.C. hired associate Laura Chaimowitz to head up the office, and firm President Eric Welter even took the California bar in February.

The firm handles all employment litigation for Dallas-based 7-Eleven, which has seen an uptick of lawsuits in California. Currently, 7-Eleven is facing two wage-and-hour class-action lawsuits, a single-plaintiff wage-and-hour lawsuit and a racial discrimination case. At one point last year, the law firm was handling seven matters for the company. Some of them involve disputes at franchise locations that 7-Eleven gets pulled into.

“I’ve seen an increase in the volume of cases I’ve had in California in the last two years,” Welter said. “They’re going after not just the primary employer but also against secondary or joint employers in a lot of the cases. The lawyers are becoming more aggressive.”

Welter also will advise government contractor Sayres and Associates Corp. and tech company iDirect Technologies Inc. on employment issues in California.

Staff reporter Alfred Lee can be reached at alee@labusinessjournal.com or at (323) 549-5225, ext. 221.

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