That giant sucking sound you hear around Houston's legal community is Latham & Watkins LLP poaching talent from its rivals to bolster its energy practice. Vinson & Elkins LLP, Baker Botts LLP and Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP have already lost eight partners to Latham, which opened an office in Houston at the beginning of the year.
The new office is headed by Michael Dillard (pictured), the former head of Akin Gump's energy and global transactions practice, who jumped to the firm in January, along with Akin colleague J. Michael Chambers and Baker Botts partner Sean Wheeler.
They were followed in February by Mike Darden, also of Baker Botts, and Vinson & Elkins corporate partners William Finnegan IV, Brett Braden and Charles Carpenter. V&E tax partner Timothy Fenn rounded out the group in March.
Dillard, 51, says he and the others joined Latham partly because of its culture, which values collaboration and teamwork. "There was also a depth of energy experience at Latham before we showed up," he says, noting the firm's power and renewable energy practice and international hires from White & Case LLP earlier this year, including some in the Middle East. "Houston was the missing piece." His goal is to have 25 to 30 transactional lawyers in the Houston office by year's end.
Dillard was a particularly big score for Latham. He's completed about $76 billion worth of deals, mostly for upstream companies, including Anadarko Petroleum Corp. and Western Gas Resources Inc. in 2006. More recently, in September, he advised Dynegy Inc.
Latham's other recruits have also been busy. Wheeler, local chair of the corporate department for the Houston office, advised Encore Acquisition Co. on its $4.5 billion purchase by Denbury Resources Inc. in November and had a not-very-publicized role in Schlumberger Ltd.'s $11 billion acquisition of Smith International Inc. last month. Chambers counseled Oaktree Capital Management LP-backed Crimson Exploration Inc. on its initial public offering on the Nasdaq in December.
And Darden, who headed Baker Botts' oil and gas practice, has upstream oil and gas expertise, including working with XTO Energy Inc. on acquisitions. The Vinson & Elkins group, meanwhile, has done a lot of master limited partnership work.
Dillard says the energy deal business is "hot" right now and that he's working on a large private equity transaction that should close by the end of April. "We have our lips around fire hoses. There's significant pent-up demand."