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Latham & Watkins Set to Launch in Austin With Rival Talent (2)

Aug. 26, 2021, 4:56 PM; Updated: Aug. 26, 2021, 7:36 PM

Latham & Watkins is entering the Austin, Texas legal market, launching a new office with partners from rivals including DLA Piper and Wilson, Sonsini, Goodrich & Rosati, according to multiple sources.

Latham is hiring DLA Piper partners Sam Zabaneh and Jenifer Smith and Wilson Sonsini partner Scott Craig in Austin, the sources said. The office will be focused on representing emerging growth companies, clients in the technology and life sciences industries, and venture capital investors. It will also provide private equity and capital markets services.

Latham & Watkins declined to comment.

Austin has become a hot spot for Big Law firms, drawn by the city’s growing crowd of technology and life sciences companies. This year alone law firms including Kirkland & Ellis, Quinn, Emanuel, Urquhart & Sullivan, and O’Melveny & Myers announced Austin office openings, as did Silicon Valley tech firm Gunderson Dettmer.

“Lots of people want to be here, including partners relocating with nationally relevant practices and of course associate talent seeking the best quality of life,” said Austin-based Robert Kinney, president of legal recruiting firm Kinney Recruiting. “If you don’t have a flag in the ground, you’re not in the game. It’s great to see Latham pulling the trigger.”

Latham is the country’s second largest law firm by revenue, hauling in $4.3 billion in 2020, according to the latest AmLaw rankings. The firm’s equity partners earned $4.5 million on average last year.

Latham is viewed as a pioneer in the lucrative Texas legal market, having opened a Houston office in 2010 that is credited as the first to successfully recruit partners from powerhouse local firms.

Houston has since become one of the most competitive markets in the country for legal talent, housing offices from 14 of the 15 largest law firms by revenue. But only four of those firms have an office in Austin, with Kirkland being the most recent among the group to open in the Lone Star State capital.

Austin’s largest law offices by headcount belong to Texas-founded firms Jackson Walker, Baker Botts, and Norton Rose Fulbright. Other large firms with offices in the city include DLA Piper, King & Spalding, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, Vinson & Elkins, Shearman & Sterling, and Wilson Sonsini.

Austin’s growth as a legal market has been driven by technology and life sciences companies entering the city, said Robert Croyle, a Houston-based managing director at legal recruiting firm Major, Lindsey & Africa. The number of law firms now looking to hire in the city are competing for a relatively small pool of lawyers who’ve developed major practices in the areas of venture capital, private equity, technology, and life sciences, he said.

“For Latham, which has strengths in those practice areas that are driving the industry in Austin, it makes sense to make a move like this,” Croyle said. “It’s going to become more and more competitive to get the best lawyers.”

The Austin market is also viewed in Texas as an important recruiting ground for lawyers graduating from nearby University of Texas School of Law. All three of Latham’s incoming partners have degrees from the school.

DLA Piper spokesman Josh Epstein said the firm was thankful for Zabaneh’s and Smith’s contributions to the firm.

“Austin and our entire Texas region remain a critical part of DLA Piper’s US and global footprint and we look forward to continuing to grow these markets while serving our expanding array of Texas-based clients,” he said in a statement.

Wilson Sonsini did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the lawyers’ departures.

—With assistance from Nushin Huq.

(Adds comment from Robert Croyle.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Roy Strom in Chicago at rstrom@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com

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