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Texas Powerhouses Excel In Saturated Market

As part of its Regional Powerhouse series, Law360 discussed Kirkland's impact on the Texas market. Anna Rotman shared her perspectives on the complex work the Firm handles in Texas. 

In a year when law firms across Texas continued to reconcile with and adapt to a post-COVID-19 world, Houston-based firms stood out, nabbing three of the five Texas Powerhouse spots by playing major roles in multibillion-dollar deals and scoring huge courtroom victories for clients.

As part of its Regional Powerhouse series, Law360 is recognizing five Texas law firms: Vinson & Elkins LLP, Kirkland & Ellis LLP, Bracewell LLP, Locke Lord LLP and Norton Rose Fulbright. All but Kirkland and Locke Lord are based in Houston.

For these firms, leaning into Texas' ever-tightening market resulted in large rewards. Texas has become the premier destination for businesses relocating from other states and now is home to the most Fortune 500 companies in the country.

A strong reputation was key to surviving, said Anna Rotman, head of Texas litigation at Kirkland.

"Over the past year, the Texas legal market has experienced unprecedented demand for sophisticated services," she said. "Because of this demand, a firm like Kirkland that was already recognized for our exceptional client services has expanded and attracted extraordinary talent."

Texas Powerhouse firms emphasized that talent acquisition will be the distinguishing factor among firms in the state in years to come.

V&E employs the majority of its attorneys — 448 of 648 — at its Texas offices in Austin, Dallas and Houston. So does Bracewell, which employs 199 attorneys in offices in Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio, with an additional 96 attorneys nationwide.

Kirkland employs 361 attorneys in Texas offices in Austin, Dallas and Houston, and 2,718 nationwide. Meanwhile, Locke Lord has 272 attorneys at offices in Austin, Dallas and Houston, and 581 attorneys nationwide.

Norton Rose has 399 attorneys in Texas offices in Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio, and 802 attorneys nationwide.

Competing in the Lone Star State

 Texas Powerhouse firms understand that the diverse and vibrant Texas market requires a diverse and vibrant roster of attorneys, and have dedicated significant resources to attracting the best talent the Lone Star State has to offer.

Some law firms use their century-old connection to the state to attract talent.

"In the past few years, firms have had no choice but to establish and expand their presence in Texas due to a thriving economy, booming energy sector and growing roster of corporate headquarters," Locke Lord Chair David Taylor said. "However, given our 130-plus years here and our deep client relationships, our ties to the community are unparalleled."

Others, like Bracewell, tout their client list as well as transactional and courtroom achievements.

"We were counsel on many of the largest and most complex and innovative transactions and financings throughout the year, and our trial team racked up a string of impressive victories," Bracewell managing partner Gregory M. Bopp said.

V&E Chair Keith Fullenweider warned that law firms can't forget about "the importance of people" and fostering client-focused mindsets and a collaborative work environment. He believes concentrating on people helped the firm grow its attorney headcount by almost 4% in 2021 despite the competitive market.

"Something that can't be overstated is the importance of people — our client-focused decisions, cross-selling between practice groups, and reliance on business professionals all contributed to the strength of Vinson & Elkins."

Industry-Changing Transactions

 Lone Star State mergers and acquisitions attorneys continued to have their hands full this past year as the state continued to experience a steady flow of transactions and deals.

V&E attorneys guided Woodside Petroleum Ltd. in a merger valued at $29 billion with Australian mining giant BHP Group, which was finalized in November. The deal was the largest energy transaction in 2021 and created one of the largest energy companies in the world, marking Woodside as a top-10 independent energy company by production globally.

In a deal valued at $6 billion announced in March, Kirkland attorneys advised Denver-headquartered Whiting Petroleum Corp. on its merger with Houston-based Oasis Petroleum Inc. The union of the two companies was expected to enhance the combined company's credit profile and cost of capital, and focused on paying large dividends to shareholders.

Locke Lord attorneys advised Houston-based Enterprise Products Partners LP on its $3.25 billion cash purchaseof Texas natural gas company Navitas Midstream Partners LLC from Warburg Pincus LLC in January. Navitas owns approximately 1,750 miles of natural gas pipelines in the Midland Basin and more than 1 billion cubic feet per day of cryogenic natural gas processing capacity.

In June, Kinder Morgan Inc. was guided by Bracewell attorneys in its $1.2 billion purchaseof Stagecoach Gas Services LLC, 185 miles of pipeline in southern New York and northern Pennsylvania and a natural gas storage joint venture between Consolidated Edison Inc. and Crestwood Equity Partners LP. The deal helped Kinder Morgan expand into the Northeast by purchasing a pipeline that transports gas from the Northeast Marcellus and Utica Shale plays.

Courtroom Victories

 As judges, attorneys and juries returned to courtrooms in the wake of the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Texas law firms were busy securing wins for their clients across the state.

In February, a group of Kirkland attorneys obtained 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.

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.

 Bracewell attorneys in March secured a dismissal for Hilcorp Energy Co. in a federal class action royalty dispute accusing the exploration and production company of underpaying royalties on natural gas production throughout Texas. A Southern District of Texas judge first dismissed the claims in December 2021, but allowed the plaintiffs to replead their case. After repleading, the judge granted Hilcorp's second motion to dismiss in March.

Following a four-week jury trial in Harris County District Court, Norton Rose attorneys obtained a 10-2 jury verdict in March clearing Shell Trading (US) Co. of claims it tortiously interfered with two crude oil delivery contracts GEL Tex Marketing LLC had with Lazarus Energy LLC. GEL Tex had sought more than $30 million in damages from Shell for allegedly sidestepping its agreement and selling crude oil to Lazarus between November 2016 and June 2018.

V&E attorneys in April convinced the U.S. Supreme Court to deny certiorari in a challenge to the State Bar of Texas' mandatory membership dues, leaving in place a Fifth Circuit ruling that held the state bar could collect dues from attorneys as long as they were spent on issues germane to regulating the legal profession or improving legal services in the state.

The case was one of three the high court declined to review that relied on the argument that the Supreme Court's 2018 Janus v. AFSCME decision, which prohibited the collection of mandatory union dues from government workers, also made the collection of mandatory bar fees unconstitutional.

In the widely watched, first-ever criminal wage-fixing case, a pair of Locke Lord attorneys bested the U.S. Department of Justice and secured a not guilty jury verdict in April for the former owner of a physical therapist staffing company. An Eastern District of Texas jury cleared Neeraj Jindal of charges of price-fixing in the federal government's first attempt to pursue wage-fixing as price-fixing under antitrust law.