Texas - Law Firms Jones Day's Houston Office: Gaining Momentum

Thursday, September 1, 2005 - 01:00

Editor: Mr. Whiting, would you tell our readers something about your professional background?

Whiting: I have been in practice for the past 30 years. I grew up in the Midwest and attended the University of Michigan as an undergraduate. My law degree is from Ohio State. I began my career in Cleveland with Jones Day, and I have been with the firm in Cleveland, Dallas and now Houston. I have been a member of the Texas Bar for almost 25 years and have enjoyed practicing in Texas, Ohio and other jurisdictions across the country.

Editor: What attracted you to Jones Day?

Whiting: The same things I enjoy about the firm today. I was attracted by the people I met and by the quality of practice that they represented. Those things have remained a constant over the course of my career. Over the years many things have changed, but not the focus at Jones Day on the need for talented lawyers and high quality across the firm's practices. Today we practice with 2000 lawyers in 30 offices around the world, but the professionalism, the culture, the values, and the commitment to clients is the same, and it is what attracted me to Jones Day.

Editor: Please tell us about your practice. How has it evolved over the course of your career?

Whiting: I have been involved in complex commercial litigation over my entire career. In the early years I handled a number of hostile tender offer cases. Over time that developed into securities and corporate governance work. During the past 15 years, in addition to these types of cases, I have handled a range of commercial disputes and class actions for clients such as Chevron, RJ Reynolds, IBM and Firestone. The principal focus of my practice today is in these areas - large commercial disputes, mass tort consumer class actions, and securities and corporate governance matters.

Editor: Please tell us about Jones Day's presence in Texas - Dallas and Houston - and the factors that went into establishing that presence.

Whiting: Jones Day opened in Texas, in Dallas, in 1981. We opened the Houston office in 2001. As our new lawyers join us this fall, we will have approximately 250 lawyers in Texas. While the Dallas and Houston openings were 20 years apart, the reasons behind those openings were similar. In each case the market was singularly attractive, and we had existing client relationships that we believed we could strengthen by having a presence in that city. In both cases we were able to match a carefully chosen group of high talent lawyers with the expertise and skills necessary for the office's needs and the needs of the clients it served. That has been, and continues to be, the key to our success in Texas.

Editor: In recent years Texas has become something of a technology destination, in addition to its earlier draw in the energy arena. How has the firm dealt with this development?

Whiting: Jones Day has a strong IP practice across many of our offices, both domestic and foreign, and including Dallas and Houston. Through this practice, we leverage the firm in a number of areas, particularly litigation, licensing and prosecution work for high tech, software and biotechnology companies. In addition, we have a quality outsourcing practice in Dallas, and we work with venture capital clients in a variety of technology initiatives, although the latter is more focused on the two coasts.

Editor: What is the Houston legal market like today?

Whiting: It is a strong market. Like many markets, it is a place that often moves in tandem with, and is influenced by, the economy of the region, the nation and the world. To some extent we are still working through the ripples from Enron and problems in some of the other energy-based companies, but the legal market is strong. Houston is a wonderful place in which to practice law, and I am certain that it is only going to get better.

Editor: Are there particular disciplines and practice groups that are identified with the Houston office? With Dallas?

Whiting: We started the Houston office with an emphasis on litigation, regulatory and transactional capabilities for the energy sector, although I hasten to add that we work for a range of clients both within and outside that sector. The initial attraction of Houston was the opportunity to continue to develop our energy practice across a number of legal disciplines. Most recently we have added intellectual property and labor and employment teams, and they are both off to an excellent start. As the office matures, we continue to look at the practice mix and at what is appropriate for this market.

Dallas, having been established almost 25 years ago, has a wider range of services than Houston, although its emphasis on large case litigation and transactional matters continues. While the current focus of Houston's transactional practice is M&A and private equity, Dallas has a broader range of practices including M&A, private equity, IPOs, lending and structured finance, as well as an outstanding tax and benefits practice.

Editor: How does the Houston office fit into the firm-wide structure? Are you able to call upon the resources of other offices - in terms of expertise and personnel - in staffing your projects?

Whiting: We have a very strong commitment at Jones Day to being one firm, which means that we provide the best of the firm's expertise to our clients wherever that expertise may reside. In the case of the Houston office, we utilize the firm's entire platform to serve clients. That entails marshalling a variety of skill sets, legal disciplines, expertise and experience from across the firm, and we are fortunate in possessing, under one roof, just about any capability that a client might require. The short answer, then, is yes - if we do not have the ability to meet a client's needs from within our own ranks in Houston, we call upon any and all of the firm's other offices to address the matter.

Editor: Please tell us about Houston as a place to live and work. How do you sell the city when you are interviewing recent law graduates and young laterals?

Whiting: I did not know much about Houston when we opened four years ago, but I have certainly become an enthusiastic supporter of the city. It is a very dynamic place, with tremendous diversity and a fascinating and intense business and professional community. We have not had to pitch Houston to any great extent in our recruiting efforts. Young attorneys are interested in the city, as a place to live and work. We believe that Jones Day Houston provides wonderful opportunities for both litigators and transactional lawyers, and we have not had difficulty in attracting the caliber of person we need to maintain our standards and continue to enhance our talent base. Many young attorneys join us because they wish to be in Houston as part of a firm offering the highest quality of practice, but an added benefit is that the firm also provides opportunities across an array of practices and other settings as their careers develop. Houston, as I said, is a wonderful place to practice law, but it can also serve as an introduction to opportunities elsewhere.

Editor: Jones Day's role in the larger Houston community? Please tell us about some of the firm's undertakings.

Whiting: We are working hard on establishing a meaningful presence and participation in the community. We have structured a United Way campaign at the office that has permitted us to have, for at least the last two years, the largest per capita giving of any law firm in the city. We have also been engaged in pro bono projects, many of which are in connection with the Houston Bar Association. Our people have volunteered their services to the indigent and to a variety of non-profit and charitable organizations through undertakings such as the Houston Volunteer Lawyers Program, the Texas C-Bar and Texas Accountants and Lawyers for the Arts. As we set down roots in Houston, all of these activities are going to pick up speed. As a firm, we desire to be a good citizen. These efforts are important because they are right thing to do, but they also put us shoulder to shoulder with the firm's clients - our United Way commitment has garnered recognition from clients involved in their own United Way campaigns. Efforts like our United Way Campaign and pro bono projects contribute importantly to the pride that our lawyers take in being part of a firm that encourages this kind of community involvement.

Editor: What about the future? Where would you like the Houston office to be in, say, five years?

Whiting: I would like the Houston office to continue on its present path, which is to say, good, steady growth with people of very high talent and skill, the kind of people that will enable us to develop good relationships with an expanding group of clients. I do not believe that targeting a specific number of lawyers for a certain date in the future makes much sense for us, although we have certainly grown substantially over the past four years. We began with 19 lawyers, and today the office has a complement of 50. What is important is that we possess the talent in the practice areas that this market requires, together with sufficient critical mass to lend credibility to our efforts. If we are able to continue to attract outstanding legal talent to this operation, we will maintain the momentum we have at present and that, in turn, translates into steady growth for the future.

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