Secrets Of Success - Why Some Firms Prosper In Today's Tough Environment

Tuesday, September 1, 2009 - 01:00

Editor: Bobby, what is your role in the firm?

Meadows: I am managing partner in the firm's Houston office.

Editor: Today law firms are going through a difficult period. Our readers and viewers are interested in why some firms continue to be successful even in this environment. Your firm is an outstanding example of how a law firm can thrive during this time of crisis by emphasizing those areas most needed by clients. Tell us about that strategy.

Meadows: The firm has had a long history of adapting to meet the changing needs of its clients. Our goal is to manage the firm in a way that will enable it to successfully compete. Several years ago we took a close look at our strengths and what we needed to do to maximize our opportunities around those strengths. That led significantly to our ability to grow in terms of our energy, healthcare, and IP practices.

The Houston Office is implementing our strategy to further strengthen our healthcare practice and other growth areas. Because of the importance of the energy sector to the Houston office, I will defer my discussion of our energy practice to a later issue of The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel.

Editor: Perhaps you could update us on the firm's healthcare practice. With significant healthcare reforms likely, it looks like the firm has picked another area where great increases in the demand for legal services seem likely.

Meadows: Healthcare is one of our firm's two major initiatives along with energy. The healthcare industry is one of our strategic priorities to help fuel the firm's growth. The Houston office is committed to doing its share to expanding our national practice by adding topflight healthcare attorneys who are recognized for their expertise and experience in the field.

We were fortunate to have had Dennis Barry and Gary Eiland join our Houston office last year as part of a larger group of healthcare lawyers, and we look forward to adding more outstanding practitioners in the future. Four King & Spalding partners, Dennis M. Barry, Gary W. Eiland, Glen A. Reed and Richard L. Shackelford are among 31 lawyers across the United States selected as top healthcare practitioners by Expert Guides in its 2009 edition of The Best of the Best USA.

Editor: The firm's bankruptcy and financial restructuring practice is an example of an area that meets clients' needs during the current financial crisis and into the foreseeable future.

Meadows: We are ranked by The Deal as one of the 20 most active bankruptcy law firms. Our clients include debtors, creditors and large purchasers in large bankruptcy matters. The goal of the firm and our Texas offices is to expand our bankruptcy and financial restructuring practice. The implementation of that goal by the Houston office includes the addition of partners Henry Kaim, Mark Wege and Ed Ripley.

Editor: Describe the Houston office's strengths in international arbitration, another growth area.

Meadows: International arbitration is a rapidly expanding practice area in the legal profession. King & Spalding earned the No. 2 spot in Focus Europe's 2009 Arbitration Scorecard, a worldwide ranking of law firms by number and size of arbitrations published by The American Lawyer. Focus Europe noted that King & Spalding is among "the first tier of arbitration law firms."

The capabilities of the Houston office in that area were further strengthened by the addition of John Bowman and Jennifer Price in 2007.

John and Jennifer are both well known, highly regarded practitioners in the area of international arbitration and their addition simply adds to something we're already very proud of which is an international arbitration practice built around Doak Bishop and others that competes with the very best in the world.

We have also added Eric Schwartz, in Paris, who along with Doak is one of the top international arbitration lawyers in the world. Members of that practice are in London, Washington DC, New York and Houston.

Editor: Speaking of international arbitration please describe the outcome of the very large case involving property in Egypt.

Meadows: Reggie Smith in Houston, working with a cross-office team, represented an individual who had property confiscated by the Egyptian government. That case involved a 160-acre piece of property on the Red Sea that our client intended for a hotel development that was confiscated in 1996. In the ICSID (International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes) arbitrations, our client was awarded over $130 million, the largest award ever made in such an arbitration on behalf of an individual.

That case demonstrates the quality of the lawyers that we have practicing in the area of international arbitration, and I think it also illustrates that we are handling some of the most significant matters in the area. King & Spalding's international arbitration practice has been recognized by a number of publications as being among the very best in the world, Focus Europe , Chambers USA 2009 , Chambers Global 2009 and The Legal 500. U.S. Focus Europe examined 12 of the most significant international arbitration matters of the last year and King & Spalding was involved on three of them.

Editor: The crisis has also spurred business in the intellectual property area as companies look for opportunities to profit from their IP assets. Meadows: Bruce Slayden and a group that practiced with him at Baker Botts joined King & Spalding in February 2009. This is another situation where we had an opportunity to add a high performing lawyer and his group in Austin to the IP area, a strategic focus of the firm. Bruce is exactly the sort of addition that we were striving for in Austin which is to find and aggregate top talent that is not dependent on the Austin market but is more of a national practice. We opened this office just a little bit more than a year ago with the space for 26 lawyers and hope to have that space filled by the end of the year.

Editor: Perhaps you could update us on the continued strength and success of the litigation team.

Meadows: Litigation is enormous., It's been an historic strength of King & Spalding and the firm is known around the country as being a top litigation firm with lawyers who are both willing and capable of trying law suits. A good example is Bruce Hurley, with whom I work closely. Early this year Bruce was in California handling a significant products liability case for the welding-rod industry. Then within weeks of returning home after having obtained a verdict for the defense, Bruce headed to trial in South Texas representing KBR in a design defect case in a petrochemical plant that exploded. He spent several weeks there and obtained another defense verdict. This is just one example of how the firm uses its top lawyers to obtain quality results for its clients - and we have many lawyers who are capable of doing that and do it regularly.

Editor: Please share with us the story of your successes in recent cases representing Chevron in Concordia Parish.

Meadows : I do a lot of work for Chevron representing the company in claims arising out of old exploration and production sites. What we have seen happening is that after decades of production, production areas are becoming litigation sites because the landowners claim that the property has been damaged once the royalties are gone and the production has diminished. These plaintiffs usually have exorbitant claims for clean-up, and this case was no different. The plaintiffs wanted $126 million to clean up a piece of property that we were able to establish could be remediated for $1 million. We tried the case for several weeks, and the jury rejected the plaintiff's negligence and punitive damages claims, limiting Chevron's responsibility to its proposed $1 million cleanup plan under a breach of contract claim. The company now has a precedent-setting decision that will impact a large number of similar claims going forward.

Editor: King & Spalding's litigation practice is renowned. Would you please share with us one of the firm's recent successes?

Meadows: King & Spalding has an excellent litigation practice firm-wide. Austin-based Reagan Simpson is one of our attorneys who reflects the strength of our firm's litigation department. In a landmark products liability case in which Reagan served as lead counsel, we obtained a ruling from the Texas Supreme Court that an alleged design defect claim in a consumer product was preempted by compliance with federal regulations. This leaves in limbo a more than $3.7 million judgment favoring the plaintiff.

Editor: I see you were one of 271 lawyers nationwide lauded as a BTI Client Service All-Star.

Meadows: Yes, that was a very nice recognition. BTI contacts in-house lawyers at Fortune 1000 companies and asks them to single out by name - unprompted - an attorney who delivers excellent client service. Because there is no prompting, the award is especially significant because it demonstrates that clients are obviously highly interested in exceptional service.

Editor: I gather that the firm places great emphasis on client service firm-wide.

Meadows: Absolutely and it has for over 120 years.

Editor: I'm sure that today the clients are becoming more demanding because of the financial situation.

Meadows: Although clients can be demanding, what they really want and appreciate are lawyers who understand their business and what needs to be accomplished, and then focus on efficiently getting that result. That's a high standard, but it's one that any successful lawyer should be expected to meet.

Editor: King & Spalding is also known as a firm with a heart. Can you describe some of the firm's civic activities?

Meadows: Absolutely. Our lawyers are encouraged to get involved in the community and participate in charitable affairs. I personally have served for many years on the board of trustees at the Texas Children's Hospital.

The firm values building community relationships through charitable giving as well as pro bono work. Recently, we hosted a "shopping" benefit for the Houston Area Women's Center and our lawyers volunteered at the Houston Food Bank.

King & Spalding values excellence in client representation for both paying and pro bono clients. We maintain strong relationships with legal services providers including legal aid societies, volunteer lawyer foundations, Southern Center for Human Rights, the Texas C-Bar, and Women Empowered Against Violence, just to name a few.

The firm also maintains several signature projects such as the Consumer Advocacy Program, Indigent Criminal Defense Project, and the Eviction Defense Program. For example, through the Eviction Defense Program we represent indigent tenants in semi-weekly eviction proceedings, resulting in agreements satisfactory in about 90 percent of the cases. Over 100 litigators and transactional attorneys have participated in this project since 2001. Overall, this work provides personal and professional satisfaction, and improves the lives of those less fortunate.

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