As Houston’s Watt Thompson Frank & Carver closes its doors, Texas firms Munsch Hardt Kopf & Harr, Porter Hedges and Pierce & O’Neill have all bolstered their own Houston offices with Watt Thompson lawyers.
The 18-year-old firm began winding down Jan. 31, and its four name partners have all found new homes for their practices.
Joe Thompson, who was the managing partner of Watt Thompson, joined Porter Hedges as a partner in the energy litigation section, along with associate Andrew Raber.
Todd Frank joined Munsch Hardt as an energy litigation partner in Houston. At the same time Munsch Hardt added two more partners from other firms: energy litigator Richard Schwartz, who came from Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease in Houston; and Susan Sample, a tax lawyer who came from Shell Oil Co., where she was a senior tax adviser. Sample is also mayor of the City of West University Place—located west of Rice University.
Dick Watt, who is seeing Watt Thompson through the wind-down process, said he will be transitioning to Pierce & O’Neill in Houston, where he will be of counsel.
And Gordon Carver is going solo, according to Thompson. Carver did not immediately return a telephone message.
‘Time to Change’
Thompson said Watt Thompson had a “whole bunch of really great years” but it was “just time to change things up.” He said the partners in the firm, which was founded in 2001, recently did the kind of periodic soul searching common when a lease is coming up for renewal.
“It’s something we talked about for a long time. It’s just one of those times when you look and say, ‘Is this what we want to do for the next 10 years?’” Thompson said.
He said he moved to Porter Hedges on Feb. 1 because because he wanted to join a firm with a wide range of practices, instead of a pure litigation shop like Watt Thompson. Plus his brother James Thompson, who does energy transactions, is a partner at Porter Hedges, he noted.
“I really needed to be, and am excited to be, at a place that has not only a deep bench in the energy litigation that I do, but that has the related practice areas, the oil and gas transactions, finance, bankruptcy, tax, everything my clients might need,” he said, adding that his clients include large mineral owners and major and independent oil and gas companies.
Porter Hedges managing partner Rob Reedy said in a statement that Thompson and Rader fit well at the firm “with their experience in the upstream and midstream oil and gas industry and a comprehensive understanding of the business.”
Adversaries to Colleagues
Watt, who is moving to Pierce & O’Neill, said he’s known name partner Jesse Pierce for 40 years, although they have almost always been on opposite sides of litigation.
“We’ve been extremely good friends and I’ve admired them immensely and he does me,” Watt said.
Watt said Watt Thompson didn’t move into wind-down mode because of anything negative. He said the firm had a “real good run.”
“We had a lease in the Pennzoil building coming up in August and nobody wanted to spring on a new lease. People had different goals,” Watt said. “We are parting good friends.”
More Room for Growth
Frank, who joined Munsch Hardt on Feb. 4 after practicing at Watt Thompson since 2006, said he, like Thompson, was looking for a larger platform for his oil and gas litigation practice.
“I came from a very boutique oil and gas practice and our clients need more than just that,” he said.
Schwartz, who joined Munsch Hardt from Vorys, said he was attracted to the firm’s strong Texas roots and its ability to provide him with litigation support. Like his new partner Frank, Schwartz was also part of a small Texas firm that has since closed—Schwartz, Junell, Greenberg & Oathout shut its doors after Schwartz joined Vorys in 2015, along with eight others from his former firm.
Stephen Browning, managing partner of Vorys’ Houston office, did not immediately respond to a request for a comment on Schwartz’s departure.
Sample, the other new Munsch Hardt partner, said she was looking to return to private practice and working with clients. She said the tax controversy practice is “always growing and always important,” so now is an opportune time for her move.
Phil Appenzeller, chief executive officer of Dallas-based Munsch Hardt, said in a press release that the firm expanded the size of its Houston office by 40 percent in 2018 to accommodate additional lawyers, and the trio of new partners is just what the firm was hoping to attract.
“Dick, Todd and Susan are hard-working, well-respected attorneys who bring a wealth of experience and leadership to the firm,” Appenzeller wrote.
Mitchell McFarland, managing partner of the firm’s Houston office, wrote that Schwartz and Frank bring trial experience and depth to the firm’s energy litigation practice, and Sample is a “smart tax attorney with an outstanding reputation” who brings valuable in-house experience to the firm.