Haynes and Boone Houston at 25: How to Become a Successful Houston Firm


When Haynes and Boone set up its Houston office on Smith Street across from the old YMCA building in 1990, the founding attorneys quickly realized they faced a daunting hurdle to developing a reputation for high level corporate legal work.

“For the first 15 years if you said you were from Haynes and Boone, everyone assumed it was led by Richard “Racehorse” Haynes,” says Partner Lynne Liberato, who was one of two associates in the office at opening. The famed Houston criminal defense attorney commanded a mammoth profile in the community and was no relation to firm co-founder Dick Haynes of Dallas, who jokingly had taken to calling himself “Plowhorse.” “We had to start erasing that misconception with the great legal work and community involvement that has always been the hallmark of Haynes and Boone.”

In the 25 years since Haynes and Boone opened in Houston strategic expansion, a dogged commitment to community service and a series of high-profile matters have gradually established the firm’s true identity.

“It took time, but they started to say, ‘Oh, that’s a law firm. I’ve heard of you guys,’” says Dallas Partner John Collins, who moved to Houston to set up the office as its first partner-in-charge. “There was also an impression in the legal marketplace that seemed to say, ‘Those Dallas firms come down here and they all wind up leaving.’ We showed them we were different.’”

Today, the Houston Business Journal ranks the Haynes and Boone Houston office as the area’s eighth largest firm with just under 100 lawyers, and as the firm with the largest local bankruptcy practice. The Houston lawyers have also cemented a top reputation within energy, real estate, intellectual property, technology, environmental, business litigation, appeals, labor and employment, tax, corporate securities, mergers and acquisitions, and public and international law.

“The story of our Houston office mirrors the terrific success Haynes and Boone has enjoyed across the state,” says firm Managing Partner Tim Powers. “It is safe to say our lawyers have become an integral part of the Houston legal market. We could not be prouder of the attorneys and staff that have contributed to this quarter of a century of progress.”  

Attracting Talent in a Challenging Environment

The decision to move into the Houston market was not an easy one. In 1990, the Houston economy was in one of its low cycles as energy prices sagged. “We were not going there at the height of any boom,” says Collins.

Haynes and Boone already had extended its reach from its Dallas home base to offices in Fort Worth, Austin and San Antonio. But Houston’s legal marketplace was nothing like those. A couple Dallas law firms had ventured in and stayed. Many others had moved in only to give up and leave.

“But to be a Texas firm, you have got to have a Houston office,” Liberato says. “That was as true back then as it is today.”

Attracting established Houston lawyers was not easy. For Houston Partner John Eldridge and other early arrivers at the office, the unusual Haynes and Boone compensation system, long-term strategic focus and partner investment in the firm made the move enticing.

Eldridge was coming from a firm that he said was mired in in-fighting over compensation based on origination and seniority issues. Eldridge was impressed with Haynes and Boone’s management approach: “Haynes and Boone was very thoughtful in the way it was opening offices and making investments.”  He pointed to the fact that the Haynes and Boone system differs from traditional “eat-what-you-kill” formulas in that it rewards individual and teamwork performance and discourages internal competition for “origination credit.”

Gradually, the positive aspects of those firm attributes reached others. Hiring stepped up as the ‘90s drew to a close. The first office on Smith, which was acquired as part of a merger with a small, native Houston energy-centric law firm, was outgrown and the firm moved into two contiguous floors inside the Wells Fargo Building on Louisiana.

“We had reached critical mass in Houston,” says Eldridge, who was the first environmental lawyer in the office. “We had assembled good people – a core of high-caliber talent that was very dedicated to the firm.”

When Dean Schaner made partner in the Dallas office in 1994, he had been handling numerous labor and employment cases in Houston since 1991. Firm management wanted to establish a labor practice in Houston, so Schaner volunteered to relocate to Houston. There were about 20 lawyers in the office by that year, and Schaner says he found a collaborative environment made up of professionals eager to supply support.

From those beginnings, the labor and employment practice group grew to include three partners and numerous associates. Through extensive business development efforts and involvement in local chambers of commerce, the section helped establish the brand in Houston that lives on today.  

By 1998, the firm had more than 300 lawyers in seven offices, and the Houston office had expanded to four floors. Several of the new arrivals brought with them clients that were among the most prominent in the energy industry – Conoco, DuPont, BP and the El Paso Corporation.

“Hiring moved up as we recruited three, four and five lawyers at a time from other law firms,” Liberato says.

One key group that arrived in 1999 from Butler & Binion and included Buddy Clark, Theresa Einhorn and the late Guy Young. Another, including Lenard Parkins, Steve Buxbaum, Kenric Kattner and others, arrived two years later from Verner Liipfert.

 “We were gaining traction,” Liberato says.

Community Involvement and Big Exxon Matters Propel Growth

The Haynes and Boone Houston profile was enhanced as the lawyers fanned out into the community to volunteer and move up in prominent legal and charitable organizations.

For example in 1992, shortly after making partner, Liberato was elected president of the Houston Bar Association, and president of the State Bar of Texas in 2000. Liberato then directed her community service efforts to become a leader of the United Way of Greater Houston, serving as its board chair in 2005 and in 2013 to become the first practicing lawyer to hold the position of community campaign chair. She also took positions on the boards of the Greater Houston Partnership and U.S. Naval Academy Parents’ Club of the Texas Gulf Coast and on the executive committee of the South Texas College of Law Board of Directors.

Other lawyers followed suit, taking leadership roles in Houston’s most visible religious, legal and charitable organizations.

“It comes down to how committed we are to the Houston community, whether it’s serving the bar or community organizations like United Way and Greater Houston Partnership,” Liberato says. “Involvement with innately Houston organizations enhances relationships. That’s something the firm has always emphasized.”

By the early 2000’s, the ranks of Houston Haynes and Boone lawyers had swelled to more than 80, prompting the move to the office’s current home at 1221 McKinney, the former One Houston Center now known as LyondellBasell Tower.

About the same time, the Houston office became immersed in two “all hands on deck” representations for client Exxon. In the first, Haynes and Boone won a jury trial securing contested insurance coverage from Lloyds of London in connection with the Valdez oil spill in Alaska.

That was followed by pre-merger work reviewing documents to be turned over to the U.S. Department of Justice concerning the joining of Exxon and Mobil.

“For five months, every single lawyer in Houston was working fulltime on that for 18 hours a day,” Eldridge says. “Or they were doing another lawyer’s work so that he or she could be freed up to work on the Exxon deal. It was fun. There was great camaraderie.”

Those kinds of matters helped propel Haynes and Boone Houston into the daily conversations among the city’s top corporate legal departments.

“One of the most satisfying changes I’ve noticed over the years is that when I introduce myself now to others, and tell them I’m with Haynes and Boone, they say, ‘Oh yeah – great firm!’’ says Marc Folladori, who moved from the firm’s Dallas office to join Houston in 1991. “We have instant name recognition now. Their standard response in the early 1990’s had been ‘Who’s that?’ Plus, the Houston office is perceived as a genuine Houston law firm with roots in the Houston community, not as a Dallas firm’s Houston office – which is incredibly important if you want to succeed in Houston.”

Top-Shelf Work Continues to Power Houston Office

Over the last ten years, the Houston office has consistently made news for significant work handled, as well as for the character of its lawyers.

  • Its appellate lawyers have been in the forefront of the legal effort to force the State of Texas to adequately fund the state’s public schools.
  • On the deal side, Houston energy finance lawyers have participated in some of the largest transactions in the marketplace. They include representing the arranger and administrative agent in connection with the upsized five-year $500 million senior credit facility for an exploration and production company, and, for another, securing a $1 billion senior secured credit facility with an initial borrowing base of $500 million.          
  • Houston-based lawyers took a lead role in securing for BP Exploration and Production a take-nothing summary judgment in a False Claims Act suit in which the plaintiff sought $266 billion.
  • Office litigators continue to serve as trusted advocates for Halliburton. In addition to intellectual property and transactional matters, they recently were involved in two high-stakes trade secrets battles – one a trial in state court and another a multi-week arbitration– which both resulted in a complete win.
  • Haynes and Boone Houston attorneys have taken a leading role helping the City of Houston defend its equal rights ordinance

Houston office lawyers have been singled out for recognition by the Houston Bar Association as an Equal Access to Justice Champion for their continued support through the Houston Volunteer Lawyers Program.

The Houston Multi-Bar Diversity Committee’s Law Firm Diversity Report Card ranked Haynes and Boone No. 1 in Houston, with a rating of A+, giving it a composite score of 101 -- 10 points higher than the second-ranked firm.

And Houston Partner Matt Deffebach drew national praise and attention for the selfless act of donating one of his kidneys to the son of a longtime Haynes and Boone Dallas staffer. After learning that the Dallas man was in dire need of a kidney, Deffebach decided he would do some medical testing to see if he might be a good kidney donor. As it turned out, Deffebach’s kidney was a good match, so he agreed to donate his kidney.

With a legal and community service platform now grounded in the Houston community, Haynes and Boone lawyers look to the next 25 years with their feet planted on a firm foundation.

“We will continue to grow, but it will be more measured,” says Liberato. “And, as always, the growth will be strategically-based to serve the needs of clients.”

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