Legal Industry

Vinson & Elkins elects new leaders as firm eyes tech-fueled Texas growth

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Buildings in downtown Houston reflect the light of a setting sun.REUTERS/Mike Blake

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(Reuters) - Vinson & Elkins has elected Keith Fullenweider as chair and Jim Fox, Michael Holmes and Hilary Preston as vice chairs, shaking up the Houston-based firm's leadership structure as it prepares for an influx of opportunities from tech companies moving to Texas.

The four-partner executive committee takes over Jan. 1, after current chairman Mark Kelly and managing partner Scott Wulfe finish out their 10-year terms. The bigger team reflects Vinson & Elkins' growth and allows the four partners to continue to practice law while co-leading the firm, Fullenweider said Tuesday.

Fullenweider is co-head of Vinson & Elkins corporate department and is based in Houston. Fox represents private equity clients like Apollo Global Management Inc and is co-managing partner of the firm's New York office.

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Preston is based in New York and Austin, chairs the intellectual property and technology litigation practice, and has a client list that includes the National Basketball Association and the National Football League. Dallas-based Holmes co-heads the commercial litigation practice.

By the time those four take the reins, Kelly and Wulfe may have sorted out one of the pressing issues Vinson & Elkins, like all large law firms, now faces: how to bring employees back to the office as the coronavirus pandemic subsides in the United States. The firm's offices are already open but there isn't a set plan for returning to them, Fullenweider said.

Even if a plan is in place by 2022, the pandemic will leave the new team with plenty other work.

A slowdown in travel hit Vinson & Elkins' oil and gas clients in 2020 and the firm reported a year-over-year revenue decline, according to data from The American Lawyer. At the same time, a shift toward remote work prompted a flood of tech companies and workers to move from California to Texas.

Fullenweider said Vinson & Elkins has long had a team focused on renewable energy work, which it has grown this year. The Biden administration has vowed to expand development of renewable energy projects on public lands.

Vinson & Elkins has handled tech industry litigation and transactions, but Preston said the firm sees "increased opportunities" in the space now. Tech giants including Oracle Corp and Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co have moved operations to Texas since 2020.

"The influx of companies from California to Austin is just amazing. ... It's a great time to be here and a great time to have our team ready to take advantage of some of those opportunities," Preston said.

Real estate and infrastructure are also areas of focus, Fox said.

Under the tenure of Kelly and Wulfe, Vinson & Elkins grew its presence outside of Texas.

Kelly said in a statement that the new leadership team is the "right choice" to lead Vinson & Elkins.

"As individual lawyers, each is extremely respected, possesses tremendous leadership skills, and has a keen strategic vision for our firm," Kelly said. "At the same time, they each come from different offices, have different practices, and bring unique personal strengths."

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