Wachtell well-placed to catch the new energy wave

Later this year will see the publication of the annual The Lawyer Transatlantic Elite, with 2011’s instalment focusing on strategic moves being made by top firms to capture the ­premium end of the energy and natural resources market.

Dan Neff
Dan Neff

Whether it is far-flung mergers or office openings in Houston, energy is topping many firms’ to-do lists. One firm, however, is not changing a thing.

Last week Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz advised one of its most acquisitive energy clients, Chesapeake Energy, on the $4.75bn (£2.92bn) sale of its Fayetteville shale interests. The deal is Chesapeake’s third recent major disposal, following two billion-dollar sales to China National Offshore Oil Corporation late last year. All three featured Wachtell, with a team led by partner David Katz, working ­alongside Oklahoma-based Commercial Law Group and WilmerHale.

With a client base that also includes ­ConocoPhilips, which it advised on the $35bn acquisition of Burlington Resources, and a recent deal list that includes the $4.3bn ­acquisition of Atlas Energy by Chevron, Wachtell is happy to treat this energy boom as business as usual. Do not expect to see it open offices, or even form an energy group, in response though – that is not Wachtell’s style.

Last week The Lawyer went to see Wachtell co-chair Dan Neff, a lawyer who has advised on more than his fair share of energy-related deals, to get his take on current developments.

Neff was apparently unconcerned by the influx of competitors, such as Latham & Watkins, into Houston.

“Houston’s a place where relationships ­matter and we’ve been there for so long,” he maintained. “I’ve been going there for 25 years, and I believe at this stage David [Katz] and I are known quantities.”

Neff confirmed that there has not been any internal reorganisation to capitalise on the increased activity in the sector.

“We don’t have a sector group for anything except financial institutions,” he joked.

But Wachtell has another unique selling point – one that helps it co-counsel with the likes of Baker Botts, its running mate on the recent $7.1bn acquisition by UK offshore drilling business Ensco of US rival Pride (another Katz deal).

“Because we don’t have an office in Houston,” said Neff, “the firms that are headquartered there are often more comfortable working with us than with other firms that have local offices.”