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Texas Lawbook Q&A with Michael Holmes

In year three as vice chair of Vinson & Elkins, Michael Holmes says the most important thing he and his partners can do is to create an even better V&E for 10, 20 and 30 years from now. A V&E lifer, Holmes, who serves on the firm’s management committee and diversity executive committee, feels the partners before him did just that. In this Q&A, the securities litigation vet shares his observations on which areas of litigation are busy, reflects on the rewards of staying at one firm for your career, and offers encouragement for young attorneys.

Kate Cassidy: How is V&E doing in Dallas and nationally?

Michael Holmes: 2023 was another great year for the firm, both financially and in other aspects, which I think was very rewarding in light of the overall macro environment. We handled some really high-profile matters, both on the deal side and the litigation side. Last year, we tried or arbitrated almost 20 matters, and scored some big victories in many of those. Our energy transition and renewables practices were and continue to be really strong. We also made some key additions to our partnership, particularly in New York, London and D.C., and we are entering 2024 with a head of steam. Though we don’t really break things down by office, we have an incredible group of partners, associates and business professionals in Dallas who continue to make huge contributions to the firm.  And we have a great group of young partners on both the litigation and corporate side, which bodes well for the future direction of our Dallas office and the firm.

Cassidy: What is a trend you see in Texas litigation work?

Holmes: In Texas, we’ve continued to see a steady flow of business disputes, securities litigation and IP cases. Nationally, we’ve seen a big increase in antitrust litigation. The past two years, we’ve beefed up our antitrust litigation group, particularly on the West and East Coasts, and they’ve hit the ground running.   Beyond that, we’ve continued to see a steady flow of corporate governance /securities lawsuits and international arbitration work. It will be interesting to see how things change when the Texas Business Courts come online later this year. As a frequent practitioner in the Delaware Court of Chancery, I can attest to the many benefits of having specialized business courts and judges who are experienced in resolving business disputes.

Cassidy: You’ve been with V&E since graduating from law school in 1997. Can you speak to the path and benefits to staying at one firm for your career?

Holmes: I think the path in any business is to have the opportunity to work for great people and get lucky enough that those people will take an interest in your professional and personal career. I certainly had that when I started in our Houston office in 1997 — David Harvin, John Murchison, Harry Reasoner, Walter Stuart, just to name a few. I think there are a lot of benefits of staying at one firm, but maybe to me the most important is the incredibly deep relationships that you develop with your partners and the fealty that you feel towards your firm. All firms are going to go through some thick and some thin, and staying the course through that creates some bark. Some of my best friends are my partners, and our partners typically have a foxhole mentality about each other and the firm as a whole.

Cassidy: What has led to your career success?

Holmes: Oh gosh. A lot. Too many people to list and probably too much divine intervention to try to explain. I learned from people who I think are some of the best legal tacticians I’ve been around and who were skilled trial lawyers. They were also great people who had their priorities in order and were great examples of how to balance practicing law with one’s life. And I have an exceptional team around me from top to bottom, not the least of whom is my professional assistant. I have also been blessed to have had clients who trusted me to lead significant matters early on, and still do. And, last but not least, I have a wife and five kids who keep me going day-in and day-out. All the stuff above would be irrelevant if not for them.

Cassidy: What are your thoughts on the debate on attorneys working remotely vs. in office?

Holmes: I’d sum it up this way: Harry Reasoner, who just retired after his 59th year at the firm, still comes to the office on a daily basis.

In all seriousness, I am one who over my career has needed to hide out when I really have to buckle down on something because I enjoy the social aspect of being in the office so much, so I certainly appreciate there are times when being in the office may not be the best space for people to work at times. I also understand that the world has changed a bit, and we now know that they can get work done at home. But, I think there are so many benefits to being in the office, especially when you are starting out. When I was an associate, I was in the office five days a week and usually a half-day on Saturday. I know that may sound like the proverbial I walked six miles in the snow, but the point is that had I not been there during at least the work week, I would have missed out on so many opportunities to meet other associates and partners across the firm and to watch and listen to how the litigation partners I worked for conducted business. Those opportunities were invaluable. So, my view on it is that, while people can certainly get lots of work accomplished at home or elsewhere and there may certainly be times to hide out, I think to really thrive it’s better to be in the office.

Cassidy: As vice chair of V&E, what are the law firm management issues most relevant to you right now?

Holmes: It’s funny, we just had our new-partner orientation and dinner in Houston. It’s one of my favorite evenings, and it always brings back something that Joe Dilg, who was the managing partner of V&E when I made partner long ago, said to me at the time — You are likely to be a partner here for far longer than you were associate. I was dumbstruck to be honest because I hadn’t really considered that at the time. But it made me realize then and more so now 19 years later that the most important thing all our partners can do is to create an even better V&E in 10, 20 and 30 years from now, just like those partners did for us. So that’s what I am focused on, which I think we do through our continued excellence in our practice areas, delivering great client service, collaborating with one another, creating opportunities to succeed for all of our lawyers and business professionals, increasing relationships with existing and potential clients and by participating in the various communities in which we live and work. While those are all things I was focused on before being vice chair, being in the position is great because it allows me to be more of service to my partners in these areas.

Cassidy: What do you enjoy most about the practice of law?

Holmes: Meeting people. Learning about new businesses. Helping clients navigate difficult situations and issues. Building a case, which to me is a lot like putting together a puzzle, which is something I also love to do with my family. But by far what I most enjoy is preparing for and being in trial. To me, there is nothing like it. It’s like live action theater, and it’s the culmination of tons of hard work and preparation. Plus, it’s great to see associates and others on the team on their feet in the courtroom, which are opportunities we really pride ourselves on creating.

Cassidy: Any career advice for young attorneys?

Holmes: You know a lot of people say that young attorneys need to get in the courtroom and take depositions, etc., etc. I definitely think that’s important, don’t get me wrong, but usually that’s not the associate’s call and when you do get that opportunity you want to make sure you are prepared. So, I think the more important thing any young attorney can do is to be lucky enough to find as good of mentors and teachers as I had. Not only did those partners make sure I got lots of opportunities, like taking depositions, arguing motions, and leading in a decent size, $10 million or so, arbitration when I was a baby associate, but they probably worked harder making sure I was prepared than they would have had they been doing it. And that made it fun, which is something that I also think is critical and something we try to do on all our trial teams, despite the obvious stress of that situation. I think you also have to make sure to decompress in a healthy manner. This career is stressful. You have to take care of yourself. Find some hobbies outside work. Invest in your family.

Cassidy: What’s your favorite travel destination?

Holmes: This will sound cheesy, but I would say Dallas any time that I am on the road. My wife and I have a thing called “coming home day,” and it’s something that I always look forward to and frankly keeps me grounded because I know no matter what I will be going home at the end of my business trip. Beyond that, I think there are so many great places to travel in the United States and elsewhere. Most recently, my wife and I went to Southern Utah to do some climbing and hiking, and I am already jonesing to go back there.

Cassidy: What are you reading for fun right now?

Holmes: I enjoy non-fiction historical books. So, right now I am reading a book by SC Gwynn, who is one of my favorite authors, called His Majesty’s Warship, which is about the quest to build a build a blimp, or I guess zeppelin, in the early 1900s, despite numerous red flags that they didn’t really work all that well. I am also reading Arthur Brooks’ book called Build the Life You Want, which is about the elusive and very misunderstood concept of happiness.

This information is provided by Vinson & Elkins LLP for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended, nor should it be construed, as legal advice.