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Texas Powerhouse: Kirkland & Ellis

As part of its Regional Powerhouse series, Law360 discussed Kirkland's impact on the Texas marketAnna Rotman and John Pitts shared their perspectives on the complex work the Firm handles in Texas.

Kirkland & Ellis LLP set up shop in the Lone Star State eight years ago to better serve clients in the energy and infrastructure sectors and quickly established itself as a top firm for energy deals in the state, all while continuing to build out its offerings to meet clients' diverse needs.

After keeping its finger on the pulse of legal trends in the state, Kirkland launched an office last year in Austin, a legal market largely fueled by the city's technology sector. Many firms, Kirkland included, have expanded their intellectual property practices as the Western District of Texas has emerged as a popular forum for such disputes.

"Opening in Austin was a really easy decision for us. That's home to an incredible wealth of talent, and we are also responding to our clients, both growing their businesses in Austin and moving to Austin from other places," John Pitts, a corporate partner in the firm's Houston office who has been with Kirkland since it touched down in Texas, told Law360.

Kirkland now employs 361 attorneys in Texas offices in Austin, Dallas and Houston, and 2,718 nationwide, making its Lone Star State presence the firm's fourth largest in the country. Lawyers in the state handle both sophisticated energy, infrastructure and technology transactions, as well as complex litigation.

Last year alone, according to firm data, Kirkland attorneys in Texas handled 142 announced deals with a total value of $61.2 billion, helping the firm land among Law360's 2022 Texas Powerhouses.

Texas being Texas, the firm's corporate team had its hands full playing a key role in numerous multibillion-dollar deals in the energy space.

The firm guided two privately held upstream clients in selling their positions in the Haynesville shale play to Southwestern Energy, first repping Houston-based Indigo Natural Resources in a $2.7 billion deal and later advising GEP Haynesville LLC through a $1.85 billion deal.

Kirkland also guided Extraction Oil & Gas Inc. through a multistep transaction that culminated in the formation of a new Colorado energy company with an estimated enterprise worth of about $4.5 billion. First, in May 2021, Bonanza Creek and Extraction Oil & Gas announced plans to merge through a $2.6 billion deal that saw the creation of Civitas Resources Inc. Then, Civitas announced the following month that it would acquire Crestone Peak Resources.

The firm rounded out 2021 by advising Texas-based offshore driller Noble Corp. through its agreement to combine with Maersk Drilling.

And the firm's corporate team had a busy first few months of 2022. In January, Kirkland represented Texas natural gas company Navitas Midstream Partners through a $3.25 billion deal that saw North American energy producer Enterprise Products Partners LP acquiring all of New York-based private equity firm Warburg Pincus' equity interests in Navitas. And then in March, Kirkland attorneys guided Whiting Petroleum through its combination with Oasis Petroleum in a $6 billion enterprise value deal that will result in a single shale oil giant with production of up to 169,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day.

Pitts called the last 12 months a "banner year" for the firm that was "historic" in terms of transactional work. The corporate team hopes future years will look similar, Pitts said.

"We saw mergers and acquisitions and financing activity across all of the sectors that we focus on increase rapidly and then sustain throughout the year. It was an exceptional year for us and our clients," Pitts said. "We were really happy to be able to assist on some of the largest transactions and most sophisticated transactions that got done that year."

Anna Rotman, who leads Kirkland's litigation practice in the Houston office, said in addition to energy-related disputes, the firm's trial attorneys represented clients in a wide variety of industries, including technology and real estate.

Rotman highlighted the litigation team's success defending Epic Games, the maker of the popular online video game Fortnite, against a patent infringement lawsuit targeting the game's communication and messaging systems. In March, the Western District of Texas threw out the lawsuit after determining the district was not the proper venue for the suit filed by IngenioShare LLC.

Rotman added that in addition to bulking up its team of on-the-ground intellectual property litigators in Texas, the firm has taken additional steps to ensure its litigation group is firing on all cylinders. That includes adding a former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Texas to its ranks in Dallas to strengthen the firm's white collar practice. Erin Nealy Cox joined the firm's government, regulatory and internal investigations group in June 2021.

Rotman also commended Kirkland for continuing to invest heavily in its trial capabilities, saying the firm's robust litigation practice in the state sets it apart from both boutique litigation firms and other national law firms in Texas. And, having a premier litigation practice helps the firm attract and retain talented young attorneys, she said.

"I think it's kind of started to spell a shift where, from a recruiting perspective, you have kids coming out of law school that want to be trial lawyers and realize that they have an excellent option at Kirkland," Rotman said.

And the firm's clients get not only the "nimbleness" typically associated with litigation boutiques, but also the reputation and resources that come with the Kirkland brand, Rotman said.

Kirkland's lawyers handled several other complex litigation assignments over the past year, including obtaining a defense jury verdict in a $30 million breach of contract and fraud lawsuit for AMLI Residential Properties LP and BPMT Towne Square Partnership in Harris County District Court in February.

The lawsuit stemmed from the 2012 purchase of a 380-apartment complex by Baron Real Property Holdings LLC, which accused AMLI and BPMT of hiding information about significant defects, including chronic water leaks and wood infestations. Along with the defense jury verdict, Kirkland lawyers secured an award of almost $6 million for AMLI to cover legal fees related to the case.

Both Rotman and Pitts emphasized that while Kirkland is a national law firm, its Texas attorneys are local.

"All of our lawyers are Texas lawyers and, especially at the partner level, we most were laterals," Rotman said. "And we made the decision to come over from wherever we were, where we obviously had promising careers, to join this platform. And I think it has bred a tremendous amount of enthusiasm and cooperation among the partnership. We really wanted to be here."

Pitts shared Rotman's sentiment, saying "the culture at Kirkland still, even after all this growth, feels very much like a startup. Our partners are energized. They're excited to be at Kirkland and to help grow this business."