Over the course of the past year, the Texas legal market changed dramatically. The change-makers were mergers, new offices and lateral hiring. Three of the state’s largest firms merged—Andrews Kurth Kenyon with Hunton & Williams, Gardere Wynne Sewell with Foley & Lardner, and Strasburger & Price with Clark Hill. A number of prominent out-of-state firms opened offices in Dallas, Houston and elsewhere, providing further competition and reaching into Texas firms for lawyers, particularly those with energy industry clients. The lateral market was exceedingly active throughout 2018, as lawyers were poached by the new firms in the market or established Texas firms. The level of lateral activity made other lawyers who may have been content at their firms to explore the market and eventually make a move as well.
Those factors resulted in a sort of paradigm change in Texas, with the competition for lawyers continuing apace and the prospects of further mergers and out-of-state offices in 2019 a reality.
Because the Texas legal market has changed so much, Texas Lawyer asked managing partners of some Texas firms and Texas offices of out-of-state firms to discuss their firm’s strategy for 2019. Here’s what they had to say:
Texas Lawyer: The Texas legal market changed in a big way during 2018 due to mergers involving large Texas firms, a heated lateral hiring market and a number of out-of-state firms opening offices in Texas, particularly in Dallas and Houston. In the wake of all of that change, what is your strategy for 2019, and how does it differ from your plan a year ago? If you anticipate adding lawyers in 2019, which practice areas will you target?
Andrew Calder, partner, Houston office of Kirkland & Ellis and member of firm’s global management committee:
We see continued steady growth. We are continuing to get new clients all the time, and we want to continue to ensure we are establishing the appropriate resources. Our core business is obviously M&A. We have been very happy to also have some great lawyers join us in capital markets and debt finance. Those are the three primary areas we will build out.
Wade Cooper, managing partner, Jackson Walker, based in Dallas:
No change in our strategy, as this year demonstrates the continued success of our game plan. We will continue to grow within our existing footprint and attract high quality laterals and law school recruits who are good fits for us. We will continue to keep our costs low so that we can offer rate flexibility for clients and great profitability for partners.
On the one hand, we want to continue to be the safe choice to engage on a broad range of issues for individuals and companies doing business in Texas—and so we recruit and develop expertise consistent with that goal across a broad range of geographic and practice areas. On the other hand, we have a number of practice areas which are national and international in scope, even though our “bricks and mortar” are not. We look to continue to develop those areas where our expertise gives us a competitive advantage. Examples of the latter would be our real estate, litigation, energy and environmental practice areas—each of which have substantial amounts of work outside of Texas.
Winstead has had a good year overall and in each of its core practice areas. We expect more of the same in 2019. We do anticipate making additional hires next year in various strategic practice areas.
Bryan Goolsby, managing partner of Dallas office of Winston & Strawn:
Ours is a little bit unique. Having started a new office in January 2017 with 25 lawyers, we are now at almost 80. We will continue to track outstanding talent with real good practice and client followings, so our strategy hasn’t changed. It isn’t really different than others. We are still focused on core practices: capital markets, private equity, commercial litigation, real estate, M&A and white collar. Those are our core areas.
Mark Kelly, chairman, Vinson & Elkins, based in Houston:
Our strategy remains focused on consistent excellence and service to our clients, regardless of new entrants in the Texas legal market, and to invest in our core areas across our offices, including private equity, finance, M&A, capital markets, white collar representation and governmental investigations. The Texas legal market continues to be incredibly attractive, and we remain at the top of the leading practices across the state.
Neal Manne, managing partner, Susman Godfrey, based in Houston:
Susman Godfrey didn’t merge, open new offices or do any lateral hiring in 2018. Our strategy in 2018 was to just keep winning cases for our clients. We had one of our very best years ever as a firm. Our strategy for 2019? Keep doing exactly the same things.
Robert Reedy, managing partner Porter Hedges, based in Houston:
Market disruption actually creates great opportunities for Porter Hedges. Our strategy is to continue focusing on our strengths and our clients while investing in people at every level of the firm.