(L-to-R) Charles Ofner, Christopher Richardson, and Jay Cuclis.

New York-based White & Case, a firm with more than 2,000 lawyers and offices in 30 countries, has boosted its oil and gas practice by opening an office in Houston with lateral partners from big Texas firms.

The new office is led by partner James “Jay” Cuclis, who joined the firm on Feb. 8 from Vinson & Elkins. Other partners in the new office are Christopher Richardson and Charlie Ofner, who left Andrews Kurth Kenyon last week, and Saul Daniel, an England-qualified partner who formerly practiced in the firm’s offices in London and Abu Dhabi.

Dave Koschik, a member of the firm’s executive committee who heads the firm’s U.S. growth team, said the firm has targeted oil and gas, technology, private equity and finance practices for expansion as part of a five-year strategic plan that launched in 2015. Houston provides heft in the oil and gas practice, he said.

White & Case has looked before at expanding into Texas with an office in Houston, specifically during the 2012 time frame, but Koschik said the timing wasn’t right until now.

“Some ideas take a while to get to the point we are willing to pull the trigger,” he said.

Once the executive committee started formulating the strategic plan in 2014, Koschik said, it became clear the firm needed to renew efforts to take a hard look at Houston. ”Our oil and gas practice is very much a global practice. We know the market, and we’ve been here and have met folks over the years,” he said.

The three new partners who left big Texas firms to join White & Case are the right people to build the office, Koschik said. They each do acquisitions and divestitures, joint ventures and project development, including LNG, petrochemical and pipeline projects.

“They are folks that know Houston and know the practice here and the industry here and also have a certain international focus,” he said.

All four partners are in the firm’s global oil and gas industry group.

Cuclis, who said he was not looking to leave V&E when White & Case approached him, said he was drawn to the firm’s network of offices in 30 countries and its international energy practice. Cuclis spent 13 years working internationally for V&E, including five years in Europe and eight in Asia. In 2006, Cuclis opened V&E’s office in Hong Kong.

“White & Case is uniquely positioned in the Texas market to provide one-stop legal services to energy companies, particularly on investments around the world,” Cuclis said.

Cuclis declined to identify his clients. Richardson and Ofner were not available for comment.

Cuclis said White & Case is committed to expanding the Houston office to about 15 partners and 50 lawyers in Houston. That growth will happen “sooner rather than later,” because the firm wants to build to a critical mass in Houston over the next few months or years, Koschik said.

Jason Webber, a partner who is co-head of the firm’s global oil and gas industry group, said in a statement that the three Texas lateral hires add expertise in the domestic and global upstream sector and “also super-charges our existing practices in U.S. oil and gas infrastructure, liquefied natural gas, and downstream project development.”

White & Case posted impressive financial results in 2017, with gross revenue growing by 10.6 percent to a record $1.8 billion in 2017, up from $1.63 billion in 2016.  Revenue per lawyer increased 6.2 percent, to $885,000, while profits per partner jumped 10.2 percent, to $2.26 million, according to financial results reported in The American Lawyer.

Koschik said White & Case represented Houston-based Calpine Corp. in its $5.6 billion sale to an investor group led by Energy Capital Partners. The firm also represented San Diego-based electric and gas utility company Sempra Energy on its $9.45 billion acquisition of Dallas-based Energy Future Holdings Corp. and its stake in Oncor Electric Delivery Co.

With Houston, White & Case has 43 offices, including seven in the United States.

Richardson and Ofner are among a number of Texas lawyers who have left Andrews Kurth in recent weeks as the Houston-based firm inches toward a merger with Virginia firm Hunton & Williams. Shearman & Sterling is also reportedly looking to hire Andrews Kurth lawyers and plans to open an office in Texas.

Koschik said White & Case’s hiring in Houston is not related to the spate of recent departures from Andrews Kurth. “We’ve been looking at Houston for a long time,” he said.

Mark Kelly, V&E’s chairman, said of Cuclis’ departure that “Jay was a valued colleague and we wish him well in his new endeavor.”

At V&E, Houston partner Kaam Sahely has succeeded Cuclis as co-leader of the firm’s energy transactions/projects practice group, joining Houston partner John B. Connally in that role, Kelly said.

Andrews Kurth declined to comment.