King & Spalding: Building An Enduring Institution In Houston

Saturday, September 1, 2007 - 01:00

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

Meadows: I grew up in South Texas and received my undergraduate degree from the University of Texas in 1971. I then went to work for Ben Barnes in his gubernatorial election campaign. After he lost, I attended the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, where I had a fellowship in the office of U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen. This was a great experience, but it was also enough of an exposure to the political world to convince me that it wasn't for me. So, after obtaining my Masters Degree, I went on to earn a J.D. from the University of Houston Law School in 1977.

Editor: What brought you to King & Spalding?

Meadows: When I moved my practice to King & Spalding in October of 2000, I had spent nearly 23 years at another firm. I was happy there but ready for a change. My practice was heading in a national direction, and King & Spalding offered me the platform to accomplish that.

In addition, I had been familiar with the firm and its fine reputation for many years. Client demand from companies such as Chevron Corporation, Dow Chemical, Halliburton, the Houston Astros and Shell Oil Company, as well as major corporations around the world, was a good indication that the Houston office would continue to experience spectacular growth. I am also a great admirer of Griffin Bell, former Attorney General of the United States, and he was an important draw. All of these factors contributed to the conclusion that King & Spalding was the ideal firm for me at that moment in my career.

Editor: Speaking of which, would you tell us about your practice?

Meadows: I have always been engaged in a civil trial practice. From the beginning of my career I decided to avoid subject-matter specialization, fearing it would limit opportunities to appear in court, which was what I wanted most. As a result, over the years I have been able to try a significant number of cases, involving a wide variety of commercial and tort matters. Recently I have focused more on larger complex cases, including commercial disputes and multi-plaintiff toxic tort environmental cases for energy companies. But overall the evolution of my career has been defined and determined entirely by my clients and what they needed at the time.

Editor: King & Spalding's presence in Houston dates back to 1995. What was behind the firm's decision to open an office in Houston?

Meadows: King & Spalding opened the Houston office in 1995 at the request of Texaco, a major client. Since then it has grown from three to more than 100 lawyers serving dozens of clients in litigation and transactional matters. We have enjoyed great success from what began as a very small operation; and I believe we are now the largest of the firms in Texas that did not originate here.

Editor: What practice groups are represented?

Meadows: The office has developed a leading energy practice, especially in the area of litigation, and continues to build on its international reputation. The Latin American practice, with experience in more than 22 countries, remains much sought after by clients around the globe. The Houston office leads the world's most active liquefied natural gas (LNG) practice, providing legal counsel on more than 10 LNG terminals in countries all over the world. The international arbitration practice recently ranked number two in the world in Focus Europe's 2007 Arbitration Scorecard for law firms appearing as arbitration counsel . Just this week John Bowman, who headed the international arbitration practice at Fulbright & Jaworski, joined us and will work closely with Doak Bishop. The two of them are among the leading practitioners in the field.

The office also has significant presence in corporate matters, including corporate finance and mergers and acquisitions, and has recently added a significant intellectual property practice group. Henry Kaim has just come over from Bracewell & Giuliani to join the financial restructuring group, where he will practice with Mickey Sheinfeld and others who are vital to the firm's expansion in this critical area.

Editor: How does the office connect to the firm's other offices? Are you able to drawn upon the firm's resources - in terms of expertise and personnel - in staffing your projects?

Meadows: Absolutely. We make it a point to work across office lines and call upon practice expertise and resources wherever they reside. The firm may have more than 800 attorneys and offices in Atlanta, Charlotte, Houston, Dubai, London, New York, Riyadh, and Washington, DC, but we are all unified through a common goal: to provide the highest caliber of legal counsel to clients in the United States and abroad.

Editor: You have appeared before just about all of the state courts in Texas, together with all of the federal courts. Would you share with us your thoughts on the quality of the bench in Texas?

Meadows: The quality of the judiciary system in Texas, both state and federal, is exceptional. During the past 15 years or so, my practice has taken me to a number of other jurisdictions, and that exposure has made me increasingly aware of how well served we Texans are by our judges.

Much of my practice involves defending corporate clients confronted with multi-plaintiff environmental claims. Many of these are for energy companies exposed to claims regarding soil or subsurface contamination. Some of these claims relate to conditions resulting from oil and gas operations going back as much as a century. The ability of the Texas courts to handle this type of litigation is especially noteworthy.

Editor: Please tell us about Houston as a place to live and work.

Meadows: Houston is a wonderful place to live and work. Housing is affordable, and there is a great wealth of cultural activity, including theatre, arts and sports. In terms of professional life, the opportunities are incomparable and, with the ever increasing importance of energy to our economy, on the upswing. For a lawyer, it is hard to imagine another place that offers a similar quality of life and, at the same time, a challenging and exciting professional life. In talking to law students and lawyers that we want to bring to Houston, I invariably talk about the people who have reluctantly come here and undergone a complete conversion - once here, they don't want to leave.

Editor: You have also been very active in the larger Houston community. Would you tell us about these activities?

Meadows: Houston is a place that invites participation. I have served on the board of trustees of Texas Children's Hospital for numerous years, and prior to that I was involved in helping the institution in a variety of ways. I have also been involved in the Stages Repertory Theatre, a performing arts center committed to the education and enrichment of children and youth, as well as the Greater Houston Partnership, an organization dedicated to building economic prosperity in the region.

Editor: How do these efforts help in projecting the firm's image?

Meadows: As a result of its dedication to community service and pro bono work, the office has become a strong member of the Houston community. The firm assists with indigent defense, death-penalty cases, prevention of domestic violence and immigration work. Since 2001, King & Spalding lawyers in Houston have donated more than 7,000 hours of work.

King & Spalding is attractive to lawyers who are looking for a reasonable balance between their personal and professional lives. Volunteer activities, including pro bono work and community involvement, help in establishing that balance. The personal rewards that are derived from helping people are immeasurable. I think lawyers in general enjoy helping others, even when they don't get paid for it. There is no question in my mind that our positive contributions convey the social responsibility of the firm.

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

Meadows: Houston has been a remarkable success since the day it opened and is a jewel in King & Spalding's crown. A law firm is only as good as its people, and we believe we have the very best. Since its start in 1885, the firm has maintained a tradition of attracting and developing many of this country's finest lawyers, and that is certainly our focus in Houston.

King & Spalding's collegial atmosphere, a commitment to our clients' best interests, and an ongoing engagement with the communities in which we live and work, all play a vital role in building an enduring institution. These factors are the foundation of a firm with a long-term view of its practice, its relationships and, of course, its future.

For the next three to five years, we have identified certain practice areas and initiatives that we see as strategic building blocks for the future, including energy, health sciences and litigation. Houston is at the center of all these initiatives, and we think the outlook remains bright for King & Spalding in Houston.

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