Firms To Watch: City Focus - Houston

Womble Bond Dickinson has a growing Latin America practice directed from the firm's Houston office by 2021-hire José Luis Vittor, a transactional and finance specialist with particular expertise in the projects and infrastructure sector. The practice was notably strengthened in July 2022 with the incorporation of Francisco Balduzzi; formerly the head of legal for Latin America at Barrick Gold, he is a corporate, transactional and capital markets expert with particular expertise in energy, natural resources and mining. (Both Vittor and Balduzzi are Argentine-qualified and registered as foreign legal consultants with the Texas State Bar).

City Focus - Houston in Latin America: International firms

Houston and wider Texas has strong connections to Latin America, especially its neighbour, Mexico. The latter’s recent efforts to liberalise its oil-and-gas industry, gave rise to a wave of investment and cross-border activity with the US, before current president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) reversed the energy reforms. This has shifted -rather than halted- the opportunities for international law firms, which continue to work on a range of ongoing and new engagements, including disputes and a further rise in renewable energy projects. With that said, as the end of AMLO’s administration begins to hove into view, permits granted to foreign operators nevertheless remain under threat, currently, due to efforts to favour power supplies provided by state-owned power utility, Comision Federal de Electricidad (CFE).      Beyond Houston’s historical relations with Mexico, the legal community has over time developed its geographical reach to act on a variery of Latin American deals and disputes, from Central America right down to Argentina. Indeed, given its oil and gas heritage, Houston has become a major centre for international arbitration expertise with firms such as King & Spalding LLP having large teams located there and which have amassed considerable experience in Latin America-related disputes. Indeed, with the recent emergence of Texas as a key ‘third point’ in the United States’ new political geography, so the State’s legal offerings have evolved with Dallas (corporate & transactional matters), San Antonio (administrative law) and Austin (new tech and digital content) all gaining additional significance; The Legal 500 will be increasing coverage of these developments in future editions.

Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP

Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP 's substantial presence in Houston has brought it considerable success in Mexico’s oil and gas and broader energy industries. In the energy transition segment, it has achieved further growth in LNG, solar, wind and green hydrogen projects. Moreover, it has continued to build-out its estimable record in LNG projects right across Latin America. Matt Kapinos is an experienced figure in Latin America energy and infrastructure projects and M&A transactions. Gabriel Procaccini is another energy specialist with particular expertise in midstream-oil projects and LNG. Both are based in Houston.

Baker Botts L.L.P.

Baker Botts L.L.P.‘s long history in Houston, as well as its deep energy-centric emphasis as a firm, has brought it an impressive business in Latin America where it frequently advises on project development, project finance and M&A transactions. This is especially true in Mexico, Central America and Brazil, where it continues to gain ever more prominence in LNG (a true forte for the firm), and renewables projects; notably it has worked on a series of LNG-to-power and gas-to-power matters. The team is also active advising clients on investments into, or on the acquisition of, projects. Carlos Solé is an immensely experienced practitioner in Latin America’s LNG and renewables sectors. David Jetter provides further senior expertise in LNG and other energy infrastructure projects. Taylor López is a key associate.

Practice head(s):

Carlos Solé 

Key clients

The AES Corporation

Sempra LNG and Sempra Gas & Midstream

Techgen

Work highlights

  • Represented The AES Corporation in connection with a 10-year strategic alliance with Google to accelerate the growth and adoption of clean energy by leveraging Google Cloud technology to pioneer innovation in the sector.
  • Assisted Sempra with the development, marketing and joint-venture matters connected to the brownfield development of an LNG export project co-located and integrated with the existing Energía Costa Azul (ECA) regasification facility in Mexico.
  • Advised Techgen, the operator of a 1025MW power plant in Northern Mexico, on natural gas purchases, related pipeline transportation contracts, and US regulatory matters connected to the export of natural gas to Mexico from the US.  

Haynes and Boone, L.L.P.

Haynes and Boone, L.L.P. has deep roots in Houston, where is has serviced Latin America transactions and disputes for decades. Historically, it has had strong connections to Mexico, where it has been a significant player in energy transactions, including oil and gas, and power deals. Beyond Mexico, it has extensive geographic coverage right down through Central America, to Colombia, Peru, Chile and Argentina. With its continuing focus on Mexico, the Houston office has retained a significant flow of inbound and outbound transactions, and remains industry opportunistic – notably in the fields of fintech, telecoms, food and beverages, and manufacturing, among others. Ricardo Garcia-Moreno   and George Gonzalez   are experienced figures in energy (including oil and gas) transactions in Mexico, although both operate across industry sectors and in multiple jurisdictions in the region. The wider Houston team provides wide-ranging expertise, including bankruptcy and restructuring. The group also frequently works alongside Latin America-focused colleagues in its Dallas headquarters, notably Alberto de la Peña, and its large Mexico City office, along with additional Latin America specialists in New York and Washington DC.

Practice head(s):

Ricardo Garcia-Moreno

Hogan Lovells US LLP

Hogan Lovells US LLP has a long history in Latin America and its Houston office now plays a key role in a wider practice that includes teams in Brazil, Mexico, Miami and New York. Bruno Ciuffetelli, co-chair of the Latin America group, is an immensely experienced Latin America specialist with an extensive record in the oil and gas sector, and a reputation for representing sovereign states and quasi-sovereign entities in big-ticket engagements, such as Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) and the Ministry of Finance of Ecuador. A Houston team led by Bruce Oakley and Aaron Crane was engaged by the US-recognised government of Venezuela, led by Juan Guaidó, to represent PDVSA and its subsidiaries in a series of claims arising from actions undertaken by Nicolás Maduro’s administration.

Practice head(s):

Bruno Ciuffetelli

Key clients

Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA)

Assured Guaranty Municipal Corporation

Marshal Excelsior

Ministry of Finance of Ecuador

TC Energy

TEVA Pharmaceuticals

KDB Infrastructure Investments Asset Management Co

Harbour Group

Wintershall DEA

Work highlights

  • Engaged by the US-recognised government of Venezuela, led by Juan Guaidó, to represent PDVSA and its subsidiaries in a series of claims arising from actions taken by Nicolás Maduro’s administration.
  • Advised Assured Guaranty Municipal Corporation, as insurer and US sponsor, on the $209m social bond issuance by Patrimonio Autónomo Montes de María.
  • Represented Marshal Excelsior in the acquisition of Xanor de Mexico, a manufacturer of specialty valves used in severe service applications.

King & Spalding LLP

King & Spalding LLP's Houston office has a longstanding focus on Latin America oil-and-gas projects and transactions, along with major international arbitration cases. The firm’s outstanding reputation in international arbitration has its roots in Houston, where the team has a longstanding focus on Latin America, including in Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Mexico and more recently, Chile. Much of the practice continues to centre on investor-state disputes, but it has achieved particular growth in commercial arbitrations thanks to its success in Brazil in particular. A number of Houston partners, including Doak Bishop, Craig Miles and Wade Coriell, were part of the team that represented Chevron in an investment treaty arbitration against the Republic of Ecuador seated in the Hague, arising out of a $9.5bn Ecuadorian court judgment against Chevron for alleged environmental harm caused by historical oilfield operations. In addition, Roberto Aguirre Luzi co-heads the Latin America international arbitration practice. The Houston office remains a market leader in LNG projects, especially in Brazil, Mexico, Uruguay, Colombia and Dominican Republic, and has further expertise in energy transition projects. Scott Greer heads the global energy and construction transactions practices, and David Lang is a leader in LNG deals in Latin America.

Practice head(s):

Tracie Renfroe; Scott Greer

Key clients

Air Canada

Arroyo Energy Investment Partners

Chevron

Corporación América

Cosan

Desarrollo Vial de los Andes

Exterran

Joint venture of Grupo Gondi and WestRock Company Mexico Pacific

MODEC, Mitsui & Co, Marubeni Corporation and Mitsui OSK Lines

NIC Holding Corporation

Odyssey Marine Exploration

Pemcorp

Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority

Quanta Services

Sempra Energy

Sociedad Aeroportuaria Kuntur Wasi

The Renco Group

WeBuild

Work highlights

  • Represented Air Canada in an ICSID arbitration against Venezuela relating to the blocked repatriation of ticket-sale revenues in the country.
  • Represented Chevron in an investment treaty arbitration against the Republic of Ecuador seated in the Hague, arising out of a $9.5bn Ecuadorian court judgment against Chevron for alleged environmental harm caused by historical oilfield operations.
  • Represented Gente Oil Ecuador in UNCITRAL arbitration against the Republic of Ecuador concerning the breach and repudiation of a service agreement for the exploration, exploitation and production of hydrocarbons in an Amazonian oilfield.

Mayer Brown

Mayer Brown‘s Houston office has a pivotal role in the firm’s successful Latin America practice. Houston partners Pablo Ferrante and Jose Valera are established names in energy M&A, especially in the oil and gas, power and renewables sectors; this includes the M&A transactions involving offshore oil-and-gas blocks. Ferrante headed a group that advised Ecopetrol on the sale of a 50% stake in Offshore International Group to De Jong Capital. Moreover, the office is directly linked into the Brazilian oil and gas sector with global head of the firm’s oil and gas practice, Alexandre Chequer (a figure of unrivalled stature in the Brazilian hydrocarbons sector) dividing his time between Rio de Janeiro and Houston, as does senior associate Leandro Duarte Alves. However, the team is not solely wedded to the energy sector and has experience in a variety of industries; in a case in point, Valera led a team that advised Warner Media on the sale of a Chilean television channel to ViacomCBS Networks International. Additionally, Gerami Granello‘s real estate practice has a significant Latin American aspect; and at associate level, dual-qualifed (Venezuela/Texas) Federica Castro focuses on corporate matters, M&A and energy-project development. However, energy projects specialist Vera De Brito De Gyarfas moved in house as general counsel of NextDecade in July 2021.

Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP

Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP‘s Houston office operates as a major hub for its Latin America practice. It has a lengthy track-record in oil and gas (including LNG) projects and M&A, and is a growing force in renewables and energy transition, including green hydrogen projects. The Houston team is closely involved in Brazil’s oil and gas market, in engagements ranging from M&A, project development and project finance, with native Portuguese speaker Felipe Alice having a pivotal role. The team has an impressive array of lender and corporate clients, including representing Latin American businesses on corporate and regulatory matters relating to their operations or interests in the US. John Crespo is a native of Bolivia and co-heads the Latin America group, focusing on projects and energy, including oil and gas M&A transactions and projects. Humberto Padilla Gonzalez was educated in Mexico, is admitted to practice in Mexico, Texas and New York, and has a broad-based practice, including cross-border deals between Latin America and the US. All partner while primarily known for their expertise in energy transactions, operate across multiple sectors.

Practice head(s):

John Crespo

Key clients

Grupo Lala

Ranman USA

Mirabilis Homes

Credit Suisse

BBVA Bancomer

HSBC

Patriotic Energies and Technologies

Sigga Technologies

Decartes Systems Group

Dellner Industrial

Work highlights

  • Advised Lala US on regulatory and corporate matters associated with its operations in the US.
  • Advised Patriotic Energies and Technologies on acquisition finance transactions.
  • Represented Sigga Technologies in connection with its corporate and tax restructuring, and in the disposition of a majority stake in its business as a developer of SAP-integrated platforms.

Norton Rose Fulbright

Norton Rose Fulbright's Houston office houses a large and prominent international arbitration team that has amassed considerable experience in Latin America cases. It handles an impressive mix of commercial and investor-state disputes, notably in the oil-and-gas and natural-resources sectors. Mark Baker is global co-head of international arbitration and is a prominent figure in Latin America cases; he led the team that defended Vicinay Cadenas against product liability, gross negligence and fraud claims brought by Petrobras America and a syndicate of London-based insurers in arbitration proceedings in Houston and associated litigation in Spain and the US. Kevin O’Gorman and newly elected partner Denton Nichols are also international arbitration specialists with a particular focus on Latin America.

Reed Smith LLP

Reed Smith LLP 's Houston office is a pivotal part of its wider Latin America practice, offering extensive expertise in international arbitration and commercial litigation, along with energy, natural resources and infrastructure. Francisco Rivero frequently represents multinationals and international investors in Latin America-related international arbitrations, including investment treaty claims; his cases involve multiple Latin American states. Counsel William Russell is another seasoned international arbitration specialist with a focus on oil and gas, construction and commercial arbitrations; he is a fluent Spanish speaker and a member of the Latin America group. In Nicolas Borda, the Houston office also has a practitioner with huge experience in US-Mexico projects and transactions, particularly in the oil and gas sector; he is licensed to practice in the US and Mexico.

Sidley Austin LLP

Sidley Austin LLP‘s Houston office is at the heart of the firm’s Latin America projects and energy practice. A senior team, which includes Latin America oil and gas, LNG and renewables specialist, Brian Bradshaw, consistently lands big ticket engagements from private equity houses, lenders, project sponsors and developers, and commodity traders, among others. Bradshaw has worked on a number of recent headline LNG and renewables transactions. Timothy Chandler is also noted for energy and infrastructure (including fibre-optic cables) investments in Latin America, particularly for private equity houses; he previously lived and worked in Brazil.

Squire Patton Boggs

Squire Patton Boggs‘ Houston office has a major focus on Latin America, particularly Brazil. Paula Galhardo is dual-qualified in Brazil and New York and leads the firm’s Brazil desk, which has a flourishing practice handling inbound and outbound M&A, along with anti-corruption compliance and investigations. Cássio Braga Arantes is a senior foreign legal consultant in Houston, having lived and worked in Brazil before moving to the US; he covers a range of practice areas, from international contracts to M&A, data privacy and investigations. Highly rated -and probably best known- for oil and gas engagements, the Houston team nevertheless operates across multiple industries and jurisdictions.

Practice head(s):

Greg Wehrer

Key clients

Petroecuador

Puerto Rico Public-Private Partnerships Authority (P3 Authority)

Work highlights

  • Represented Petroecuador in proceedings seeking discovery from WorleyParsons International, related to its work on two refinery projects in Ecuador that are subject to allegations of corruption.
  • Represented the Puerto Rico Public-Private Partnerships Authority (P3 Authority) in connection with a P3 project that aims to replace all water meters in Puerto Rico with modern equipment and modernise the billing and customer service operations and capabilities of the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA).

Vinson & Elkins LLP

Vinson & Elkins LLP's Houston headquarters has a long history in the oil-and-gas sector and a deep affinity with Latin America. While cementing its position as a global leader in oil and gas, it has also achieved a prominent standing in power, renewables and the broader energy sphere. The office has worked intensively on oil and gas infrastructure projects between the US and Mexico, while additionally building its name in energy M&A and private equity.  It now has broad geographic coverage from Mexico down to Brazil and Argentina. Mark Brasher and Alan Alexander are genuine Latin America energy experts. James Loftis heads the international arbitration group and has a solid record in Latin America cases. 

Key clients

New Fortress Energy

Hygo Energy Transition

Woodside Petroleum

Goldman Sachs Specialty Lending Group

MIP IV Holdings

Panama Canal Authority (ACP)

Work highlights

  • Advised New Fortress Energy in connection with LNG import terminal development and natural gas marketing and sales matters in Brazil, including the development and sale of natural gas from its Suape, Sergipe and Barcarena LNG receiving and regasification terminals.
  • Advised Hygo Energy Transition on its $5bn merger with New Fortress Energy.
  • Advised New Fortress Energy (NFE) on the development of floating LNG import and regasification facilities, and associated pipelines, power plant and transmission facilities in Baja California, Mexico, including negotiation of LNG sale-and-purchase arrangements and commercial contracts for the development, construction and operation of facilities.

White & Case LLP

White & Case LLP has built a substantial Houston office in recent years. Its Latin America corporate and M&A team is now centred there. Rodrigo Dominguez leads the Latin America M&A team and has an extensive record on transactions in multiple jurisdictions across the region. He led the team that advised QuintoAndar on its headline acquisition of operations of the Navent Group real estate platform in Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Peru, Ecuador, and Panama; and also represented Sempra Energy on its $2.1bn stock-for-stock acquisition of the remaining stake in Infraestructura Energética Nova (IEnova), a large-scale owner and operators of renewable power assets and energy transportation and storage in Mexico. William Parish is another experienced Latin America M&A specialist, especially in the energy sector; while Emilio Grandío is an up-and-coming -and increasingly key- Latin America M&A specialist, having been promoted to partner in 2021. At associate level, Luisa Muskus also impresses with regard to Latin America M&A. On the contentious front, international arbitration partner Silvia Marchili has a fast-growing reputation.