Biglaw, john quinn, Lateral Moves, Law Firm Mergers, Litigators, Musical Chairs, Partner Issues, Small Law Firms, Texas, William Burck

Musical Chairs: Another Entrant Into The Houston Market

The average high temperature for Houston in July is a scorching 94 degrees. It’s one hot legal market.

Figuratively as well as literally. Back in April, for example, we talked about Kirkland & Ellis opening a Houston office — and prying away partners with $5 million pay packages. You don’t need to be a high-powered partner to get in on the fun; even junior to midlevel associates are getting offered signing bonuses when they lateral.

And this hot market is only getting hotter. Who’s the latest major law firm to land in Space City?

The Houston activity we’ve reported on recently has been on the transactional side. But now a litigation powerhouse is hiring in H-Town, as reported by Legal Week:

Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan is set to launch a Houston office with the hire of a team from specialist litigation boutique Gerger & Clarke.

David Gerger, one of the firm’s founders, is to take the position of managing partner with colleague Shaun Clarke joining Quinn Emanuel as special counsel.

The office will also see the addition of David Isaak, Dane Ball and Samy Khail from Gerger & Clarke, all as of counsel.

The headline of the Legal Week piece, “Quinn Emanuel launches Houston office with raid on litigation boutique,” is a bit odd. This isn’t a talent raid, like what Kirkland did to Simpson Thacher in Houston; it’s more of an acquisition or absorption of a boutique by a Biglaw firm. If you look at the attorney roster on the Gerger & Clarke website, you’ll see that QE is basically picking up the entire firm — both name partners and three out of five other lawyers.

Why is Quinn Emanuel entering Houston? Here’s what managing partner John Quinn had to say: “Houston is a booming market. As an international litigation firm we felt we needed a presence there. However, we wanted to make sure we had the right focus and the right people. We found that in David and his team.”

Interestingly enough, other litigators had nice things to say about the news. For example, legendary litigator Joe Jamail had this comment: “Quinn Emmanuel will be a great addition to the legal profession in Texas. I have known John Quinn for a number of years. He is an excellent lawyer, dedicated to representing clients vigorously and ethically. They chose David Gerger, the best possible person to lead their office here. David is a great lawyer who is totally devoted to his clients. If I wanted someone to lead a major case, I’d pick David.”

Here’s a more colorful quote, from star lawyer (and blogger) David Oskar Markus, who has tried cases with Gerger: “This is like the San Antonio Spurs signing Lebron James. Gerger is a combination of Atticus Finch, Clarence Darrow, and Ed Williams.”

Gerger is a well-liked litigator, so it’s not surprising that people have nice things to say. The Houston Chronicle describes him as “the gentlemanly, classical guitar-playing white-collar defense lawyer who represented Andy Fastow in the Enron case and Robert Kaluza in the BP criminal cases.”

We reached out to some ATL sources in Houston to solicit their views. Here’s what one tipster told us:

It’s not surprising that Quinn had its eyes on the Texas legal market and that it picked one of the premier specialty boutiques in Houston to make its splash. David Gerger and Shaun Clarke’s reputations speak for themselves, but bringing in all three of Gerger & Clarke’s associates as “of counsel” speaks to the overall quality of talent Quinn just acquired. It remains to be seen how fast the office will expand, and whether heavyweights like Latham and Kirkland decide to expand their new Houston offices to include litigation in the coming year to compete with Quinn for some of Houston’s marquee clients.

And here are some thoughts from a second source:

I think it’s a smart move. Houston is increasingly becoming a legal center of gravity and it makes sense from a business development and talent recruitment perspective due to the economic realities driving businesses to Texas. Gerger is a heavy hitter in the Houston white collar scene, too. So it’s a splashy and aggressive move.

Rumor has it that Quinn’s looking to expand further into the commercial lit sphere in Houston by absorbing another boutique — very preliminary.

We’ll keep you posted. Congratulations to David Gerger and Shaun Clarke on their move to Quinn Emanuel, and congratulations to Quinn Emanuel on landing such top talent for its Houston outpost.

(Flip to the next page for the Quinn Emanuel press release, featuring comments from John Quinn and from Bill Burck, chair of QE’s white collar group in Washington.)

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