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.

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