Houston Managing Partner S. Priya Coffey spoke with Law360 about her transition to managing partner during the COVID-19 pandemic and the state of the legal industry in Texas.
While assuming the managing partner role during the pandemic was difficult, Priya noted that, having been at Jackson Walker for over 22 years, she knows most of her colleagues well. “We have longevity at all levels—staff and lawyers. They’ve known me, I’ve been involved with the firm on many different fronts and committees, so I know how the firm generally functions, which was helpful. The hardest was our newest associates who had just either joined or were about to in the summer. I’ve met and know many of them and especially the younger lawyers, I recruited most of them. So because I have those relationships, I think that was very helpful in terms of leadership because they knew me too.”
Regarding the impact of the pandemic on the Real Estate group, she said, “We’ve seen a slowdown in the real estate side on many fronts, including acquisitions and sales. Of course, pandemic-related protocols with buildings, being in compliance with state and local laws, we’ve helped them get through it, and I’m seeing leasing picking up. We’re seeing a lot of alternative energy. We’ve got some solar deals and hydroelectric-type deals where real estate is a mold.” She added, “I always find that people are resilient, and they’re finding different ways of being creative. After the initial, ‘Wow, this is not going to just be a one- or two-month deal,’ people have adjusted and I think they’ve rebounded fairly well.”
“I always find that people are resilient, and they’re finding different ways of being creative. After the initial, ‘Wow, this is not going to just be a one- or two-month deal,’ people have adjusted and I think they’ve rebounded fairly well.”
Related to the Bankruptcy, Restructuring, & Recovery practice’s performance during the pandemic, she told Law360, “Our bankruptcy group has been phenomenal. I’m really proud of them. They have, within this year, pulled in many laterals who have joined us and they are just blowing and going, if you will. They’re extremely busy and just working on a lot of really interesting cases that involve so many different sectors, real estate, oil and gas, energy, you name it. I see it being busy next year and it’ll probably carry over going forward even in the year after, but particularly next year.”
For additional insights about how the bankruptcy group is staying busy during the pandemic, view the following articles:
When asked what separates a Texas-based firm like Jackson Walker from national firms in Houston, Priya said, “Based solely in Texas helps us because people know us here. I’ve had so many clients this year that are out of state, but when they’re looking in Texas, they’ve found that we’ve got pretty much full service in every aspect. So it’s like a one-stop shop. We’ve got a lot of law firms that have moved in, but we often end up being co-counsel because they don’t have the expertise here in Texas. Because we’re all based in Texas, our overhead is lower. So, clients have really liked the rates, and in today’s world people are looking at those kinds of things when they’re considering a firm.”
To close the interview, Priya shared that one area where the legal industry could improve in the future is increasing diversity. She stated, “When I started at the Firm, I was the only diverse person in my section and on my floor. And what I love about JW is we’ve always adapted and grown, and they let me be me. I know a lot of my friends who have gone to other places felt like they needed to conform.” She also mentioned, “The faces of our clients are changing, too. You see a lot of in-house counsel who are diverse and they’re looking for that, and for firms to offer that. I’ve had clients lately saying, ‘Wow, you’ve got such a great mix of people,’ and that to me is great – especially in Houston with how diverse the city is.”
To read more, view the Law360 article “Jackson Walker’s Coffey On COVID-19 And Boosting Diversity” (subscription required).