Diego Radzinschi/The National Law Journal

When do Dallasites masquerade as Houstonians?

When they work for Kirkland & Ellis apparently.

Ryan Gorsche, who in May left his position as counsel at Weil, Gotshal & Manges in Dallas, is now listed as a partner at Kirkland & Ellis in Houston, according to the firm’s website.

But Gorsche’s entry on the State Bar of Texas’ website directory and his profile on professional networking website LinkedIn have identified Dallas as his home base. (Prior to the publication of this story, Gorsche’s LinkedIn page was changed to reflect Houston as his practice locale.)

Did Kirkland hire Gorsche as part of plan to open a new office in Dallas? The Texas Lawbook, via the Dallas Business Journal, reported last week that Kirkland appears to be keen on expanding into the city.

Ryan Gorsche

“I have no comment,” Gorsche said when called for this story. “You’ll have to direct your questions to our [public relations] folks.”

Kate Slaasted, a Kirkland spokeswoman, also declined to comment. Jeffrey Hammes, chairman of Kirkland’s 15-person global management executive committee, did not respond to emailed inquiry about the matter.

Andrew Calder, a partner in Kirkland’s Houston office who also serves on the firm’s 15-member global management committee, was cagey when asked about a potential opening in Dallas.

“We are not ready to comment on any of that,” said Calder, a Scotsman who joined Kirkland in 2014 from Simpson Thacher & Bartlett in Houston.

Calder, who received a $5 million guarantee to join Kirkland, notably did not deny that Kirkland could eventually head to Dallas. The 2,200-lawyer firm, which took in a whopping $3.165 billion in gross revenue last year, currently has about 127 lawyers in Houston. No Kirkland lawyers are currently listed as located in Dallas, according to the firm’s website.

So why would Kirkland want to keep any hometown hires in Dallas under wraps? Perhaps to unveil a new office only when the firm has lined up enough local talent to build it out.

“They like to go into a new market with a bang,“ said one law firm partner in the Texas market who declined to be identified when discussing a competitor. “A bang consists of announcing an all-star lineup after all the dirty work is done. They prefer to do it that way, rather than have it come out in dribs and drabs.”

The rumor mill about Kirkland’s Lone Star State expansion plans has been grinding since late spring. The Texas Lawbook, in its report last week, noted that leaders at five Texas-based firms had said that Kirkland was actively and aggressively recruiting lawyers from their shops in what they believed is an attempt to open an outpost in Dallas.

“This is the biggest development in the Dallas legal market in a long time,” said law firm consultant Kent Zimmermann. “I’m hearing from the chairs of a number of firms about this. It remains to be seen what are Kirkland’s plans. Certainly the reports and calls are causing a lot of discussion. There is the potential to change the competitive landscape.”

Zimmermann, a principal at the Zeughauser Group, knows about the Texas legal market, having recently advised on deals that saw Gardere Wynne Sewell merge with Foley & Lardner and Andrews Kurth Kenyon close on a combination with Hunton & Williams.

Three Texas legal industry stakeholders contacted for this story, including a managing partner of a Houston-based firm, said they had heard that Kirkland has wooed senior associates from other firms to join its operations in Texas by offering them sign-on bonuses of more than six figures, something also reported on by The Texas Lawbook.

“It’s making the rounds,” said Robert Reedy, the managing partner Houston’s Porter Hedges, about rumors of Kirkland’s big-dollar signing bonuses. “It’s the kind of stuff people are chattering about.”

Kirkland is no stranger to big paydays. Earlier the year, Kirkland made waves for reportedly guaranteeing an $11 million payday to Sandra Goldstein, a former head of litigation at Cravath, Swaine & Moore in New York who joined the firm with another litigator.

“We don’t comment on compensation,” said Kirkland’s Calder when asked about bonuses.

Since March 1, Kirkland has bolstered its operations in Texas by adding associates from Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, Baker Botts, Haynes and Boone, Latham & Watkins, Mayer Brown, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom and White & Case, according to data gathered by ALM Intelligence. In May, Kirkland hired tax expert R. David Wheat, a former longtime partner at Thompson & Knight who most recently spent the past two years as a principal at global accounting giant KPMG.

Kirkland has also quietly brought aboard corporate partner Brooks Antweil in Houston, where earlier this year he made partner at Andrews Kurth Kenyon, now known as Hunton Andrews Kurth. Chad Smith, a former Latham associate in Houston, also joined Kirkland in May as a partner in its local corporate practice. Kirkland did see capital markets partner Justin Hoffman leave its Houston office earlier this month for Baker Botts, while Fredrikson & Byron recently recruited former Kirkland private equity partner Mark Ramzy in Houston for its home office in Minneapolis.

Talk has also circulated in the Texas market that many of Kirkland’s local clients are looking for lawyers that have been trained at New York-based firms, so Kirkland has sought to put a premium on that prized expertise by offering hefty bonuses as a way to sway lawyers into relocating to Texas from New York. Such talk, however, could also be a way for Kirkland’s in-state competition to portray the firm as just another carpetbagger looking to capitalize on the region’s lucrative client base, which remains focused on the oil and gas sector.

Neal Manne, a co-managing partner of Houston’s Susman Godfrey, a litigation-focused firm also known for paying out big money to its lawyers, said he had not yet heard about Kirkland offering bonuses as a carrot to entice Big Apple-based lawyers to relocate.

“Is it that hard to get people to Texas?” Manne asked in an email. “I like it here.”