Latham & Watkins eyes bustling Texas legal market with Austin office launch

Los Angeles-based firm is the latest player to launch in the Lone Star State's emerging tech and life sciences hub this year


Latham & Watkins has hired a three-partner team from DLA Piper and Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati to spearhead the launch of its new office in Austin, its second base in Texas. 

The team is made up of partners Samer Zabaneh and Jenifer Smith from DLA Piper and Scott Craig from Wilson Sonsini. The trio will join the firm’s emerging companies practice, with Zabaneh set to take on the role of managing partner for the Austin office. 

The Los Angeles-headquartered firm said the office will focus on representing emerging growth companies, clients in the technology and life science industries, and venture capital investors in Texas and nationally. 

Zabaneh, Smith and Craig bring with them a wealth of experience advising public and private companies as well as sponsors in high-growth industries on a range of M&A, IPOs and other securities offerings, growth equity and debt transactions, and leveraged buyouts. Zabaneh spent nearly two decades practicing at DLA Piper in Austin, while Craig joins Latham following a 15-year stint at Wilson Sonsini, including four years as a partner. 

Additional firm partners with ‘strong ties’ to Texas are expected to either permanently relocate to Austin or spend significant time in its Austin office, the firm added. 

Rich Trobman, Latham’s chair and managing partner, said the firm’s choice to open its doors in Austin reflects the city’s emerging status as a major hub for startups, corporates, and private equity. 

“For key growth industries that are driving the global economy, Austin is an increasingly important market and represents a key milestone in the growth of our corporate practice,” he said. 

Latham lays claim to being one of the first big law firms to enter the lucrative Texas legal market when it opened its doors in Houston back in 2010 with a group of partners from Vinson & Elkins, Baker Botts and Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld. It is often credited as being one of the first major players to successfully hire away top talent from local Texas powerhouse firms. 

But Austin stole the spotlight from Houston this year, with a handful of firms including Kirkland & Ellis, O’Melveny & Myers and Silicon Valley firm Gunderson Dettmer Stough Villeneuve Franklin & Hachigian choosing to expand their footholds by opening offices in the state capital. 

O’Melveny wasted no time opening a second Texas location when it hired a restructuring team from Norton Rose Fulbright to launch in Dallas just a month after touching down in Austin back in June.

“Austin has grown exponentially in recent years and the opportunity for future growth is immense,” Zabeneh commented. “It’s an exciting time to be in Austin and an exciting time to join Latham, and we look forward to contributing to the firm’s continued success in this strategically important market.”

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