Black trial a boon for Perkins Coie

Perkins Coie, the big Seattle-based law firm, has shown you don't actually have to be representing someone in a high-profile trial to make hay from it.

Its Chicago office opened almost five years ago and now has close to 70 lawyers, but finds itself competing with dozens of other firms that have opened shop in the Windy City over the past decade — not to mention that city's big, entrenched homegrown firms.

"It's a very densely populated industry, and it's hard to break out of the pack," said Hugh Totten, a partner in the Chicago office of Perkins Coie.

"We're always looking for something that will differentiate us, both for the firm as a whole and the Chicago office in particular."

That something came in the form of the fraud trial of fallen media mogul Conrad Black, which attracted hundreds of reporters from around the world, many of them unfamiliar with the vagaries of the U.S. legal system.

Perkins Coie, it turned out, was one of the few firms in Chicago not involved in either Black's trial or the thicket of civil litigation arising from the collapse of his newspaper empire.

That gave Totten an idea: Offer himself as a trial commentator. Nearly every day, Totten went to the nearby federal courthouse for at least an hour or two; at night, he studied the case filings.

On days when the regular courtroom was full, Totten would go to the "overflow" courtroom, which was video-linked to the main proceedings and was where many journalists hung out.

His homework paid off: On the day of opening arguments, Totten found himself on the "The Verdict," a legal affairs show on CTV, a Canadian network.

He also was a regular presence on CBC radio and television, and was quoted in print and broadcast reports around the world — always with the Perkins Coie name attached. (An old college friend got in touch after seeing his face on German television in Berlin, Totten said.)

On Saturday, the day after Black was convicted on of three counts of wire fraud and one count of obstruction of justice, Totten hit a trifecta of sorts: He was quoted in the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times and The Wall Street Journal.

Not bad for a civil litigator who specializes in construction and design law.

"This was the kind of case that I'd tried [before] — complex, lots of documents, corporate-structure stuff," Totten said before dashing off to a CBC interview about Black's pending appeal. "As far as the criminal-procedure part, I figured I could learn."

— Drew DeSilver

Utility sets record on hottest day

The three-day heat wave our region experienced earlier this month sent thousands of people rushing to crank their air-conditioners and fans.

How much of an extra load did that put on the power grid?

A fair amount, at least according to Puget Sound Energy, the area's largest investor-owned utility.

On a typical summer day (OK, last Monday), PSE's customers will use about 54,000 megawatt-hours of electricity.

On July 11, the hottest day so far this summer, the utility set a new summertime usage peak: 64,560 megawatt-hours over a 24-hour period. (July 10 and 12 were slightly lower.)

So, that's about 10,000 additional megawatt-hours, spread out over roughly 922,000 households in PSE's service area. (For simplicity, let's ignore the 120,000 or so commercial, industrial and other customers, whose usage varies less with the mercury.)

The extra load works out to less than 11 kilowatt-hours per household. The typical PSE customer uses an average of 33 kilowatt-hours a day, so that's about a third more power used on those really hot days.

The peak on July 11 was in the 5 p.m. hour, when PSE customers pulled 3,228 megawatt-hours. By comparison, on the record wintertime-usage day (Dec. 21, 1998), customers pulled 4,850 megawatt-hours in a single hour.

— Drew DeSilver

Boeing looks into biofuel for planes

Are greener skies in Boeing's future?

Brazilian scientist Expedito Parente, the man known as the father of biodiesel, told us he visited Seattle recently to further his collaboration with Boeing on a project to create biofuel for jets as an alternative to petroleum-based fuel.

Parente, founder of biodiesel producer TecBio, has been working with NASA and Boeing to develop vegetable-based fuels from palm oil crops to use as aviation-grade fuel, which he calls biokerosene. Ethanol made from sugarcane powers a third of the cars in Brazil, which has become a world leader in alternative fuels; even Brazilian regional-jet maker Embraer has built an ethanol-powered plane.

Aircraft fuel is a major expense for airlines. U.S. airlines use an average of 1.6 billion gallons of fuel each month, according to the Air Transport Association. The price per gallon has jumped from $1.208 in 2004 to $1.968 last year to $2.081 in May; each extra penny per gallon costs the industry almost $200 million per year.

Meanwhile Air New Zealand also is working with Boeing and New Zealand-based biofuel developer Aquaflow Bionomic, according to The Sydney Morning Herald. What's the source of the jets' new secret sauce? Wild algae, also known as pond scum. Guess this stuff won't smell quite as good as French fries.

— Kristi Heim