Attorney John Thomas landed slightly jet-lagged in Houston this evening. He had spent a week in San Francisco, preparing for trial at the Superior Court. The co-founder of Houston-based litigation firm Hicks Thomas says he has spent more time in Northern California in the past couple of years than in Texas.
With 18 lawyers, Hicks Thomas' litigation practice includes energy, environmental, and toxic torts law and serves clients like Kinder Morgan, Dynegy Inc. and Shell Chemical. Its lawyers handle both the defense and plaintiffs’ side of cases, Thomas said.
More and more, his firm clients have had to defend themselves in court here. That’s why it made sense to open an office in the neighborhood. Hicks Thomas announced this fall the opening of a Sacramento outpost, the first outside of Houston since the firm was founded in 1997.
It’s not just relief from Houston’s blistering summers that has the firm opening here — Sacramento’s no picnic in August, either. But California’s ever-increasing importance in environmental law gives it an irresistible attraction.
“California seems to be on the forefront of environmental litigation, and there’s a growing number of claims where companies historically involved in industries using chemicals are finding themselves in litigation over issues that may have related to facts over the last several decades,” Thomas said, declining to specify clients in litigation by name. He did say that the California cases are based on claims for remediation of soil and groundwater. Many take place in San Francisco, some in Sacramento and a few in Southern California, he said.
Why open in Sacramento and not San Francisco? “That’s where Eric is,” Thomas said. Eric Grant, who focuses on constitutional and complex litigation especially at the appellate level, has run his own practice in Sacramento. His resume includes a post at the U.S. Justice Department’s office of legal counsel, where he was involved in advising President George H. W. Bush, the attorney general, and other executive department heads. (Call it a sign of the times, but that was left out of the press release announcing the office).
Coming with a recommendation from Judge Edith Jones of the Fifth Circuit in Houston, where both Grant and Thomas had at different times clerked, Grant has worked as on-the-ground counsel for Hicks Thomas for the past several years.
A number of the firm’s Texas lawyers are planning to earn licenses to practice in California.
As for Thomas, the new California outpost seems to have limited benefits. Though he has spent more time in San Francisco in the past couple of years than in Texas, he has no plans to relocate. “My family is here in Texas,” he said. The cross-state-border commute will continue, he said.
— Petra Pasternak