Houston Lateral Market Still Rocketing

The legal market in America’s 4th largest metropolis continues to grow and grow steadily. Numbers for the first 2 quarters of 2013 show sustained levels of lateral movement and firm expansion. This growth, as a May 13 article by Tom Huddleston Jr. of American Lawyer indicates, comes on the heels of several years that have already been quite busy—tied in large part to the booming energy, intellectual property, corporate, litigation and L&E industries, and more.

May 2Wanting to get in on the action, many firms have continued to press forward with new office openings. This includes Katten Muchin last month, as they became the most recent firm to announce an opening. Katten’s Houston office will be led by former Pillsbury Winthrop workplace safety and environmental partner Mark Farley, who will be joined by 3 associates along with Tom Kiehnhoff, a former assistant US attorney. Farley has been with Pillsbury since 2008, and before that had been with Baker Botts. According to Farley, he and his team spoke with a number of other interested firms before ultimately deciding to open with Katten in Houston. Says Huddleston regarding the opening, “Katten became the 11th Am Law firm to establish a presence in the city since 2010—and the third to do so this year (K&L Gates and Reed Smith both launched Houston offices in February).”

According to the article, it is estimated that more than 40 partners have moved through the first 2 quarters already this year. Moreover, Q1 2013 represented a 30% increase in lateral moves as compared to the majority of individual quarters dating back 3 years to 2010. Huddleston goes on to mention that not very surprisingly, many of the laterals that are moving are landing with some of the newest firms in town. For example, just last week Reed Smith hired 2 partners away from Jones Day—this coming only 2 months after welcoming a partner from Fulbright & Jaworski in March, and opening its office shortly before that with a mixture of 12 partners from a variety of firms. K&L Gates also opened a Houston office in February, and recently added 4 more partners including Haynes and Boone energy partner Anthony Newton and Fulbright corporate partner Charles Strauss, with Strauss to manage the office.

May 1Other firms making notable recent moves in Houston include Paul Hastings, which opened an office in April, Sidley Austin, which opened in February, Winston & Strawn, who hired away litigator Paul Hinton from Vinson & Elkins, and Mayer Brown, who brought on a V&E partner of its own—Ed Osterberg, an energy tax partner that had been with V&E for nearly 30 years. According to Huddleston, “Several other firms are thought to be considering a move to Houston, according to a source familiar with the market, including: Allen & Overy, Gibson Dunn, and Willkie Farr, among others.”

Clearly the legal market in Houston is still buzzing. The time appears to be now for firms considering opening an office to get a piece of what appears to be a large, expanding, Texas-sized pie.

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