Kirkland & Ellis is another one of the band of US firms that likes to think of itself as being, as one partner puts it, “agnostic on industries”.
In other words, its lawyers tend to be generalists, though certainly Kirkland’s private equity client base is its energy group’s primary driver. Whatever that group is buying, Kirkland will be there to advise.
That said, the comment is primarily true of the firm’s overseas offices, which tend to be more focused on a narrow range of practices rather than offering a full service. In the US, the practice headed by group chair Mitch Hertz is broader, with deep regulatory and commercial experience in the energy sector.
That approach is reflected in the firm’s recent transactional track record. In April a Kirkland team led by partner George Stamas represented longstanding client Constellation Energy on its $7.9bn sale to Exelon (advised by Skadden).
The deal underlined Kirkland’s traditional focus on the US domestic market. But, as Hertz reveals, Asia and in particular India is very much in the Chicago-headquartered firm’s sights. “Kirkland is very focused on India, including numerous infrastructure plays, while in Asia generally one of the key drivers of our practice is coal and other mineral deals,” says Hertz.
Don’t expect to see the firm launch a string of offices in the region to support this, however. While bar rules prevent it from opening in India, Kirkland’s strategy prohibits it from mirroring some of its more expansionist rivals.
“We tend not to open offices unless there is a very compelling reason,” says Hertz. “We normally build out our practice before we open an office.”
During the past two years, Kirkland has focused on growing its capabilities in the areas of renewables and focused on building market share in mid-stream oil and gas deals. It has also grown its experience with respect to upstream transactions, an area that will be a continued focus, especially given rising oil price trends, increasing foreign demand for oil and other fuels, and expanding opportunities with respect to shale investments.
Transactionally Kirkland has been riding the energy boom as well as any firm in the market. In a four-week period in late 2010, Kirkland represented NRG Energy in four transactions valued at $3.3bn, kicking off with its agreement to buy Cottonwood Generating Station from Kelson Limited Partnership for $525m. A day later NRG acquired $1.36bn of power-generation assets from an affiliate of Blackstone, conditioned on Blackstone’s consummation of its $4.7bn agreement to take Dynegy private, announced simultaneously. Kirkland then completed NRG’s sale of $1.1bn of high-yield notes and, just days later, the firm negotiated NRG’s purchase of Green Mountain Energy.
Hertz and partner Anthony Danti, both in Washington, DC, led the Cottonwood transaction while the former popped up again with Chicago partner Jerry Nowak and energy trading expert Elaine Walsh in Washington on the Dynegy deal. On the remaining brace of deals the personnel was similar, with Nowak leading the bond offering and Walsh stepping up for the Green Mountain Energy transaction.
Walsh in particular has led Kirkland’s expansion of its energy trading practice. The firm regularly handles coal, petcoke, biofuels and petroleum product supply, offtake and transportation arrangements, helping bolster Kirkland’s secured financing practice within the energy industry.
The top priority sector for Kirkland to grow its capabilities is renewables, reflected in its December 2010 advice to NRG and ConocoPhillips on their $300m joint venture with General Electric to create the energy technology venture capital company Energy Technology Ventures (ETV). Over the next four years ETV is expected to fund around 30 venture and growth-stage companies.
The midstream oil and gas area has also proved a fruitful one for Kirkland, with more than 50 asset sales over the past few years.
David Fox, Steve Freyden, Mitch Hertz, Elaine Walsh
Top three sectors
Oil and gas
Top three geographical regions
Asia (particularly India and China)
The emergence from bankruptcy of Flying J and related M&A transactions
Client: Flying J
Lead partners: Rick Campbell, Mitch Hertz, Alex Catto, Anthony Danti
Formation of first Reits in US electricity and gas transmission sector
Client: Marubeni, TIAA-CREF and OPTrust Private Markets
Lead partners: Mitch Hertz, Rick Campbell, Ted Frankel
Litigation arising from BP’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico
Lead partner:Richard Godfrey