Bracewell partners got a big name when they hired Rudolph Giuliani. But has this brief marriage already outlived its usefulness?

It was a beautiful wedding. When Houston’s Bracewell & Patterson called a press conference at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel two years ago to introduce its new partner, Rudolph Giuliani, the firm’s lawyers beamed. Their trophy mate was a real catch, someone who would bring instant name recognition for Bracewell’s fledgling New York office.

Like a good traditional bride, the firm changed its name to Bracewell & Giuliani. The hard-nosed New York politician and the savvy Texas firm cast their relationship in terms that might make a Hallmark card writer blush. Their union, they said, was ignited by a burning passion for the law.

“I wanted to practice law,” said Giuliani, 63, during an interview in late February. “I really enjoyed it. It’s who I am.” Or, as Patrick Oxford, Bracewell’s managing partner, said in 2005: “It was really his love of the law that really drove our conversations.”

It’s entirely possible, of course, that at an age when many lawyers ease into retirement, Giuliani felt an unquenchable desire to plunge back into motions to dismiss and conflicts checks. It’s also an unavoidable fact that politicians have to create the right story. Giuliani is a presidential candidate whose campaign story masks some rough edges in his personal and professional life. The Bracewell chapter of this candidate’s tale likewise has some awkward angles. Giuliani, the quintessential New Yorker, could walk into practically any major law office in Manhattan and shake hands with a partner he’s known for years. Yet he chose a 332-lawyer Texas firm where he had known no one longer than a few months and that was barely visible in New York. Is it possible that political considerations were a factor in Giuliani’s choice? No, insist Giuliani and Oxford. “That would be a silly way to run for president,” says Giuliani. “You don’t join a law firm to run for president.” Adds Oxford: “We never discussed that one single time.”

They might not have had to. Oxford is close to President George W. Bush and Karl Rove and has been a top fund-raiser for Bush’s presidential campaigns. And during the last 35 years, Oxford has been a behind-the-scenes force in Texas politics. If Giuliani’s arrangement with Bracewell has nothing to do with politics, then he is benefiting from some extremely lucky coincidences. Oxford is now serving as Giuliani’s campaign chairman, and in the first three months of the year, Giuliani has received more money from Texas-$2.2 million-than any other Republican or Democratic candidate. The list of Texas donors includes former Bush supporter and billionaire T. Boone Pickens, Jr. (who has helped raise $500,000, according to The Wall Street Journal), Texas Rangers owner Tom Hicks, and Richard Kinder, the chairman and chief executive officer of Bracewell client Kinder Morgan, Inc.

But politics can test the best of unions. In recent months the political spotlight trained on Bracewell has become increasingly uncomfortable for Giuliani, the firm, and its clients. Recent articles have scrutinized the firm’s work for energy companies like Ven ezuela-owned Citgo Petroleum Corporation, forcing Giuiliani to explain his firm’s connections to Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. The firm has also had to defend its work for companies accused of fighting environmental regulation. In addition, Bracewell has had to concern itself with Federal Election Commission rules that would penalize Giuliani and the firm if his compensation is considered a campaign contribution.

Shortly before this article went to press, Oxford disclosed that Giuliani would soon be “stepping back” from Bracewell. “As he becomes more involved in his campaign, public appearances on behalf of the firm can be misunderstood,” Oxford said. He added that Giuliani’s status as a partner would not change, but that he would reduce his appearances for the firm and would be less involved in Bracewell’s New York strategy. This move was prompted in part, said Oxford, by an effort to spare the firm and its clients more campaign scrutiny, or, as Oxford calls the attention, “cavity searches.”

After a little more than two years, the strain of this marriage is showing. Will love of the law be enough to hold it together?

Back in February, Giuliani was all over Manhattan. A close-up of his face hung from hundreds of sidewalk newsstands, filling the cover of New York magazine. The headline wondered: “Him? What America Sees in Rudy. The Weirdness of the Giuliani Juggernaut.” The article-which examined how Giuliani woos voters outside New York by running on the memory of September 11-did not mention Bracewell & Giuliani.

Inside Bracewell’s Times Square office, a few touches set the firm apart. A closed-circuit security camera watched the reception area. A room next to reception served as a memorial to September 11; it included flags, a picture of Ground Zero, and a photo of the Statue of Liberty emblazoned with the words “God Bless America.” In the hallway outside Giuliani’s office, two security guards squeezed their large bodies into a small booth.

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