DALLAS – Rick Witte, former head of public finance for Andrews Kurth Kenyon, and 19 other attorneys from the law firm have joined the nation’s top-rated bond counsel firm Orrick Herrington and Sutcliffe in Texas.
The shift brings six partners, three senior counsel, five counsel and six associates in public finance to Orrick.
The move will make Orrick’s Texas presence the second largest behind its home state of California. In Texas, Andrews Kurth was the third-ranked bond counsel firm in 2017, according to data from Thomson Reuters.
“The addition of this group will propel Orrick into the top ranks of Texas public finance firms, and establish Texas as one of three pillars of our public finance practice,” Orrick’s Public Finance co-chairs Roger Davis and Justin Cooper said in a prepared statement.
“Being a top ranked public finance firm in the three most prolific markets – California, New York and Texas – which together account for about one third of the total national market by dollar amount, distinguishes us from any of our competitors and significantly expands our market presence, experience, knowledge base, capabilities and network of clients and relationships,” the co-chairs said. “It is truly transformational.”
With the move, Orrick will have 16 public finance attorneys in Houston, eight in Austin and one in Dallas.
The group joining Orrick is made up of four partners in Houston, including Witte, Adrian Patterson, James Hernandez and Tanya Fisher. Two partners in a newly opened Orrick office in Austin are Jerry Kyle and Julia Houston. Joining them is Barbara League in Houston. The group also includes senior counsels Bob Collie and Gene Lock in Houston and Jerry Turner in Austin, as well as of counsel Eric Johnson, a Texas state legislator, in Dallas, plus three additional of counsel and six associates.
“We assembled what we thought was a top-notch public finance team,” Witte told The Bond Buyer. “With the team we’ve assembled and opportunities to grow, we will be a very strong force in public finance in Texas.”
Witte, who was with Andrews-Kurth for 17 years, said Orrick’s offer to hire the team coincided with Andrews Kurth’s merger plans with Virginia-based Hunton & Williams but was not the cause of the split. More than 60 of Andrews Kurth’s 220 Houston-based attorneys have left the 115-year-old firm so far, according to various reports.
“Everybody knew the merger talks were going on for six months or more,” said Witte, whose last day at Andrews Kurth was Wednesday. “I don’t have anything negative to say about Andrews Kurth, and I hope the merger turns out well.”
Orrick opened its Houston office in January 2016 with 20 partners, including five specializing in public finance. The Houston office had grown to 44 lawyers before the latest announcement. Other specialties include energy and infrastructure, Latin America, mergers and acquisitions, private equity and litigation.
Todd Brewer is Orrick's vice chair for public finance in Texas. Others joining Orrick's initial public finance team in 2016 were Hoang Vu, Marcus Deitz, Kathryn Garner and J. Kent Friedman.
The announcement brings Witte and Brewer under the same firm for the second time in their careers.
"Rick and I started practicing law in 1986," Brewer said. "We took the bar together. We’ve been friends for 31 years."
The team joining Orrick has acted for many of the top issuers in the state, including the City of Houston, the City of Austin, Harris County, the Harris County Tollway Authority, the Texas Department of Transportation, the Texas State Comptroller’s Office, Texas A&M University, Houston Independent School District and Austin Independent School District, as well as the most active underwriters in the market.
Brewer said the clients will decide whether to follow the attorneys to Orrick or stick with Andrews Kurth.
The shift of attorneys is the largest in recent Texas history. Three years ago, 14 members of the Vinson & Elkins public finance team moved to Bracewell. Unlike Vinson & Elkins, Andrews Kurth plans to remain a player in public finance.
"It's a once in a generational shift," Brewer said. "It has happened in the past but not in the recent past."
Brewer said he expects Orrick to rank in the top four bond counsel firms in Texas by the end of the year. Andrews Kurth was third-ranked by volume in 2017 and first among underwriters counsel.
"Even if we do not add any business, this transaction will propel Orrick into the top four, and probably in the top three within this year," Brewer said.
On Jan. 26, 2017, Andrews Kurth was named as co-counsel to the Clark County Stadium Authority in Nevada in the development of a $1.9 billion, 65,000-seat domed stadium to serve as the future Las Vegas home of the NFL's Oakland Raiders. Houston-based Andrews Kurth partner Mark B. Arnold heads the authority's legal team with co-lead counsel Angela Otto from the Las Vegas office of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck.
In Texas, Andrews Kurth has represented governmental entities in 12 stadium transactions, including the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority in the financing of the Houston Texans’ NRG Stadium, host of last year’s Super Bowl. The firm also advised on the Houston Astros’ Minute Maid Park and the Toyota Center home of the National Basketball Association’s Houston Rockets.
The firm was instrumental in developing tax-exempt and taxable bond financings for the projects, advising the Sports Authority on the issuance of bonds secured by hotel occupancy taxes, car rental taxes, rent payments, onsite sales tax rebate revenues and parking and admissions taxes.