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Nixon Peabody Enhances Innovation from Within

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The law firm of Nixon Peabody has a tax credit finance group that is led by Jeff Lesk, who is the managing partner of the firm’s office in Washington, according to the Washington Post. The group that Lesk leads is responsible for advising businesses on how they are able to finance projects in real estate by using multiple tax credits. Lesk urges partners to create a new product each year so that the lawyers in the practice are able to think creatively as much as possible.

“We’ve had the luxury of being a reactive industry, especially when economic times were good and businesses were strong,” Lesk said in an interview with the Washington Post. “Now, the business environment is very challenging … we’re a reflection of the business of the country and the world. As they have have greater needs to diversify, it’s a great opportunity for us to work with them to come up with things that solve their business products.”

One idea the firm came up with was the combining of solar energy tax credits with other tax credits so businesses could finance the installation of solar panels on housing developments. The firm used the idea when working with U.S. Bank when the bank installed solar panels on low-income and moderate income homes in Connecticut and apartment buildings in California.

“We were able to come up with a product that was a combined tax credit, which provided financing and almost paid for the cost of the solar panel,” Lesk said. “With that product in mind, we told our client about this concept. Now, probably every one of our major tax credit finance clients has done some combined solar work. Not one of them came to us and said, ‘Would you do a solar tax credit for us?’ It was more the other way around.”

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Another new idea created by the firm is that of the ‘first look program.’ This idea puts lawyers with potential clients to give those companies free legal advice prior to a proposed development approval. The hope of the firm is to get on the good side of the client early so that the company will use the firm when it comes time to finish the project.

“If the project ends up going forward, we’ll bill those fees as part of our normal billing arrangement,” Lesk said. “And if it doesn’t, it didn’t cost them anything and gave them an opportunity to have free legal services at the beginning. It makes good business sense because if the projects do go forward, the fact that there’s a lawyer who already knows the project and has a relationship with them, when it comes time to get approval and hire a lawyer, nine times out of 10, they’re going to want to select the person they’ve done early work with.”

The idea for the innovations from the lawyers was thought up when the partners of the firm went on a retreat in 2010.

“I started to see a divide in the group between lawyers with a more traditional approach to law responding as lawyers to requests from clients,” Lesk said. “On the other hand, there was a group of really forward-thinking creative lawyers who were not just great as legal technicians, but out there much more creating new products. I really needed to make the entire group more like that second group.”

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