Houston - A Dynamic Metropolis

Monday, September 1, 2008 - 01:00

Editor: Please tell our readers about your background and practice.

MacKimm: My specialty is environmental litigation, which I've been doing for over 20 years. For 14 of those years I've been with Jones Day. I know the firm well, having spent time in our Chicago and Dallas offices. I've been in Houston since 2004 and was asked to head up our office here beginning in 2007.

Editor: What other practice areas are featured in the Houston office?

MacKimm: The Houston Office has M & A, private equity, capital markets - these are our transactional practices. We also have an IP practice, a labor and employment practice, an oil & gas practice and a trial practice. My practice is product liability and mass tort.

Editor: As I recall, your office is smaller than the Dallas office with which you work very closely.

MacKimm: It is. We're at about 50 attorneys and Dallas has about 200.

Editor: How are the Houston and Dallas offices interrelated so that they serve all of Texas?

MacKimm: It is standard operating procedure for Jones Day lawyers to work on transactions and cases together, and so we will frequently staff matters across both offices. In addition, the Houston office doesn't have a restructuring practice, so when we have clients with restructuring needs, we will call Greg Gordon, for example, a partner in our Dallas office where we have approximately ten lawyers who are business restructuring lawyers. We are integrated in that we work together on cases and matters all the time; we recruit together, and that includes laterals and students just coming out of law school; we work on client development together, and it is our goal to have people think of us as Jones Day Texas rather than Jones Day Dallas or Jones Day Houston.

Editor: Are the two offices the only offices Jones Day has in Texas?

MacKimm: They are.

Editor: Why did Jones Day decide to open a Houston office and when did this occur?

MacKimm: We opened in Houston in 2001 primarily at the urging of several clients who wanted us to have a presence in Houston. It's interesting - while we still do some work for those clients, the universe of clients has changed and expanded so that I would no longer call those clients even our primary clients here in Houston.

Editor: As I recall, the Penney Company's decision to go to Dallas had something to do with your expanding the Dallas office.

MacKimm: That's right, and that's now 27 years ago. We opened in Dallas in 1981.

Editor: What types of product liability and environmental cases usually cross your desk?

MacKimm: Our clients come from a wide variety of industries. Obviously the major energy companies face significant environmental issues, but you'd be surprised at the universe of other companies that face potential mass tort liabilities including semiconductor manufacturers. Most of the actions we're seeing now are brought by people who live near manufacturing facilities and are seeking a lifetime of medical monitoring, for example, or who are claiming personal injuries or property damage due to alleged exposure to chemicals from refineries or manufacturing plants.

Editor: Please tell our readers about the diversity efforts initiated by the Houston Office. Why is your approach to working with diverse youngsters such an unusual one?

MacKimm: So many firms and businesses struggle with diversity - not with the value of diversity in and of itself, but how to implement policies to achieve real diversity. Our immediate goal was to recruit more diverse attorneys for the Houston Office of Jones Day, but it's not really a victory for anybody if all we do is go out and hire a few minority attorneys away from other law firms. That increases our numbers but it decreases theirs, and it's not a win for anybody in the long run. Therefore, we decided to focus on the pipeline of minority students who might not have thought about a career in the law simply because they don't know a lawyer or someone who has worked in a law firm or in a court. One of our associates who joined us several years ago had spent time in the Teach for America program and was devoted to that program. Some of her friends whom she met in Teach for America went on to start a charter school, one of the KIPP ("Knowledge Is Power Program") schools. It's a wonderful program. Our attorney, Dani Gleason approached one of the KIPP schools in Houston and asked if they would like to partner with us in a program whereby Jones Day attorneys would come into the school to teach a law curriculum to middle school students for one semester. Dani wrote the curriculum - she took legal opinions and converted them so that they would be easily understood and readable at the eighth grade level. All of the focus in the curriculum has been on public education - drug testing, why do you have to go to school until you're 18, searches of your backpack, saying the Pledge of Allegiance in school - things eighth graders would understand and be interested in. Then each week one or more of our attorneys went to the school to teach a class. The students were required to have read and analyzed the legal opinion before class. The participation was phenomenal. At the end of the semester they visited a state court and a federal courtroom. We're going to expand this program to a full year.

Editor: I understand that Texas has been spared some of the financial woes besetting the rest of the nation, such as mortgage foreclosures and bank failures. How do you account for this?

MacKimm: I wouldn't say we've been spared them, but we've been feeling them on a much lesser scale than the rest of the nation. I attribute it to the fact that although Houston has succeeded somewhat in diversifying its economy, we're still the energy capital of the world. When the energy industry is booming as it is now, it protects us a little from what the rest of the country is seeing, but it's also a very growing, dynamic economy. In the past several years, growth in the Texas economy has outstripped growth in the U.S. economy. That's expected to continue over the next several years. Texas has a young and growing population. We're also the leading export state in the U.S. In addition, we now have 58 corporate headquarters in Texas, so we have passed both New York and California. It is an incredibly vibrant economy, and Texas is an important market for the firm for that reason.

Editor: And Texas is a very business-friendly state. The income tax doesn't exist, as opposed to a state like New Jersey where the state income tax is staggering.

MacKimm: That's right. There are other taxes but there is no state income tax, and that's very appealing.

Editor: Describe Houston as a place to live and work. What great advantages does it possess in terms of medical facilities, educational facilities and transportation?

MacKimm: It's world class in terms of medical facilities. People from all over the world travel to our medical center to receive world-class care. Rice University and the University of Houston are outstanding academic facilities. We're very much an automobile culture, but Houston now has a rail line that runs downtown, which has been phenomenal for growing the downtown area. We've had lawyers from other offices of Jones Day who have relocated to Houston voluntarily because they see the opportunities here as tremendous both in terms of their practice and with respect to their families. Homes are still affordable here, which is a big draw.

Editor: Would you share your thoughts on the quality of the bench in Texas - both state and federal?

MacKimm: First rate, absolutely first rate. There was a federal district court judge here in Houston who presided over a trial that was being first-chaired by one of our young lawyers who was approaching partnership. I went over and spoke with him in his chambers at his invitation about this young lawyer, and he could not say enough good things about the way she performed in court. He also noted that she gave up some of her time to allow one of our most junior associates to put witnesses on in this case, which he thought was remarkable because it showed that Jones Day is taking an interest in bringing up the next generation of trial lawyers.

Editor: What do you see in your crystal ball as the future of Houston as a business and legal center?

MacKimm: The market down here is red hot right now. There are new firms opening offices in Houston at a phenomenal pace. In terms of the business climate, I don't see a slowdown here for the foreseeable future. This is and will remain the energy capital of the world, and law firms who don't have a presence here are beginning to realize they need to be in Houston.

Editor: Many of our participating firms have opened offices in Houston, and it is, as you say, a vibrant practice area and will be for years to come, because we have to have our petrochemicals and output from all the other businesses that have gravitated in this direction. The whole state has such a business-friendly attitude.

MacKimm: It really isn't even just oil and gas anymore. All the majors have new initiatives with respect to biofuels and renewables and wind, and a lot of that's happening right here in Houston. Texas is now #1 in the country in wind power. Many other industries and service companies have also seized on the opportunities here.

Please email the interviewee at nmackimm@jonesday.com with questions about this interview.