Willkie Farr & Gallagher has added Jay Hughes, former managing partner of McGuireWoods’ Houston office, as a partner in its mergers and acquisitions practice, the latest lateral in what’s so far been an active hiring year for the New York-founded firm.
Hughes’ practice focuses on public and private M&A as well as energy transactions and financings, specifically in the power and oil and gas industries.
Hughes was named managing partner in charge of McGuireWoods’ Houston office, which opened in Space City in 2011, replacing Thomas Farrell in 2017. Over the years Hughes has worked on a wide array of transactions in the energy sector, involving both fossil fuels and renewables.
He has represented Dominion Energy, Inc. in a series of high-profile M&A transactions, including its $13.4 billion merger with SCANA Corp. in 2018 and it’s $4.4 billion acquisition of Questar Corp. in 2016 that expanded Dominion’s natural gas assets in the western U.S.
Though it was a tough decision for Hughes to leave his colleagues at McGuireWoods, his jump to Willkie comes as clients increasingly move toward different forms of energy like solar, wind, and renewable natural gas.
“It’s really just an opportunity to try to build on the success of Willkie’s elite transactional practice and to add a component there that they’re already building and growing in the power and renewable space,” Hughes said.
Hughes’ experience, particularly in fossil fuels and renewables, will help expand both the firm’s power practice as well as its energy transactions practice, said Michael Piazza, co-managing partner of Willkie’s Houston office and co-head of its energy practice.
Houston has been a key market for expansion by many of the top national firms. In 2005, only four of today’s 15 largest firms had offices in Houston. Now, all but one have operations there, led by lawyers who were formerly partners at firms with Texas roots, like Vinson & Elkins, Baker Botts, and Akin Gump.
These more recent entrants to the Houston market appear well positioned to scoop up some of the work, including bankruptcy matters, that could result from the current economic downturn, which has led to massive drops in the price of oil.
Hughes’ addition is a part of Willkie’s bigger strategy to build out its Houston office, which since it opened five years ago, has focused on private equity transactions both in and out of the energy investment area, said Bruce Herzog, co-managing partner of Willkie’s Houston office.
But, Herzog said, there’s not many lawyers that fit with the type of clients the firm works with. “We’ve been very picky and that’s probably the best strategy that we’ve adopted in the five years that we’ve been in Houston,” he said.
Herzog joined Willkie Farr in 2008 from Vinson & Elkins, where he was the co-chair of its private equity practice group. In 2014, Herzog along with former Bracewell partner Piazza and Angela Olivarez from Jones Day launched Willkie Farr’s Houston office that now has a headcount of approximately 40 lawyers.
Last year the firm added Jay Martin, associate general counsel and chief compliance officer at GE company Baker Hughes, one of the world’s largest oil field services companies. Prior to that, the firm added Cody Carper from Kirkland & Ellis in 2017.
Houston isn’t the only market that is poised for expansion for the firm. In March, Willkie Farr launched its Chicago office with former Jenner & Block chair Craig Martin, as well as five other equity partners from Jenner. Two weeks later, the firm added Jenner IP partner Michael Babbitt to its Windy City ranks.