Following weeks of legal market intrigue, Kirkland & Ellis has publicly confirmed the opening of a Dallas office with the addition of six corporate lawyers from Jones Day; Vinson & Elkins; Weil, Gotshal & Manges; and Winston & Strawn.
Kirkland’s entry into Dallas marks its 14th total office and ninth in the United States, and comes a little more than a year after the firm planted its flag in Boston. In 2014, Kirkland opened a Houston office after bringing aboard Simpson Thacher & Bartlett dealmaker Andrew Calder, who has since grown that outpost to about 130 lawyers and now sits on Kirkland’s 15-member global management executive committee.
The growth of Kirkland’s Houston office has helped propel the firm to record-setting financial growth. In 2017, Kirkland was the highest-grossing firm in the Am Law 100 with roughly $3.165 billion in gross revenue.
Joining or now poised to join Kirkland in Dallas as partners are Jones Day partner Michael Considine and associate Alex Rose; Weil counsel Kevin Crews; Vinson & Elkins senior associate Thomas Laughlin and associate Lanchi Huynh; and Winston & Strawn associate Dilen Kumar. In recent months, Kirkland hired former Weil counsel Ryan Gorsche and tax expert R. David Wheat, a former partner at Thompson & Knight who spent the past two years as a principal in KPMG’s national tax practice. Wheat and Gorsche, who had been based in Houston, will now work out of Dallas.
In a separate move, Kirkland this week also reportedly hired Sean Wheeler, a rainmaking corporate partner from Latham & Watkins’ Houston office, where he served as the latter’s office managing partner and co-chair of its oil and gas industry team. The Texas Lawbook reported that Wheeler was lead or co-lead counsel on 24 deals worth $11.2 billion since 2017, with clients like Breitburn Energy Partners LP, Ensco plc, Rice Energy Inc., Rowan Cos. Inc., Weatherford International Ltd. and others. (Latham busted into the Houston market in early 2010 with its own series of lateral hires, including Wheeler, who previously worked at Baker Botts.)
Like Wheeler, the new Kirkland lawyers in Dallas have corporate practices and most have represented private equity firms, which have historically been stalwart Kirkland clients and one of the firm’s strongest practice areas.
Mergermarket’s first half league tables for transactional work shows that Kirkland handled the most deals of any law firm in the southern U.S., with 109 deals. Jones Day was second with 63. Kirkland’s deals were worth $60.9 billion; third-highest of any firm in the southern region through the first six months of this year, trailing only Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and Sullivan & Cromwell.
The Texas Lawbook, via the Dallas Business Journal, first reported last month on Kirkland’s recruiting in Dallas. The American Lawyer subsequently reported that Gorsche, a former Dallas-based counsel at Weil, had been hired by Kirkland as a partner in Houston.
Calder, who works out of Houston, said in an interview Wednesday with The American Lawyer that Kirkland viewed the Dallas market as an important place for an office for two main reasons. One is to have a local presence to help facilitate the representation of more Dallas-based companies, and another is to gain access to the legal talent present in Dallas. Calder said that Kirkland views the Dallas and Houston offices as working collaboratively to serve clients in the Lone Star State as a unified brand.
“We’re very excited about everyone we’ve hired,” Calder said. “We think it’s a very dynamic, hungry team that really duplicates what we have in Houston as best-in-class for their particular space. I believe they’re going to be an incredible addition to what we already have in Texas to try and execute the strategy of a Kirkland Texas product.”
Kirkland has leased office space at Bank of America Plaza in Dallas, a popular building for law firms in the city. Kirkland has room for about 30 lawyers, said Calder, although the firm views the space as a temporary place to grow until a more permanent office is designed.