Epstein Becker Green Wickliff & Hall's Dallas and Houston Offices: A Growing Texas Presence

Friday, September 1, 2006 - 01:00

Editor: Would each of you tell our readers something about your professional experience?

Crain: I spent the first 10 years of my career at two wonderful companies, Trailways and Schering-Plough, where I handled labor and employment matters and managed outside counsel. I joined Epstein Becker & Green in 1985, when the firm decided to enter the Texas market with a Dallas office.

I am a trial lawyer, and my practice is primarily in the labor and employment law area, although I do healthcare litigation work as well.

Wickliff: I started practicing law in 1975 with the Houston office of Fulbright & Jaworski. I was primarily a labor lawyer representing management, and by the late 70s I was heavily engaged in employment litigation. After several years with another firm in Houston, I began my own firm, Wickliff & Hall, which represented management in the labor and employment area, as well as commercial litigation. We grew from two lawyers to 31 and had offices in Houston, Austin and San Antonio. On June 1, 2002 EBG acquired us, and we became the firm's Houston office. That office now has 20 lawyers.

Editor: Would you share with us the thinking behind the firm's desire to have, and then expand, a presence in Texas?

Crain: The Dallas office was the first step in entering what was perceived as a major legal market. It was anticipated that the office would grow to practice throughout the region and, in fact, until we acquired Marty's firm, the Dallas office covered the entire state of Texas and handled a wide range of matters in Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Colorado and New Mexico as well. Today, the Dallas office has a complement of 14 lawyers.

Wickliff: While I was not privy to the firm's process of establishing a presence in Houston, I believe there was an interest in providing some depth to the practice already underway in Dallas. Texas is a pretty big place, and many firms have found it easier to cover the northern part of the state, as well as adjoining states, from Dallas, while serving points south of Dallas from Houston. The Houston office also represents clients in Louisiana, Colorado and New Mexico.

Crain: It is also the case that many Houston-based clients wish to deal with Houston lawyers. On many occasions prior to Marty's arrival at EBG, he and his firm were our competition. We came to the conclusion that bringing Marty and Alton Hall into the firm would give us the Houston presence that we thought we should have. It was a great strategic move on the part of the firm.

Editor: What are the practice groups that are represented in the two offices?

Wickliff: The firm has five core practices - labor and employment, healthcare and life sciences, business law, litigation and real estate. The Houston office now offers a corporate securities capability, as well as immigration and real estate. We have also added an international trade practice, with a partner and an associate handling customs, import and export, and trade regulation work for companies all over the country. This is an important and growing area for us as an increasing number of clients enter the global economy and seek guidance with respect to the regulatory framework that governs imports into and exports from the United States.

Crain: In Dallas, we currently have labor and employment, immigration, business law and litigation, and we will have a real estate practice by 2007. We also handle a considerable volume of healthcare litigation.

Editor: Is there sharing of expertise among the different offices?

Crain: This is very much a part of the firm's culture. The Dallas office does not have a real estate practice as yet, so we call upon the Houston office on an ongoing basis. We are also in the process of introducing the Houston office's international trade capabilities to the clients for which our office has primary responsibility. This is a two-way street. Our office is on call to support the Houston office, in addition to all of the other offices across the firm.

Wickliff: It is a real benefit to be able to call upon resources residing in different places. I may have a case in Dallas, and I have the ability to utilize a Dallas-based staff, rather than one in Houston. I also have the choice of turning the entire matter over to the Dallas office.

Where we require an expertise that does not reside in our office, or where we need more resources or a larger pool of personnel, we are able to draw upon 10 other offices across the country. To that we can add the resources that our affiliations with firms in a number of countries in Europe, Latin America and East Asia represent. There is a clear recognition among our lawyers that helping each other is helping the firm as a whole.

Crain: We are governed by one board of directors and committees that extend across the firm. Marty is currently a member of the board, and I have served in the past. We can both verify that the one-firm concept permeates all of our offices.

Editor: How does each office fit into the community and civic life of the city where it is located?

Wickliff: We encourage our people to participate in civic, community and bar association activities, and almost all of them do. Pro bono work is important to the firm, and, in addition, a great many of our lawyers serve on the governing boards of charitable, educational and other non-profit organizations. I believe that the profession has an obligation to give back, in a meaningful way, to the communities in which we conduct our activities, and I am very glad to say that Epstein Becker is very supportive of these efforts. EBG also has a very strong, long-standing commitment to diversity, and whether it's through our national Diversity Committee, the EBG Women's Initiative, or our daily hiring practices, we remain dedicated to ensuring that this belief is supported by our actions.

Editor: What are the growth areas anticipated for each of the Texas offices?

Crain: In Dallas we are looking to strengthen our business law transactional group. This is a strong practice already, but we believe that an enhanced group will be able to grow significantly. I have indicated that we wish to develop a real estate capability in light of the dynamic growth underway in the Dallas real estate market. We anticipate continued growth in our labor and employment, commercial litigation and immigration practices - the latter has doubled in size just this year - and we continue our search for more healthcare lawyers.

Wickliff: Epstein Becker's reputation has derived from its excellence in healthcare and labor and employment law over a 30-year period. More recently, the firm has developed strengths in a variety of other areas, including corporate securities, litigation and real estate. We are now engaged in very sophisticated work on planned communities and mixed-use development issues all around the country, for example. As the firm has become more diverse in its areas of focus, the individual offices - Houston among them - have developed capabilities across a whole range of services, and this permits our clients to have all of their needs met under one roof.

Editor: How do you go about a growth strategy? Organic growth from within? Acquisitions and lateral hires?

Crain: Both. We hire recent graduates and we bring in laterals at all levels of the firm. We do extremely well in both of these efforts. With respect to young lawyers who join us at the start of their careers, we provide the kind of support that permits them to develop their expertise and build a client base. The firm is very entrepreneurial, and that is attractive to many young lawyers just starting out. It is also important to more seasoned lawyers, those with a good reputation and substantial client relationships. On both counts, we have done well. Our growth strategy depends on continuing to attract the very best people we can from each of these constituencies.

Editor: What are the selling points that you use when trying to bring someone into the fold?

Crain: Law students and recent graduates constitute a different audience from mature practitioners with years of experience, so what we say to each group differs somewhat. Nevertheless, to both of them we present ourselves as a national platform that really works. Many national firms make that claim, but Epstein Becker has a genuine commitment to cross-selling among its lawyers and to leveraging the resources of each office to benefit the others. This is a single firm that resides in 11 different locations, and each of its offices is available to support the efforts of the others. In our experience, that is a message that resonates with both the summer associate and the veteran practitioner.

Wickliff: I cannot stress enough the entrepreneurial personality of the firm in our recruiting efforts. If someone is talking to us about joining the firm, and they are creative, energetic, hardworking and desiring of a workplace environment that permits them to develop a real expertise in some area, we take notice. Our partners are all business owners, and we understand that the equation calls for each of us to help one another in their business development and client relationship plans, and to be helped by others in turn. If that equation is understood, we are usually anxious to have the person on board. And, by the same token, he or she is usually very interested in being on board. As Gayla indicates, we handle this particular discussion very well.

Editor: What about the future? Where would you like each of these offices to be in, say, five years?

Wickliff: In Houston, we would like the office to possess in-depth capabilities in each of the firm's five core areas. That means having the critical mass necessary to meet our clients' needs in those areas. If the last few years are any indication of how this process is developing, I think we can look forward with a great deal of confidence to where we will be in five years.

Crain: Everything that Marty has said with respect to Houston applies to Dallas. We look forward to the future with great optimism.

Please email the interviewees at gcrain@ebglaw.com or mwickliff@ebglaw.com with questions about this interview.