King & Spalding's Houston Office: Building Bench Strength

Monday, September 1, 2008 - 01:00

Editor: It is been a year since we last spoke. Please fill us in on what has occurred at the Houston office of King & Spalding.

Meadows: A great deal has taken place over the past year, most significantly the arrival of 13 lawyers from Vinson & Elkins to enhance our practice in the health sciences. Five of the group, led by Gary Eiland and Dennis Dunn, join us in the Houston office, the others join our Washington office. These lawyers already possess national reputations, and their practice constitutes a strong addition to what we had underway in terms of a full healthcare service practice.

We also added significant strength to our bankruptcy and financial restructuring practice with the arrival of Henry Kaim and Mark Wege. They add to the excellent foundation that Mickey Sheinfeld has built for us in this area.

We have also brought in John Bowman and Jennifer Price, who have outstanding, internationally recognized reputations in international arbitration. Their presence will only serve to enhance what is already known as a very significant international arbitration practice under the leadership of Doak Bishop.

King & Spalding, and the Houston office in particular, has long been recognized for its work in Latin America. Just recently we were singled out by Latin Lawyer as one of the top business firms in this practice area.

Finally, we have added Mike Stenglein and an Austin office to build on our commitment to our energy clients and their needs in the areas of commercial litigation and regulatory matters.

Editor: Does the Austin office have a separate focus from that of Houston?

Meadows: At the moment the two offices are not distinct in terms of focus. We did not open the Austin office with an intention to build an Austin market-driven practice. The attorneys we have in Austin are working with us in Houston, and with other King & Spalding offices around the country, primarily in the energy area and in intellectual property practices. If Austin is to develop a specialized practice, most probably it will be in the regulatory area. That, we think, would be most helpful in coordination with what we in Houston are doing for the firm's energy clients. Austin is the headquarters of the Texas Public Utility Commission, and we see an increasing volume of regulatory work on behalf of our regulated clients.

Editor: Please tell us about the evolution of your own practice over the past year.Meadows: I too have had a very busy year. Just recently Carol Wood and I completed a trial in Louisiana on behalf of Chevron involving a landowner's claim that the company's oil and gas operations had contaminated his plantation property. The claim exceeded 125 million dollars. We argued that whatever damage had resulted from historical operations would cost no more than a million dollars to address, which is what the jury awarded.

Late last year I was in Mexico City with Charles Correll handling a merits hearing for an arbitration involving a 400 million dollar construction contract dispute between KBR, Inc. and PEMEX, the Mexican petroleum enterprise. This was a very interesting experience in that the entire hearing was conducted in Spanish with simultaneous translation. Under the rules of the International Chamber of Commerce, it was brought before a three-judge panel of Spanish speaking arbitrators from Mexico, Colombia and Canada. We are awaiting a decision on this matter.

Also in the last year Tracie Renfroe and I defended Cooper Industries in a large environmental case in federal court in Kentucky. We were set to start trial when the court granted our motion to strike the plaintiffs' expert testimony on medical causation, and that ruling served to avoid trial and resulted in the settlement of just about the entirety of the case and extended to several hundred plaintiffs.

Editor: Are these types of cases typical of your practice?

Meadows: My practice is extremely varied. I am engaged in federal and state court jury work around the country. It is not often that I deal with a particular issue more than once, although there are common factors in many of these cases. The plaintiffs' bar is both imaginative and persistent.

Editor: Your activity is extraordinary. Any thoughts on why, during a time when the national economy is not doing well, King & Spalding, and particularly its Texas offices, are so busy?

Meadows: We are very fortunate to have a group of significant clients. Their activities extend all across the country and, indeed, the world. Irrespective of the state of the economy, clients of this magnitude require legal services of the very highest caliber on an ongoing basis. I would like to think that King & Spalding is known for doing first rate legal work, with a total commitment to client service, and that is why we stay busy.

I think it is fair to say, in addition, that the scope of our firm-wide practice is such that, when a particular area is down, other areas are going to be extremely busy. In difficult economic times, corporate financings may be few and far between, but there is often considerable activity in the area of bankruptcies and restructurings. The energy sector is very busy right now, and, of course, our Houston office is handling an enormous volume of work in this area. Overall, the firm is in excellent shape notwithstanding a few slow areas in the American economy.

Editor: Would you share with us your thoughts about the state of the Texas economy and Houston's place in that economy?

Meadows: Texas is fortunate to be doing well at a time when much of the country is suffering from the economic downturn. There are a number of things that explain this. First of all Texas is a very diverse place in terms of its economy. People think of energy first, but energy itself is a very broad industry sector. Houston, Texas' largest and most diverse city, is not only our country's energy center, it is also home to the largest chemical manufacturing operations in the world. The city is also the world's leader in the manufacture of oil field equipment. We are also one of the world's major medical centers, for both medical care and medical research. It is no surprise, then, that the state hosts an absolutely astonishing number of Fortune 500 corporate headquarters, 58, more than any other state. And, accordingly, we continue to create jobs while the rest of the country is not.

Editor: As you look forward over the coming year, what are the practice groups that are going to be center-stage in the Houston's office's activities?

Meadows: Energy will continue to be at the heart of the Houston office's practice. Litigation, including international arbitration, is going to see increased activity, and we anticipate that our healthcare group will be busy as well. We expect growth in the bankruptcy area, together with considerable activity in our global projects group, particularly in the Middle East. Finally, IP is a tremendous growth area for the firm as a whole, and we think that the Houston office will play a very active role in that area as well.

Editor: The Houston Bar Association's recognition of the office's pro bono contributions is a tribute to the firm's culture of civic and community involvement. What is on the office's pro bono agenda for the coming year?

Meadows: Pro bono work is an aspect of who we are as lawyers, and we take our responsibilities in this area very seriously. I have just asked two of our partners, Penn Huston, a litigator, and Jose Valera, a transactional lawyer, to engage our attorneys in an office-wide initiative that will, I trust, establish our reputation as a known resource for people in our community in need of legal services that they otherwise could not afford. We are already involved with a variety of community groups in providing pro bono services in a variety of areas, including helping abused and abandoned immigrant children remain in the U.S. legally. We are conscious of the fact that litigation very often provides more pro bono opportunities than the corporate and transactional side of our practice. In attempting to remedy that situation, we are looking to build a portfolio of pro bono services that would include, for example, corporate governance services for non-profit organizations, including the drafting of incorporation documents and by-laws, application for tax-exempt status for non-profits, the preparation of wills for the indigent, and a variety of services that are not necessarily adversarial in nature.

Editor: You have given very high marks to Houston as a place to live and work in the past. Specifically, what do you tell prospective law school graduates and young lateral hires that you are trying to recruit about the city?

Meadows: Houston is not a difficult city to sell. It has a vibrant business and legal community, and in terms of a professional career, it provides opportunities that match those of any other city in the country. In addition, King & Spalding, with its very significant client base, offers a quality of practice that - in my view, at least - cannot be matched elsewhere. The city boasts theatres and museums, music, sports, excellent schools and affordable housing.

We are very excited about what we are doing in Houston. Over the next few years the Houston office is going to play a very important role in the strategic development of the firm-wide enterprise. We are going to expand on the practices that are already in place, and I have no doubt that we will develop new ones in response to our clients' needs.

Please email the interviewee at rmeadows@kslaw.com with questions about this interview.