Austin: A Magnet For Legal Practice In Texas

Tuesday, September 23, 2014 - 10:33

The Editor interviews Michael (Mike) Stenglein, business and litigation partner of King & Spalding LLP and founding and managing partner of the firm’s Austin, Texas office.

Editor: Please describe your interesting background, first as an audit manager with Coopers & Lybrand and later as a founding and managing partner of King & Spalding’s Austin office.

Stenglein: When I went to undergraduate school, I was looking for a profession that offered a specific job opportunity. After graduating from the University of Florida with an accounting degree, I passed the CPA exam and was employed by Coopers & Lybrand. I moved to Boston where after two years I became an audit manager. It was during that time that I thought about making a career change. Right after I made audit manager at Coopers & Lybrand, I resigned in order to attend law school. My time at Coopers & Lybrand as a CPA has been very significant in my career in law. The complex litigation that I engage in is very interactive with business processes, calculating damages and many accounting issues.  Even when I founded the K&S Austin office, my accounting background came in very handy – there were many business and accounting  aspects to leasing, growth patterns and making projections. I find myself many times either with clients or here in the Austin office standing in front of a white board, outlining finance and accounting issues so that clients or other team members can follow case issues, developments or projections.

I was just in Dubai this past week on a very large construction matter where I used a white board to graphically explain to clients how best to understand particular issues.

Editor: How long has the Austin office been in existence? What practice groups are present in the office?

Stenglein: The Austin office opened on May 1, 2008. I was the lone occupant for the first two or three weeks in a shared office space. Three or four months later, the financial crisis hit. At that time, we had three or four lawyers who had come with me from my prior firm. Initially, our plans for practice groups were commercial litigation, IP litigation, healthcare and Texas Public Utility Commission work. With two lawyers who joined us yesterday and another three lawyers hopefully joining soon, we shall have twenty-six lawyers in the Austin office. I’m currently recruiting another fifteen to twenty other lawyers, and I think the Austin office will end up having forty to fifty lawyers in the next couple of years. The practice groups are the original four, which we are expanding, plus securities litigation and a planned transactional group.

Editor: Describe the growth of the office. How do you account for its rapid growth and development?

Stenglein: There are two important factors at play. One, King & Spalding has a terrific reputation and brand. We stand apart from other firms that are in Austin, being one of the few international firms with an Austin office.  Secondly, I spend a significant amount of time identifying potential candidates who would possibly fit within King & Spalding’s core practices. In my mind, you have to have a continuous, market-focused interaction with candidates. King & Spalding has been very successful in attracting attorneys of the highest caliber. I spend quite a bit of time in recruiting. My goal is to create sufficient critical mass and momentum that if a bus hit me, K&S Austin would roll on quite nicely without me.

Editor: Austin is noted as one of the nation’s fastest-growing cities. Besides being the capital city of the state, what other factors have made for its rapid development?

Stenglein: Austin has been voted as the fastest-growing city for at least the past four or five years by Forbes magazine. I think its rapid growth is based on a couple of things. One, the Texas economy is growing rapidly, and so folks from out of state want to move to Texas.  Second, Austin has a nationwide reputation as being a little bit different from Houston, Dallas or San Antonio. The lifestyle here is attractive to people moving from outside Texas. In addition, Austin has a very vibrant high-tech industry, which also attracts a lot of entities and people. For example, we just had two new office buildings built in downtown Austin, both of which were almost entirely built for new entrants to the Austin market, some of whom are high tech and others energy-related. The University of Texas is also a huge attraction for researchers and academics.

Editor: What do you understand is, and what do you think will be, the role of the Austin office in relation to the firm’s overall strategy of national and international practice?

Stenglein: K&S has a firmwide strategy. We have six Areas of Focus: energy, financial institutions, global disputes, government investigations, intellectual property and life sciences. The Austin office currently has lawyers that fit within three of those six Areas of Focus. Our growth is consistent with and additive to the firm’s Areas of Focus and to our overall strategic plan. Our office works interactively with all other offices in the system nationally and internationally. Our mission is to continue to fit within those six Areas of Focus and identify other candidates to join the firm who fit within those Areas of Focus. We don’t have an office-by-office accounting system: instead, our accounting system is by practice groups across all offices.

Editor: How does the Austin office interface with King & Spalding’s other offices? For example, how do you draw upon the firm’s national and international resources in staffing projects and matters that originate in Texas, and how does the Austin office contribute to matters that originate elsewhere?

Stenglein: Our firm is organized within practice groups across all of its offices, both internationally and nationally, so we’re able to draw on resources from the entire firm. Because of the talent in the Austin market, we’ve been able to retain some of the best talent at the firm. Other offices from across the country often invoke the help of our team of lawyers in Austin. Our associates have worked with lawyers from every domestic office and several of the international offices. Likewise, we use lawyers on our Austinoriginated matters from other offices due to our heavy flow of business. Presently, I am doing an international arbitration that requires work in Dubai, and we are using lawyers from our Dubai and London offices on that matter. Integrating the Austin office with the rest of the firm has been one of my primary goals since starting the office in 2008.

Editor: Are there any strategic decisions that have led to the firm’s growth, such as the foresight shown in opening the Austin office?

Stenglein: The Areas of Focus are a large contributor to growth. Take, for example, the Energy - Area of Focus, of which I am a member of the leadership team. While many firms are organized by practice groups – a business litigation practice group that does work for energy companies, an international trade group that does work for energy companies and other practice groups that do work for energy companies – in addition to standalone practice groups, we also organize all of those practice groups under the Energy - Area of Focus, so every practice group across the firm is being coordinated in how to best serve the energy industry instead of just practice group by practice process. That structure has provided a huge advantage in allowing our firm to meet client needs. For example, through the Energy - Area of Focus we are better able to determine the direction of different facets of the energy industry so that we are able to ready ourselves to be able to answer the industry’s legal needs a year or two years from now.

Editor: King & Spalding is known for its work in its home city, Atlanta, with a variety of civic and philanthropic programs. Do you expect to pursue a similar program in Austin?

Stenglein: Yes. We currently are involved in many pro bono activities here in Austin. One of our partners, Mike Biles, is our pro bono coordinator. He does a terrific job of identifying pro bono opportunities and making sure that the lawyers in our office are involved in pro bono work. We are involved in the civic affairs of the community in that way. As we grow to 40 to 50 lawyers, I think our involvement in civic and philanthropic programs will only increase. We’re embedded in the community. We live here. We want King & Spalding to be part of the community going forward. It’s a focus of our office, and I think as we grow and continue to grow, it will become more so.

Editor: What future plans do you have for the Austin office? Are you thinking of additional practice groups?

Stenglein: We would like to have a transactional practice group. This is an area ripe for growth in Austin. I think we can also increase the number of lawyers in the existing practice areas, particularly healthcare. King & Spalding has the largest healthcare practice of any firm in the U.S. We will likely add more lawyers with that specialty, especially because there’s so much healthcare activity going on with the state agencies here in Austin, and now the University of Texas is building its own teaching hospital.  We already have a strong group of intellectual property lawyers in Austin, and we think there is growth opportunity in that area, as well. Another growth area is energy, with the growing number of energy companies in Austin. Austin is growing, and Austin businesses are growing, and the law firms need to keep up with them. These are the core areas of future growth for the Austin office.

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