Pillsbury Winthrop

A glance at the revenue per lawyer (RPL) rankings will tell you that, firmwide, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman is not among the global elite.


David Crichlow
David Crichlow

Compare its $855,000 RPL ­figure with any of The Lawyer’s Sweet Sixteen’s. And while it’s true that 2010 was a record year for the firm financially, with average profit per equity partner breaking through the million-dollar mark for the first time to reach $1.05m, this is a way off the market’s most ­profitable firms.

But when it comes to the ­international energy market, and in particular the nuclear sector, Pillsbury is among the leaders. Only Morgan Lewis & Bockius can seriously claim to rival its ­expertise in the nuclear sector. Indeed, most Pillsbury partners would probably boast about the firm’s “foresight” in making ­energy one of its core industry sectors.

The firm’s links to the oil and gas market can be traced back more than 100 years to the early days of its relationship with Standard Oil (now Chevron), its largest client. Yet these days Pillsbury is best known for its alternative energy practice, in particular its ­nuclear practice. It established the US’s first nuclear energy law practice in 1960, and has been advising in the renewable and clean technology sector for more than 30 years.

Last year nuclear projects team head George Borovas ­relocated from Washington DC to London to act as a focus for the firm’s international practice outside of the US. The move is a reflection both of Pillsbury’s ­desire to grow its stop-start London office off a core of ­technology, financial services and energy, and its ambition to be at the forefront of developments in the nuclear sector in the UK and Europe.

Among Pillsbury’s strengths is its depth of experience in a broad range of energy matters, ranging from Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ­approvals, litigation and ­government investigations and the full gamut of commercial advisory roles. The firm’s lack of clout in public M&A circles, however, was underlined when Chevron general counsel Hew Pate plumped for Skadden to advise Pillsbury’s number one client on its $4.3bn acquisition of Atlas Energy.

As David Chrichlow, ­Pillsbury’s litigation partner for Chevron, puts it: “These days, every law firm must ­compete every day for its clients’ work. We’d have liked the ­engagement, but as a key client, Chevron still keeps us busy, ­particularly on environmental litigation, corporate, tax, and labour and employment matters. Several firms, ­including Skadden, compete with us for Chevron work.”

While Pillsbury’s US market coverage is significant on both coasts and in the Gulf of ­Mexico, it is making significant attempts to broaden its ­international practice. The firm is on course to open an office in Abu Dhabi in late 2011 to ­support its global energy ­practice, its Middle East energy clients and non-Middle East energy and ­financial services clients with offices in the ­region.

The firm’s capabilities in this area, coupled with its well-known nuclear strengths, were on display in the United Arab Emirates where it advised on the development of its nuclear regulatory regime. In the first two stages of this project, ­Pillsbury helped create an ­electric power generation ­company, Emirates Nuclear ­Energy Corporation (Enec) and negotiated on Enec’s behalf an agreement with Korea Electric Power Corporation (Kepco) to design, build and help operate four 1,400MW civil nuclear power plants at the cost of ­approximately $20bn, the world’s largest nuclear power deal ever announced for a turnkey nuclear plant project and the first in an Arab country.

Pillsbury is also targeting Malaysia and Korea in the wake of Japan’s devastating ­earthquake and tsunami in the belief that emerging Asian countries such as these will be getting increasingly more ­involved in domestic and ­international energy projects as both their economies and their technological capabilities ­continue to advance.

Pillsbury is also focusing on ­central and eastern Europe, in particular Romania and the Czech Republic.

Star partners

George Borovas, John O’Neill, Jay Silberg, Jane Stein, David Lewis

Top three sectors

Electricity/power

Natural gas

Nuclear

Top three geographical regions

The US

Malaysia/Korea

Central and Eastern Europe

Top deals/projects

United Arab Emirates’ $20bn nuclear power programme

Client: United Arab Emirates

Lead partners:George Borovas, Chuck Peterson

Golden Pass LNG terminal and pipeline project

Client: Golden Pass consortium (Qatar Petroleum, ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips)

Lead partner: John Mauel

Atlantic Wind Connection $5bn underwater transmission line

Client: Marubeni Corporation

Lead partner: Jane Stein