Clifford Chance targets energy work with Houston launch

Magic Circle firm to add seven partners from rivals including two from Latham & Watkins to open third US office

UK law firm Clifford Chance (CC) is set to open an office in Houston focused on energy work with a ten-partner team, including seven lateral hires from rival firms. 

A pair of partners from Latham & Watkins - Jonathan Castelan and Trevor Lavelle - are the only confirmed hires for the new office, but five more lateral partner hires are promised.

Castelan focuses on acquisitions, divestitures and strategic joint ventures involving upstream and midstream energy assets, while Lavelle is a capital markets lawyer with experience in financing transactions across the energy industry.

The move hands CC its third base in the US, where the firm already has more than 300 lawyers across New York and Washington DC. Like its international magic circle rivals - namely Allen & Overy (A&O), Linklaters and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer - CC views growth in the States as a key priority and news of its Houston launch comes just a few weeks after it emerged that A&O is planning to significantly boost its US presence through a merger with New York firm Shearman & Sterling.

CC’s global managing partner, Charles Adams, said the Houston launch was the result of “an extended period of planning to ensure we identified a strong cohort of talented partners.

“Expanding our global energy offering in Houston, the world's leading energy hub, reflects our strategy to build out our capability in geographies and sectors critical to our clients' future growth. Energy transition is a priority for our clients and our depth of knowledge across technologies and jurisdictions in this sector positions Clifford Chance to add real value to businesses pursuing a sustainable path," he added. 

CC will also relocate a trio of current partners to Houston, including New York-based Devika Kornbacher, co-head of the firm’s global tech group, and tax equity partner Alexander Leff, who joined the energy & infrastructure practice last year from New York firm Sive Paget & Riesel. Energy partner Anthony Giustini will relocate from Paris.

CC declined to confirm the names of the other partners joining the new office but said the team would provide on-the-ground support to clients across traditional and renewable energy matters including carbon capture and trading, clean hydrogen, digital infrastructure and infratech, energy infrastructure, batteries, new nuclear and renewables. The team's practice areas cover M&A/corporate, project finance and development, regulatory, tax equity, leveraged financing, litigation, restructuring, capital markets and private equity/funds activity. 

For his part Castelan led teams advising ExxonMobil and Chevron on carbon capture transactions during his time at Latham, which he joined in 2019 from Kirkland & Ellis’ Houston office. 

Meantime Lavelle’s practice covers financing transactions across the energy industry. Noted by Chambers for his expertise in high-yield debt matters, he joined Latham in 2012 from Vinson & Elkins and made partner at the firm in 2020. 

Their arrival bolsters CC’s 300-plus lawyer global energy and infrastructure team, which in the US has been advising the Department of Energy on several transactions supporting energy transition projects in hydrogen, EV batteries and critical minerals.

CC’s Houston launch sees it become the only magic circle firm to have an office in the city. A&O’s planned merger with Shearman would also see it gain a base there, Shearman having opened in Houston back in 2018. 

CC said it expected to grow its Houston office further “in the coming months”. 

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