Houston calling: Steptoe opens office as Baker McKenzie hires four-partner disputes team

Lure of energy transition boom sees Steptoe absorb an energy boutique while Bakers has raided Eversheds Sutherland

Steptoe and Baker McKenzie have both completed strategic moves in Houston, Steptoe opening an office in the global energy hub as Bakers secures a four-partner litigation team from Eversheds Sutherland.

Washington DC-headquartered Steptoe is entering Houston via a tie-up with Texas trial boutique Smyser Kaplan & Veselka (SKV). The agreement will add 40 lawyers and business services team members to Steptoe and will help strengthen its Texas coverage in the energy and transportation industries, as well as tap into the state’s thriving IP and insurance litigation markets. 

For SKV, the move will broaden its reach across the US and internationally, opening up the opportunity for major investigations and litigation outside of Texas. 

In contrast to Steptoe, Bakers has had a base in Houston for more than 25 years. Joining its ranks are four longstanding Eversheds Sutherland partners and a counsel.

The team is led by David Baay, who was partner-in-charge Eversheds Sutherland’s Houston office and head of its energy litigation team, according to his LinkedIn profile. Moving across with him are former Eversheds partners Jack Massey, Ian Shelton and Matt Rawlinson while counsel Kelsey Machado is joining as a partner.

The team advises clients on commercial disputes and investigations, particularly in the energy sector. 

Michelle Hartmann, managing partner of Bakers’ Texas offices, said: “As the global energy capital of the world, Houston is the key market for investment and opportunity, particularly as energy transition continues to take centre stage.”

An Eversheds spokesperson said: “At Eversheds Sutherland, our commitment to delivering exceptional legal services to our many long term clients in Houston and greater Texas will not change. We wish our colleagues well in their new endeavour.”

Steptoe’s new Houston office, meanwhile, is its sixth in the US and promises to add further heft to its highly rated energy litigation and regulation practices. It will be led by Jarod Stewart, who had been with SKV since 2009, becoming a partner in 2015.

SKV was founded in 1995 and focuses on trial work, arbitrations and appeals.

Founding partner Craig Smyser said: “We have been approached by many other national and international firms in the past and have declined their offers every time. Steptoe is different. With its focus on litigation, including civil, regulatory and white-collar work, we believe Steptoe’s practice and clients align well with our own.”

Gwen Renigar, Steptoe’s chair, added: “SKV has a world-class reputation as a trial powerhouse in both the Texas market and the rest of the country. I have admired the firm and its lawyers from my days as a law clerk in the Southern District of Texas, and my admiration has only grown over the years.”

Bulking up energy transition capability is a priority for a number of firms in the wake of the introduction of the President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act which provides billions of dollars in tax credits to promote renewable energy.

Earlier this month, Willkie Farr & Gallagher bolstered its energy team in Houston with the hire of partner Sarah McLean, who was joint head of Shearman & Sterling’s US energy industry group. 

In June last year, UK Magic Circle firm Clifford Chance launched in Houston when it added seven partners from rivals including Latham & Watkins.

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