Of all The Lawyer’s Sweet Sixteen firms it is Latham & Watkins that has made the most explicit push into tapping the global energy transactional market recently.
The firm’s entry into the Houston market last year, with partners such as Mike Darden, Michael Dillard and Bill Finnegan from local heavyweights Baker Botts, Akin Gump and Vinson & Elkins respectively, confirmed its appetite for strengthening an already impressive energy practice.
“No question, Latham prised some quality people away,” admits one rival. “It was really a surprise to the major players. Nobody had succeeded in doing it before and people hadn’t felt the pull to other firms until recently. Now the energy sector is becoming increasingly international and there’s clearly a benefit to having strength in capital markets and finance around the globe.”
Even rivals would find it hard to doubt that Latham ticks that box, particularly after its stunning raid last year on White & Case, which gifted it partners such as Glen Ireland, Craig Nethercott and Mohammed Al-Sheikh, supercharging its presence in Saudi Arabia and helping with its downstream expertise in the Middle East.
The hire of Ireland beefed up Latham’s coverage of the metals and mining sector, previously one of the weaker parts of the firm’s practice, while the Houston office provides a handy cornerstone to the nexus of the US, London and the Middle East.
Indeed, the hires have been seen in the market as an explicit play by Latham to entice away Saudi Aramco from the clutches of its rival – a move that, thanks to some significant damage limitation efforts by White & Case, appears to have so far failed.
But there is no denying that Latham’s energy push has had its successes. Consider the firm’s representation of NYSE-listed energy company Questar Corporation on the $5bn spin-off of its exploration and production units, resulting in the creation of QEP Resources. A Latham team from multiple offices and three practice areas led by Dillard and Darden in Houston handled the deal, which was structured as a pro rata dividend of the common stock of QEP.
Questar general counsel Tom Jepperson is understood to have considered both Baker Botts and Vinson & Elkins for the deal, but plumped for Latham because of its multidisciplinary experience and ability to reach out to other jurisdictions and practices.
Further afield, Latham partner Bill Voge led the firm’s team acting as international counsel to the financiers, including six credit export agencies and 17 commercial banks, in connection with the $14bn financing of the Papua New Guinea LNG project.
Latham’s Houston move made sense in terms of bolstering an already strong energy practice that includes the likes of Chevron, ExxonMobil and Marubeni, plus on the financial institutions and investment funds side, Energy Capital Partners, Global Infrastructure Partners, Macquarie Capital and Riverstone Holdings.
During 2010 alone the office grew from one to 37 attorneys (11 partners, two counsel and 24 associates) and advised on more than 30 oil and gas M&A transactions valued at more than $35bn. The office has also advised on 20 debt and equity offerings that raised more than $11bn on the capital markets, 17 bank finance deals and 18 transactions involving master limited partnerships.
The firm has also made the Middle East key in recent years, at one point opening three offices simultaneously, in Doha, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and launching in Saudi Arabia through an association.
With the firm’s focus on Houston and the Middle East it is understandable that its main target sector is oil and gas.
High prices for oil coupled with competition for international exploration and production drove Latham to launch a number of industry groups last year, including one aimed at the oil and gas sector.
Power and renewables are the firm’s other key areas.
Bill Voge, Michael Dillard, Michael Darden,
Jose Luis Blanco, Glen Ireland, Craig Nethercott
Top three sectors
Oil and gas
Top three geographical regions
Middle East and North Africa
Asia (notably China, India and Indonesia)
Repsol’s $17.8bn strategic alliance with Sinopec, Repsol Brasil
Lead partner: Jose Luis Blanco
Papua New Guinea $16.7bn LNG project
Client: The financiers, on $14bn debt finance
Lead partner: Bill Voge
Questar Corporation’s $5bn sale of its E&P units
Client: Questar Corporation
Lead partners:Michael Dillard, Michael Darden