The reputation of Morgan Lewis & Bockius in energy circles has historically lain in its regulatory practice.
Traditionally the firm has focused its practice out of Washington DC and New York. As Houston partner David Asmus points out, that approach has changed significantly recently with a concerted push to target the deals side of the business over the past three years. “Yes, we targeted the energy sector on the transactional side a few years ago, although we’ve always been very strong in regulatory and nuclear,” confirms Asmus.
Early in 2009 Morgan Lewis added two major groups of lawyers, from Baker Botts in Houston (including Asmus) and an energy finance team from Thelen in New York. The firm also beefed up its projects capabilities when it hired Brian Bradshaw, now the co-chair of Morgan Lewis’s Latin America practice and formerly of Fulbright & Jaworski.
The investment in hiring Asmus, who joined along with former engineer and Baker Botts partner Michael King, has already provided a return. Thanks to a longstanding contact with Australian natural resources giant BHP Billiton’s new senior legal manager Justin Stuhldreher, who joined the company from BP early in 2001, Morgan Lewis represented the business on its agreement to acquire all of Chesapeake Energy’s interests in the Fayetteville Shale area. The deal, which included Chesapeake’s midstream pipeline system, totalled $4.75bn.
Morgan Lewis already had an upstream practice out of Houston and had handled a number of significant shale deals prior to the duo’s arrival, but the transactional side of the business has been ramped up courtesy of Asmus in particular.
“Because of the firm’s historically very strong energy regulatory practice, it has deep contacts in the industry,” adds Asmus. “When I joined people knew who they were, and that’s a big plus.”
Morgan Lewis has also embarked on a lateral hiring campaign on the other side of the Atlantic, targeting the energy market. The firm’s UK practice received a significant boost last year when it hired the former general counsel at British Nuclear Fuels (BNF) Sue Quint.
“The firm’s made a strong commitment to focus on energy generally and the practice in London specifically,” says Quint, a veteran of almost 30 years at BNF. “Its focus on the nuclear sector in particular, with 36 nuclear lawyers in DC alone, is unheard of at UK firms.”
Quint also adds that this year’s events in Japan have not dented Morgan Lewis’s willingness to grow its international nuclear practice in response to the increasing global needs for energy with reduced carbon emissions.
“The appetite in the industry’s still there,” confirms Quint.
The firm’s strategic decision – endorsed by managing partner Fran Milone – to put energy squarely at the heart of its sectoral mix is likely to see additional hiring in London and Europe.
“The firm’s made a commitment from the top that this is a strategic priority and that we’re willing to put resources into achieving our goals,” adds Asmus. “When it comes to putting this into action we’re not paying lip service.”
Former energy practice group leader Jay Gutierrez is now focusing his attention on helping the firm raise its profile internationally and as a result is spending an increasingly large proportion of his time in London, a key centre earmarked for growth. DC regulatory partner Kathryn Sutton took over leadership of the group at the start of the firm’s current financial year on 1 October 2010.
Gutierrez is currently leading the firm’s team representing King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (Ka-Care) in designing the legal and regulatory framework for the development of a nuclear power programme in Saudi Arabia.
Elsewhere, Morgan Lewis is representing BG Group in connection with its offshore pre-salt oil and gas infrastructure development in the Santos Basin in Brazil and Tullow Oil on the unitisation and development of Jubilee Field in offshore Ghana.
David Asmus, Brian Bradshaw, William Parish, Sue Quint, Kathryn Sutton
Top three sectors
Top three geographical regions
BHP Billiton’s $4.75bn acquisition of Chesapeake Energy’s Fayetteville Shale stake
Client: BHP Billiton
Lead partners: David Asmus, Michael King
$6bn liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facility in Queensland, Australia
Client: Queensland Curtis LNG Operating Company and other BG Group subsidiaries
Lead partner: David Asmus
EDF Energy’s nuclear site licence application for two power reactors at Hinkley Point C
Client: EDF Energy
Lead partners: Jay Gutierrez, Sue Quint