In mid-2012, when Georg Veit walked into a Charlotte conference center for a panel discussion on alternative-energy project financing, he had little idea he would come face-to-face with a pivotal resource to help his German company stake its ambitious claim in the U.S. solar market. Moderating the panel that day was Steve Levitas, a Raleigh environmental attorney with a broad base of expertise in the business and regulatory facets of solar development.
“Steve did quite a nice job moderating the panel,” recalls Veit, chief executive officer of Geenex, which opened its U.S. office in Charlotte that year. The company’s plans included a $72 million solar array and education center in Halifax County, N.C. Veit identified himself and put a question to the panel. At the end of the session, Levitas sought out Veit and continued the discussion privately. “I thought I had found one of the smartest people in the industry,” Veit says. “I urgently needed the legal advice that could guide our Halifax County project.”
The two men began working together, gradually bringing in other experts from Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, LLP, where Levitas has been a partner since 2001. Attorneys specializing in contracts and real estate were brought in, for example, and Veit also began interacting with the firm’s paralegals and support staff. “I like the way the whole team works together under Steve’s leadership,” says Veit. The Berlin native anticipates Geenex’s 20 MW solar farm being connected to the electrical grid by the end of 2014, with the opening of the company’s education center set for spring 2015. “Steve basically walked us through the development of the whole project,” Veit says
Access to highly specialized professional-service providers is critical to emerging industries. As if perfecting new technologies and solutions is not painstaking enough, there is also a host of uncharted legal, regulatory and financial issues to be ironed out in their implementation. Helping foster the success of companies now pioneering alternative energy and other cleantech solutions is Kilpatrick Townsend’s international network of legal professionals.
With attorneys in 17 offices on three continents, Kilpatrick Townsend is the product of a series of mergers by prominent East and West Coast law firms heavy with expertise in intellectual property (IP) protection. “For over a century our firm has been a leader in IP law,” says Levitas. Today, about half its attorneys specialize in intellectual property law, many also holding degrees and experience in science, technology or engineering disciplines. In 2014, World Trademark Review recognized Kilpatrick Townsend as one of the top four U.S. firms for trademark law. And there is a long list of other accolades and honors the firm and its attorneys have earned from publications and ratings services.
North Carolina’s emergence as a hub for alternative energy and clean technologies mirrors Kilpatrick Townsend’s rise as a “go-to” legal name in those industries. The state now ranks second in the nation in the amount of solar capacity under construction or in late-stage development, according to SNL Energy, an industry news source. The firm recently helped United Therapeutics Corporation develop a $7.5 million solar field at its 132-acre Research Triangle Park campus. In Sampson County, Kilpatrick Townsend’s expertise is also at work in support of Chemtex International’s new $163 million facility that will produce ethanol from energy-rich arundo donax, or “giant cane,” grasses.
Along with its deep reservoir of IP talent, the firm connects clients to a wealth of expertise in project finance and tax law. “What we’re able to bring is a clear understanding of the cleantech ecosystem,” says Rob Edwards, a partner with Kilpatrick’s Washington, D.C., office. Edwards, a former deputy general counsel at the U.S. Department of Energy, co-leads the firm’s Energy, Project Finance and Technology Team. The team possesses a rare understanding of the new partnership and collaborative models now driving the success of both mature and start-up energy enterprises. “Even though we wear a legal hat, we can add value with a full spectrum of business advice,” Edwards says.
As a leading professional service provider to the alternative energy and clean technology industries, Kilpatrick Townsend joined the Research Triangle Cleantech Cluster in late 2013. “We saw an opportunity to participate in the growth of the cleantech sector in the Triangle and the opportunity to work and network with companies that are the leaders in this space,” says Levitas, a former deputy secretary at the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources. The presence of numerous companies engaged in grid modernization makes the region a backdrop for much of the sector’s most exciting innovation. “The Research Triangle Region is a global leader on the efficiency side of the market,” Levitas says.
Kilpatrick Townsend also leads by incorporating clean technologies into its own operations. The firm’s Raleigh attorneys, for example, work out of LEED-certified office space in a LEED-certified building. LEED -- or “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design” -- is a national certification program that recognizes best-in-class “green” building strategies and practices. Kilpatrick is also one of a small handful of firms to accept the Law Office Climate Challenge, a joint effort by the American Bar Association and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that encourages the implementation of best practices in waste reduction, recycling and natural resource conservation by law offices.
Gary Joyner, managing partner at Kilpatrick’s Raleigh office, explains that going green also makes strategic business sense for the firm. “Young people today are all about carbon footprint and energy efficiency,” he says. That is true of potential clients as well as today’s rising generation of legal talent Joyner and his partners hope to recruit. “They want to know what we’re doing in practical terms,” he says. “Cleantech is important to us because it’s important to those we want to hire and those we want to do business with.”