Gov’t Contracts Group of the Year: Blank Rome
Blank Rome's Government Contracts group was recently named a 2022 Practice Group of the Year by Law360, which honors "the attorney teams behind litigation wins and major deals that resonated throughout the legal industry this past year." Blank Rome is one of five firms recognized in the Government Contracts practice group category nationwide.
Below is the group’s full Practice Group of the Year profile, as published in Law360.
Gov’t Contracts Group of the Year: Blank Rome
Blank Rome LLP's efforts to help RIVA Solutions successfully defend an unusual $2 billion U.S. Patent and Trademark Office contract award across multiple protests helped earn the firm a place as one of Law360's 2022 Government Contracts Groups of the Year.
The USPTO's business-oriented software solutions, or BOSS, deal was awarded to five companies including RIVA, and was first hit with eight separate protests at the U.S. Government Accountability Office in 2021, with Blank Rome helping to fend off those protests.
But several protesters, unsatisfied with the GAO's decisions, took the dispute to the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, and a Blank Rome team led by partner Elizabeth Jochum was once again called on to defend RIVA's slot on the up-to-decadelong deal.
That involved extensive briefing, a remand and related oral arguments, and the claims court in April 2022 ultimately denied all three of the protests, in the process addressing an issue the court hadn't addressed before — the USPTO's unusual "transitive property of inequality" method used to assess bids, in which proposals weren't necessarily compared directly to each other.
The government contracts practice group's work on that dispute "was just one example of how our group is working with our clients for these best-in-class [contract] vehicles," serving as partners across the potentially yearslong procurement process, an issue of increasing importance as the government more frequently uses multibillion-dollar, long-term contracts for its acquisition needs, Jochum said.
"These are must-wins for our clients," she said. "And we're involved now at every stage of these procurements — reviewing the solicitation, challenging the solicitation if need be, dealing with potential exclusion at all these different phases that happen during big procurements. And then, of course, defending awards or filing protests."
The firm's success in defending clients in unusual contract disputes was also showcased in an August claims court decision rejecting protests over roughly €55 million ($59 million) in awards to Louis Berger Aircraft Services, covering air terminal and ground handling services at two U.S. Navy bases in Naples, Italy, and Rota, Spain.
Protester Alisud – Gesac Handling – Servisair 2 SCARL, or Algese, the longtime incumbent for the Naples contract, had alleged that Louis Berger should be disqualified from both contracts for failing to acknowledge that it had faced labor unrest and workforce reduction-related lawsuits in Spanish courts in connection with its work on the previous Rota contract, arguing that was a material misrepresentation.
But a Blank Rome team led by partner Stephanie Harden, after digging into complex issues of Spanish and Italian labor law, helped convince the court that the Navy had reasonably found those labor disputes weren't a valid reason to disqualify Louis Berger from the contracts.
The team showed that such unrest was, according to the claims court, "a result of differences in national values between Spain and the United States," and a reflection of a routine Spanish process for terminated employees, "not poor business ethics or disregard for legal rights on the part of LBAS."
While attorneys in the practice group regularly address client questions about overseas laws, including the regulatory clause at issue in the Louis Berger protest that requires compliance with host-nation labor laws, that protest "really took that to a new level," Harden said.
The attorneys on the case "were consulting with legal experts in Spain and Italy to really understand and be able to explain these issues to the court," she said. "And it's challenging: How do you get information like that into the record in a protest? How do you explain it in a way that makes sense, that's easy to verify for the court? That added a great level of complexity to the protest."
The case is currently on appeal at the Federal Circuit.
While serving as regular participants in high-profile and complex protests, the 17 full-time attorneys within Blank Rome's government contracts practice group are also frequently called upon to handle other important matters for their clients, as demonstrated by the firm's representation of private equity-owned Avantus Federal in its $590 million acquisition by QinetiQ US, a deal announced in August.
Avantus is a provider of services such as data analytics and software development to a range of federal agencies, including the U.S. Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, and various intelligence agencies, and the deal served to showcase Blank Rome's work supporting private equity sponsors in the government services industry.
It also showcased the way Blank Rome's government contracts practice group can bring together "complementary practice expertise to our clients," for example in mergers and acquisitions, insurance, employment and other related issues, said government contracts practice group chair Justin Chiarodo.
The firm has also recently expanded the cross-practice expertise it can bring to clients with the lateral addition of partner Anthony Rapa, who heads up its new national security team as well as working with the government contracts practice, which has grown by roughly 25% in the past two years, Chiarodo said.
Rapa is one of several recent lateral hires within or working with the government contracts team — a group that also includes Jochum, as well as former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Jennifer Short — and the practice group is growing increasingly diverse, with its three newest partners, for example, all women. That growing diversity is a point of pride for Chiarodo.
"We think that's really important," he said. "It's something we invest a lot of time and effort in, recruiting and developing our team … Elizabeth and Stephanie leading the matters that are really driving us to this success, I think it's no accident."
"Gov’t Contracts Group of the Year: Blank Rome," by Daniel Wilson was published in Law360 on February 17, 2023. Reprinted with permission.