William “Willie” Wood, McKool Smith, Houston.

Midsize litigation firm McKool Smith has filled in a gap in its practice offerings, adding an energy trial team in Houston led by former Norton Rose Fulbright partner William “Willie” Wood.

Wood joined McKool Smith’s Houston office Thursday, along with energy litigators Justin Tschoepe and Lauren Varnado, who worked closely with Wood at Norton Rose. All three are now partners at McKool Smith.

Wood practiced for 35 years at Norton Rose and its predecessor firm Fulbright & Jaworski. He he was the firm’s U.S. head of energy and infrastructure disputes, and led the firm’s Latin America disputes practice. He also was a member of the firm’s global supervisory board.

David Sochia, managing partner of McKool Smith, said the firm has built its reputation as a bet-the-company business litigation firm, with niche practices, but one of the few areas it hadn’t penetrated was the energy sector—until hiring Wood and his group.

“Another angle that made Willie so interesting to us is not only could he help us invigorate the energy practice in Texas, but he’s got deep ties in Mexico and Central and South America. That’s something our firm had never been involved in,” Sochia said.

He said McKool Smith intends to build the energy practice domestically and internationally.

Wood said he was facing increasing client conflicts in the United States and in Latin America as Norton Rose grew.

“McKool Smith has a much lower conflicts profile,” he said, adding that he expects to be able to quickly build an energy litigation practice at his new firm.

Wood said he considered opportunities at several firms, and decided moving to a trial firm was the best way to continue to do work for his clients. He declined to identify clients, but said he’s done work for virtually every major international oil company and many major independents, E&P companies, oil and gas services companies, midstream and downstream companies, refiners, private equity portfolio companies and power generators.

“It’s everybody. The truth is, I can’t work for everybody. We must be strategic,” he said.

At McKool Smith, Wood will be able to do more work on a contingency fee basis, he said. He’s traditionally done complex commercial litigation for both plaintiffs and defendants.

When asked for a comment on the departures, Daryl Lansdale, Norton Rose’s Texas-based U.S. managing partner, said in a statement that the firm wishes Wood all the best at his new firm and looks forward to “possible collaboration opportunities with him at his new firm.”

Wood said he absolutely would consider working with lawyers from his former firm in the future.

“We at McKool Smith only do litigation. There will be tremendous opportunities not only for me and my colleagues to refer work to Norton Rose Fulbright on matters we don’t work on, but also to collaborate,” he said.

McKool Smith has about 165 trial lawyers in Austin, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Marshall, New York and Washington, D.C.

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