Monday AM May 5th, 2008

Offshore Technology Conference begins at Reliant Park…Litigation support professionals organize regional group…Hines Real Estate Investment Trust closes on $271.5 million purchase of Williams Tower…

The 2008 Offshore Technology Conference gets underway today at Reliant Park. Some 2,400 companies are exhibiting, with some 67,000 attendees expected from 110 countries. OTC shows the latest equipment and technology for drilling miles below the ocean.

Houston is becoming the host city for the third regional chapter of the non-profit Association of Litigation Support Professionals. Group members help attorneys, executives and government officials with the technology used in electronic discovery management. Karen Jensen-Clark is with the Howrey law firm.

“Lit support people in general—we are the ones who get involved at the outset with attorneys and get into preparing the data that becomes the virtual documents that get reviewed with litigation databases. Most people don’t realize today in litigation a lot of paper isn’t exchanged anymore. Everything is done virtually on the computer. Ninety percent of communication this done is via e-mail. Documents are attached and they never make it to paper. So all that data needs to be collected and turned into what would normally be printed out. But instead, we manage the technology and put it in front of our attorneys, and convert it to what would look like paper on a computer screen.”

Jensen-Clark says litigation support professionals straddle the legal and technical worlds.

“You’re kind of a cross between a technical paralegal or an IT professional that knows a little bit about legal–kind of a hybrid position. We work pretty much out of the limelight from what attorneys in law firms normally promote. I mean it’s not, it’s a real niche profession. It’s not, it’s really come of age, I would say, in the last five to ten years, and that it’s kind of evolved with the use of technology. You know, I work for a firm that handles nothing but large litigation, for the most part, though, you know, we do have our small cases. But basically, the amount of data generated every year by a person doubles every year. Most people don’t realize it, but the average person who is working in a company will create via their e-mail and documents that they review or create and get from other people is about two gigabytes of data a year per person, right now, is the average.”

Jensen-Clark worked with electronic discovery in the massive Enron case. She says that was like going to electronic discovery college. The Association of Litigation Support Professionals holds its inaugural meeting tomorrow at The Forum at Two Allen Center on Smith Street.

Hines Real Estate Investment Trust has closed on its $271.5 million purchase of the 64-story Williams Tower. Gerald Hines developed the Galleria-area office building in the 80’s. The building’s name will remain Williams Tower, formerly known as Transco Tower.

San Antonio-based Valero Energy plant to build a wind farm at its McKee refinery in the Texas Panhandle. The $100 million project for generating electricity will be completed this year.

A bakery owner is asking Congress, “why are we putting food in our gas tanks instead of our stomachs?” At a hearing on high food costs, Richard Reinwald said he’s paying more for ingredients because crops are being diverted for use in ethanol and other grain-based sources of fuel. An Agriculture Department economist told the panel that the use of food crops for alternative fuel is one reason for higher prices. He says other factors include global weather patterns and the declining value of the dollar. But the White House downplays the role of ethanol. A spokesman points to the increasing cost of energy that makes it more expensive to get food to the table. No matter the reason, shoppers at a New York supermarket are seeing higher prices everywhere they look. One woman says she’s had to change her eating habits–cutting down on snacks, eating more canned food–and even that, she says, is getting more expensive.

Farmers are saying “don’t blame us for the high price of food.” Iowa Senator Charles Grassley is one of two farmers in the Senate. Ethanol production is getting the brunt of the blame for the hike in food costs, but Grassley says there are plenty of reasons for the spike, including high gas prices and drought. The Iowa Senator says farmers see little of what consumers pay, getting only about a nickel per box for corn flakes.

To save fuel, a number of airlines are doing what drivers on the highway do: easing off the accelerator. Southwest began two months ago. It’s projecting that by extending each flight by one to three minutes, it will save 42 million dollars in fuel this year. Northwest Airlines added eight minutes to a Paris-Minneapolis flight earlier this week, saving 162 gallons of fuel and $535. jetBlue’s director of flight operations says “it’s not a dramatic change,” but his airline saves about $13.6 million a year by adding an average of less than two minutes. United has invested in flight planning software that helps pilots choose the best routes and speeds. The airline says it’s trying to fly “at a more consistent speed.” It estimates the software will save it $20 million a year.

Toyota plans to recall about 90,000 Highlander sport utility vehicles in the United States. The Japanese automaker wants to fix a problem that could prevent the seat belt in a third-row seat from securing a rear-facing child seat. Toyota spokesman Bill Kwong says the company issued a stop sale of the 2008 Highlander SUV and hybrid version with third-row seats to retrofit changes to the seat belt. There have been no complaints or injuries tied to the seat belts. The vehicles under the recall were built between May 2007 and March 2008. Kwong says owners will be notified of the recall in June, and dealers will install a newly designed seat belt component.

A person familiar with contract talks says the Screen Actors Guild has scaled back its demands in an effort to reach a deal with major Hollywood studios. The person who was not authorized to speak publicly and requested anonymity says SAG is now seeking what would effectively be a 15 percent increase in residual fees for DVD sales. Producers previously accused the guild of seeking to double the fees. The person says the guild is also reducing its demand for a 50 percent pay increase for guest stars on TV shows. The Screen Actors Guild and the major Hollywood studios are extending their talks through Tuesday.

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