Texas has been ground zero for BigLaw expansion for the last few years, and that growing trend is reflected in lawyer counts on Texas Lawyer’s Texas 100, which reports on the 100 firms with the most lawyers in Texas in 2017.
Several of the out-of-state firms with Texas offices were among the fastest growing in the Lone Star State in 2017. Separately, a number of mid-sized Texas firms are also posting robust growth, presumably in response to Texas’ competitive legal market.
Those trends should only accelerate this year as big firms continue to move into Texas via mergers with BigTex firms, or by opening branch offices and then gobbling up experienced Texas lateral partners, often those working in the energy sector.
Winston & Strawn — which has had an office in Houston since 2011 but made a big splash in Dallas in February 2017 when it opened an office with 21 lateral partners from eight firms — grew by 120.5 percent in 2017 in Texas, compared with 2016. The firm had 86 lawyers in Texas in 2017, up from 39 the year before.
Kirkland & Ellis, the Chicago-based firm that launched its Houston office in 2014, ballooned to 107 lawyers in Houston in 2017, up 52.9 percent when compared with 70 lawyers in 2016. The firm continued its growth binge this year when it opened a Dallas office in July.
In other strong growth by out-of-state firms, Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart grew by 23.3 percent in Texas in 2017, Reed Smith grew by 21.6 percent. and Polsinelli grew by 19.6 percent.
Jones Day maintained its ranking as the out-of-state firm with the most lawyers in Texas.
The growth in Texas midsize firms is geographically diverse but clearly widespread. Gray, Reed & McGraw, of Houston, grew by 13.8 percent in 2017 compared with 2016, and Munck Wilson Mandala, of Dallas, grew 20 percent on a year-to-year basis. Germer, based in Beaumont, expanded by 13.6 percent, Naman, Howell, Smith & Lee of Waco grew by 23.0 percent and Houston firm Cokinos Young grew by 22.4 percent. Fee Smith Sharp & Vitullo, of Dallas, increased its lawyer ranks by 29.5 percent in 2017. Carrington Coleman Sloman & Blumenthal, also of Dallas grew by 13.6 percent. Tax collection firm Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, which has offices around the state, grew by 40.3 percent.
J. Cary Gray, managing partner of Gray Reed, said the firm’s growth is largely a response to client needs. He said he’s very happy with the kind of growth the firm experienced in 2017 and so far this year, because it’s predominately at the associate level. That supports the firm’s mission to grow a firm that “survives our own practices of law,”
He said the firm has taken opportunity to add lawyers who see the firm as an alternative to big Texas firms or multi-national firms. “They don’t need an office in Moscow,” he notes.
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William Munck, managing partner of Munck Wilson, said his firm grew in 2017 as it meets its goal of obtaining great “talent.” He said the firm opened an office in Austin in 2016, because of the strong market for technology lawyers in Austin, and lugged on several lawyers in Austin in 2017. Additionally, Munck Wilson merged with the seven-lawyer Howison & Arnott, an intellectual property boutique in Dallas that accounted for more expansion.
“We are always looking to get new talent. Philosophically as a firm we don’t acquire for the business that’s coming. We just acquire really good people,” he said.
Norton Rose Fulbright, which was created in 2013 in a merger between Houston-based Fulbright & jaworski and U.K. firm Norton Rose, again has the most lawyers in Texas and tops the Texas 100 chart, with a total of 409 Texas Lawyers. Norton Rose Fulbright and the other nine Texas firms at the chart are the same ones that were in that grouping last year, although there was some up or down movement. The firms right behind Norton Rose Fulbright on the chart are Vinson & Elkins, Baker Botts, Jackson Walker and Haynes and Boone.
While many firms on the chart tacked on lawyers in 2017, some shed them. That includes some of the out-of-state firms trying to establish big footholds in the Lone Star State. Even Norton Rose Fulbright, the firm with the most lawyers in Texas, slimmed by by 11.7 percent in Texas in 2017. Others with significant lawyer count declines include Jones Day, down 12.0 percent; Baker & Hostetler, down 10.2 percent; Fish & Richardson, down 19.0 percent; Mayer Brown down 11.9 percent; and McDermott, Will & Emery down 22.0 percent.
A few Texas firms also lost lawyers in 2017 including Andrews Kurth — now Hunton Andrews Kurth following the merger — down 11.7 percent; litigation firm McKool Smith down 10.3 percent, Houston-based Coats Rose, down 33.3 percent; Graves Dougherty Hearon & Moody of Austin, down, 23.5 percent; and Dallas-based McCathern down 43.2 percent.
The lawyer counts in the Texas are full-time equivalent lawyer counts for 2017. Numbers for a few firms on the chart are estimates, because the lawyer counts were not available by press time.