Why did Waller pick Austin again?

Firm's chairman talks expansion, plans to hunt for talent across Texas

Texas is a big place and home to three of the most populated incorporated cities in this country. Houston ranks fourth with a little more than 2 million folks inside its defined city limits. San Antonio, surprisingly, ranks seventh with 1.3 million residents and Dallas is ninth with 1.2 million. But Austin is No. 14, with more than 790,000 folks.

So why would Nashville's largest firm pick that latter as the destination of choice for its first foray into the Lone Star State? John Tishler, chairman of Waller, works from the Nashville office but travels frequently and wasn’t available telephonically. But he did respond by email Wednesday to several Nashville Post questions along those lines. The following is the bulk of that exchange.

Q: Why did Waller pick Austin and not Dallas or Houston?

A: While the new location is physically in Austin, this move is about entering the Texas market. Our new Texas office will focus primarily on health care and, specifically, on the regulatory side of the health care industry. We have targeted a wealth of opportunities in Austin for health care regulatory work but it is important to know our clients will be located across the state — in Dallas, Houston and other cities.

Q: Houston is the country’s fourth-largest city. Wouldn’t an office there be better?

A: The decision wasn’t necessarily based on the amount of business available in Austin versus other Texas cities. Rather, Austin offers the right types of businesses. From hospital systems to drug manufacturers, there’s a diverse spectrum of health care companies that will allow us to gain a strong foothold in the state.

Q: Did Waller specifically want to get Elizabeth Rogers on board and then perhaps the others that came with her?

A: This played a key role in our decision. Elizabeth is a seasoned legal veteran who's well-known throughout the health care industry. Our firm has admired her work for years — she has many connections to Nashville through her clients and work over the years with Vinson & Elkins. We saw an opportunity to add her to a deep health care department in a Texas market we’ve been targeting and knew this was the right fit for our firm.

Q: What about Dallas? I lived there for a few years and I used to say that Dallas makes Nashville look like La Vergne. Nashville is my hometown so I can say things like that — no offense, La Vergne — but the difference is huge. So the point is that (Dallas, Houston) are major cities with more hospitals than we have guitars. 

A: While Dallas may have a large presence of hospitals and hospital systems that face health care regulatory challenges, we felt Austin presented a broader range of health care opportunities for Waller. Austin will serve as our launching pad throughout the state. For example, one of our new team members — Tony Pletcher, another prominent Texas attorney — will spend much time in areas like Dallas and Houston in an effort to not only grow our client base in Texas but also recruit top-notch legal talent to Waller.

That ended Tishler’s initial response to our questions but later he sent the following explaining a little more about Waller’s reasons for choosing Austin.

"Also, Austin is where many of Texas' most accomplished health care lawyers are. Among the reasons for that is the presence of the University of Texas law school. It is also a capital city, so many of the state's policy makers are there. It is also within reasonably close proximity to Houston and San Antonio,” he wrote.