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Moving ahead with its plan to expand its energy practice, Pillsbury Winthrop has set up shop in Houston. The firm announced Monday that it has established a small, eight-attorney office in the Texas city, staffed by the co-chairs of its global energy and real estate practice, as well as a handful of new lateral hires from Houston’s Vinson & Elkins. The move culminates an 18-month effort by the firm to enter the nation’s fourth largest city. When Pillsbury, Madison & Sutro merged with Winthrop, Stimson, Putnam & Roberts in 2000, the firm’s management identified a Houston office as a key goal in its quest to grow its energy practice. “Part of our strategic thinking has been looking at industries that are robust enough to sustain growth over the next 10 years in areas that we are strong in,” said Pillsbury Chairwoman Mary Cranston. “It’s our view that if you want to be a significant player in global energy you need to be in Houston.” According to Pillsbury, the global energy practice accounted for 11 percent of the firm’s total fees billed between January and November 2002. Helping Pillsbury gain a foothold in Houston has been its acquisition of six Vinson & Elkins litigators with strong energy and aviation practices. Thad Dameris, who will officially join Pillsbury as a partner on Thursday, was the chair of Vinson & Elkins’ aviation litigation group. Meanwhile, Jerry Ross, co-chair of Pillsbury’s global energy group, and Laura Hannusch, co-chair of Pillsbury’s national real estate group, have both relocated to Houston from the San Francisco office. In place of a single managing partner, Ross, Hannusch and Dameris will head up the Houston office as a three-person managing committee. According to Hannusch, Pillsbury expects to pick up a significant share of new business in Houston thanks to its expertise and national reputation. The firm will face competition from established local firms like Vinson & Elkins, Baker Botts and Fulbright & Jaworski, which all have much more sizeable Houston offices. While many national law firms entering the Lone Star state have looked to technology-savvy Austin, Pillsbury’s choice of Houston is a natural for the firm. According to the Greater Houston Partnership, 48 percent of the region’s economic base is related to energy. Roughly 5,000 energy-related establishments are located in the Houston region, including more than 400 exploration and production companies and 30 pipeline operators. ChevronTexaco Corp., one of Pillsbury’s biggest energy clients, has about one third of its operations in Texas even though it is based in San Ramon, said Cranston. And a number of other Pillsbury energy clients, including Dynegy Inc., Valero Energy Corp. and Duke Energy Co., have headquarters or principal offices in Texas. Cranston said the firm hopes to increase the head count at the Houston office to anywhere from 25 to 50 attorneys by year’s end. She said the new Houston office, and Ross’ relocation to that office, doesn’t mean the global energy practice will be based in Texas.

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