White & Case has a long and illustrious history, but although during 2011 the ship has been steadied, 2010 was a year its energy practice would prefer to forget.
After a mass exodus of partners from its Middle East network to Latham & Watkins – a firm that also had its eye on one of White & Case’s biggest clients, Saudi Aramco – the firm has been rebuilding its depleted team.
And rebuild it has. The firm has a wide network of offices at its disposal and a culture among partners of being prepared to go where the work takes them. This has paved the way for a series of redeployments to the Middle East, as well as a smattering of lateral hires.
Global head of energy, infrastructure and project finance Art Scavone says: “We sat back as a firm and said, ’we have to replace some people’, and so we looked at our existing network. One of the advantages we have is that a number of people in the firm have spent some time overseas. We have that mentality in the firm that we pick things up and go places.”
One example is Canadian-trained finance partner Doug Peel, who has been redeployed to White & Case’s Abu Dhabi office after heading the Singapore office for a number of years and also working in London.
Other new arrivals in Abu Dhabi include finance partner Saul Daniels from London, lateral hire Shibeer Ahmed from Baker Botts – a banking lawyer with expertise in Islamic finance – and partner Margaret Cole, who rejoined White & Case after a stint as general counsel of Babcock & Brown in Australia.
Transactional partner Ken Ellis was redeployed to Doha after many years spread between Miami and the firm’s Asian network. And the Riyadh office was bolstered by the lateral hire of Dr Waleed Al-Nuwaiser, who joined as office head.
But among all the comings and goings, Scavone is adamant the firm has not lost any business, including Saudi Aramco.
“Within a year we have more people in the Middle East and have a stronger skill set in the region, and we did not lose business at all,” he says. “Our relationships are deeper and go back much further in time than a lot of our competitors. I cannot speak towards Latham & Watkins’ motivations, but if their motivation was to capture some of the Saudi Aramco work, I don’t think they’ve been successful.”
White & Case has also been pushing a programme of internal promotion and lateral hiring to boost its US and London project finance bases, including the hire in April of Caroline Miller Smith from Linklaters, who focuses on PPPs and PFIs.
The firm is also among dozens of international players eyeing Asia and Houston as two areas of exciting energy potential and possible future expansion.
As Scavone says: “We’ve watched Simpson and Latham open in Houston recently, and we’re always looking at Houston. People are talking about shale gas and calling it a game-changer in midstream, upstream and downstream. But we need to do it right or it will be a disaster.”
Scavone has also travelled to Hong Kong recently to discuss new opportunities and developments within the firm’s Asian network, including new hires in Singapore and a new focus on resource-rich Thailand and Malaysia.
“Where we really want to grow is Asia, and we’re looking at our China strategy and our South East Asia strategy as a whole,” he confirms.
Another focus for the firm is its newly established global renewable power initiative, led by Washington partner Donna Attanasio, which includes a core team from five offices on three continents.
Scavone argues that the firm’s geographic reach gives it a head-start in the burgeoning renewables market.
“It’s an initiative that reflects how global we are,” he states. “We already have a big renewables business out of Europe and the Middle East and in the US our clients are really looking seriously at offshore wind.”