Forty-four of the 100 firms with the largest Texas operations increased the number of lawyers in their Texas offices during 2013. Sixteen firms kept the same head count, and 40 shrank.
Among the top 100 firms, two were the fastest-growing: Sidley Austin and Mayer Brown used lateral hires to increase their Texas lawyer counts by 50 percent and 23.8 percent, respectively.
The Windy City wasn’t just blowing hot air in the Lone Star State in 2013. Chicago-based Sidley grew to 60 average full-time-equivalent (FTE) Texas lawyers during 2013, compared with 40 lawyers in Texas the previous year.
Most of that growth was due to a group of 30 lawyers who moved from the Dallas office of Weil, Gotshal & Manges during the fourth quarter, said Yvette Ostolaza, managing partner of Sidley’s Dallas office and one of several former Weil partners.
Sidley also added three lateral partners in its Houston office during 2013, said Jim Rice, co–managing partner of the Houston office.
Although the total number of lateral hires during 2013 exceeded 20, the FTE lawyer count when averaged over the course of the calendar year totaled 20. That’s because, for example, lawyers who joined the firm on Oct. 1 only count as a fraction of one FTE, based on the amount of time they were with the firm.
Both of Sidley’s Texas offices expect to increase lawyer counts during 2014.
“We’re actively looking at several potential laterals in corporate, the mergers and acquisitions area. That will be our emphasis for lateral groups this year. After that, we will grow organically,” said Ostolaza.
In Houston the firm is looking to bolster its global finance, corporate, mergers and acquisitions, and capital markets practices, Rice said.
“Our growth trajectory will likely be driven on the transactional side, although not exclusively,” he said.
Sidley opened its Dallas office in 1996 and its Houston office in 2012. For the calendar year 2013, Sidley had 19 offices in the Americas, Asia Pacific and Europe and 1,695 lawyers firmwide.
“The general Houston economy has been terrific,” said Neil Wasserstrom, partner-in-charge of Mayer Brown’s Houston office, which grew to 52 lawyers from 42 the previous year. “Energy is the tip of the spear leading this momentum, and I know for us, in particular, that has been the driving force,” he said.
Wasserstrom said that several firms had opened offices in Houston during the past few years but Mayer Brown has a recruiting advantage because it has been in Houston since 1982.
“Laterals coming over here love the fact that there is so much bench strength and expertise in Houston,” he said. “From an energy standpoint, they’re not coming over and being a pioneer. They feel very comfortable where they can set up in and be part of a team rather than one guy who is setting up a group.”
Wasserstrom expects to do more lateral hiring during 2014.
“We want to hire people who over the years have had a consistently good track record, not just a [good] year here or there. Everything is cyclical. It’s easy to be a hero when all is great, but, when [business] slows down, it becomes more challenging.”
Mayer Brown formed a global energy industry group several years ago that coordinates energy matters across all the firm’s practice areas and offices, he said. For calendar year 2013, the firm had 20 offices in nine countries, with 1,470 lawyers firmwide.