St. Mary’s Law School professor Bill Piatt and his son Bob Piatt, a San Antonio attorney, completed a San Francisco swim that has claimed the lives of many a prisoner.
Of the 36 inmates who staged 14 escape attempts from Alcatraz Island during the time it served as a federal penitentiary, 23 were captured, six were shot and killed, two drowned and five are still listed as missing. But on Sept. 30, both Piatts safely completed the 1.25-mile swim from Alcatraz Island to San Francisco.
Bill, who served as dean of the law school from 1998 until 2007 and who is 67 years old, decided to join his soon-to-be 40-year-old son for the “Swim with the Centurions.” The event is led by a few veteran swimmers who have made the wet trip over 100 times and the Piatts were joined by 295 others in making the treacherous crossing.
“It’s a dangerous place to swim. There are sharks, there are difficult currents, and the water is cold,” Bill Piatt said. “But it’s doable, obviously doable by a 67-year-old man, which I am. This is the second time I’ve done it. But my son hadn’t and he was looking to do something to celebrate his 40th birthday. And so we decided that this would be a good challenge for us and a good father-and-son bonding experience as long as we didn’t get eaten by sharks.”
Both men jumped into the 60-degree water together and finished the swim within minutes of each other. Bob, a 2003 Yale Law School graduate who practices at San Antonio’s Parent Law Firm, finished the swim in 37 minutes. Bill finished the swim in 40 minutes, the same number as the age his son will soon be.
“He turns 40 early next year,” Bill said. “He was counting 40 years since his conception so he could get an early start on the party” by making the dangerous swim.
Luckily, neither Piatt saw any sharks during their chilly swim across choppy waters. “Thank goodness,” Bill Piatt said.
TEXAS TOPS IN RATES
The “real” hourly billing rate for lawyers in Texas is among the highest in the country, exceeded only by the rates in Nevada, Connecticut, Florida and Illinois, according to a new report on national legal trends released last month.
Billing rates in Texas averaged $267 per hour in 2016, and the “real” hourly billing rate, which accounts for the cost of living and therefore reflects actual purchasing power, was $276.
The 2017 Legal Trends Report was prepared by Clio, a Canadian company that provides cloud-based practice management for law firms. The report breaks down hourly billing rates by state and city. In Houston, the hourly rate in 2016 came in at $276, while the comparable rate in Dallas was higher at $300, according to the report. While higher than many, the hourly billing rates in Texas’ two largest cities in 2016 were less than the $344 an hour for lawyers in New York City and the $323 in Los Angeles. Nevertheless, the hourly billing rate in Dallas was higher than the rate in Houston and three other large U.S. cities identified in the report—Atlanta, Boston and Philadelphia. Houston’s real rate was only higher than the $245 an hour billed in Philadelphia.
The report also found that the realization rate for Texas firms—a rate that measures the percentage of billable hours that are invoiced—is 83 percent, compared with 82 percent nationally. The collection rate, which is the percent of billed work that is paid, is 86 percent in Texas, the same as the national rate.
—BRENDA SAPINO JEFFREYS
RUNNING FOR SCOTX
Houston State District Court Judge Steven Kirkland announced last month that he will seek a seat on the all-Republican Texas Supreme Court, making him the first openly gay candidate to run for the state’s highest civil court. Kirkland, a Democrat, is seeking Place 2 on the court, which is currently held by Justice Don Willett. Willett was nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit by President Donald Trump in September, setting the stage for an open primary if Willett wins Senate confirmation.
“I’m running because the Texas Supreme Court has entered far too many decisions recently that reek of politics and it’s time to change that,” Kirkland said.
Kirkland points to the court’s recent unanimous decision on June 30 in Pidgeon v. Turner, which ruled that the city of Houston should not have extended its benefits policy to same-sex couples, as a primary example of a political decision. Kirkland notes that since the Supreme Court issued its landmark 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, “They were thumbing their noses at the law and thumbing their noses at the U.S. Supreme Court, all to protect themselves in the Republican primary,” Kirkland said of the ruling.
Atlanta-based Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, which moved into Texas in 2015 when it merged with Dallas’ Crouch & Ramey, has opened an office in Houston with 13 lateral hires from Houston’s Coats Rose.
The new office, which opened Oct. 2, will be led by Patrick Gaas and Daniel Shank. Gaas is a partner in the firm’s construction and infrastructure team, and Shank is a partner in the complex commercial litigation practice. Gaas said he and Shank have worked together for about 15 years.
The group also includes associates Jarett Dillard, Mauricio Escobar, Courtney Lynch, and Nicholas Nieto, and counsel Sam Arora, Heather Asselin, Christopher Bradford, Paul Catalano, Brian Gaudet, Edward Hubbard, and David Lynch. Gaas said everyone does construction law—either litigation or transactional or both.
Kilpatrick Townsend partner and firm chairman Henry Walker, who is based in Atlanta, said opening an office in Houston was the “natural next progression” after Dallas. “We’ve worked with Pat over the years. We saw this opportunity to build strength on strength in a dynamic growing market,” he said.
Walker said the firm has a number of significant clients with work in Texas, including Halliburton Co., Turner Industries Group, AT&T Corp., Oracle Corp. and Celanese Corp. Gaas said one of his major clients is Amec Foster Wheeler, which was acquired on Oct. 9 by Wood Group.
Richard Rose, a director in Houston who is president of Coats Rose, said the 13 attorneys and some staff resigned effective Sept. 30, and the firm is thankful for their contributions and wishes them well in future endeavors.
“Given the size and continued growth of our firm, including our geographic expansion with our newest affordable housing practice in Ohio and the addition of a securities attorney in our Dallas office, the departures do not represent a significant impact on our overall business,” Rose said.
He added that the departures provide opportunity for the firm to “increase efficiencies” and refocus on core business transaction practices and related litigation areas.
—BRENDA SAPINO JEFFREYS