4 Tips For Aspiring Energy Attorneys via Law360

Posted on 07-21-2016 by
Tags: LIT , Energy

The article below has been republished in full courtesy of Law360, written by Keith Goldberg.

Law360, New York (May 6, 2016, 3:31 PM ET) -- From oil and gas to electric power and renewables, the energy law universe provides endless opportunities for attorneys looking to make their mark through deal-making, regulatory compliance and litigation.

And that universe is as dynamic as is it diverse, thanks to technological advances and growing concerns over climate change that constantly alter the playing field on which energy attorneys ply their trade.

"The industry continues to change very rapidly and as it does, we need to change with it," said Craig Enochs, the co-vice chair of Reed Smith LLP's energy and natural resources industry group. "With energy, you don't have practice areas that stay narrow and static for years."

Here, Law360 provides four tips for aspiring energy attorneys.

Make Climate Change a Part of Your Practice

The production and consumption of energy is so closely intertwined with concerns over climate change that attorneys must ensure that they factor climate change into their practices, no matter what corner of the energy sector they work in, experts say.

"The possibility of a carbon tax could certainly shape how transactions are done and the financing of energy deals," Enochs said. "The increased regulation, whether it's the extraction or consumption of minerals ... that's certainly going touch every aspect of the energy industry.”

Global, national and local efforts to slash carbon emissions are reshaping the regulatory and economic landscape for energy, whether it's the decline of coal-fired electricity, tighter restrictions on oil and gas production and use, or the rise in renewable energy. Aspiring energy attorneys must realize that in the long run, no part of the industry will be left untouched by the climate issue, and tailor their practices accordingly.

"Climate considerations are going to be front-and-center throughout your whole career," said Hogan Lovells partner Mary Anne Sullivan, a former general counsel for the U.S. Department of Energy. "People used to think of electric power as undifferentiated electrons. Now, people care about whether their electrons are renewable or carbon-free, or just cheap."

Never Stop Building Your Knowledge Base

Energy attorneys aren't valued simply for their legal knowledge, they're also valued for their industry knowledge and being able to successfully integrate the two bases. With the industry in a constant state of change, it's up to attorneys to make time to keep up on the latest trends, whether it's reading trade publications or attending seminars and conferences, according to Sullivan.

"When I started as an energy lawyer, it was a pretty low-tech proposition," Sullivan said. "To be successful, you have to focus on those trends and move in the direction the industry is going."

Complete immersion in the energy business is the only way to earn credibility with clients, says Jim Thompson, who heads Vinson & Elkins LLP's global litigation department and is a former petroleum engineer.

"You've got to be able to speak the language," Thompson said. "In the energy industry, the sensitivity you have to the unique issues energy clients face and the relationships you build drive your success in the courtroom, your respect in the boardroom and your ability to generate business as a trusted adviser."

Get Industry or Government Experience

Perhaps the best way for attorneys to gain a greater understanding of the energy industry is to work for an energy company at some point in their professional career. And it doesn't necessarily have to be within the company's legal department, according to Baker & McKenzie LLP energy transactions partner Mona Dajani, who got a business degree and worked for energy giant Enron in a commercial and legal capacity prior to entering private practice.

"It taught me a lot of commercial skills as well as applying them to my legal work," Dajani said.

Working within the industry will also help develop professional connections that could pay off later as attorneys develop their legal practices, Dajani says.

"Many of my colleagues from then are now company CEOs or C-level executives in big energy companies, private equity firms and infrastructure companies," Dajani said. "They just trust you, they know you'll be able to deal with the problems that arise."

For attorneys who are interested in the regulatory side of the energy sector, a stint in government can be extremely beneficial, according to Sullivan.

"I wouldn't say everyone has to have the experience of working in government," Sullivan said. "But for many energy lawyers, you need to understand the regulatory context in which you work and the decision drivers for the regulators. If you get a chance to do that being in government, consider yourself lucky."

View Your Practice Through a Wide Lens

The sprawling diversity of the energy sector gives attorneys ample opportunity to find their niche and develop deep expertise in that niche that's valuable to clients. Doing that while maintaining a jack-of-all-trades streak is extremely valuable, experts say.

"We're talking about an industry-focused practice, but that industry touches every substantive area of law, whether it's antitrust, securities, litigation, environmental or employment," Thompson said. "It's as broad as you want to think it is."

While energy clients don't expect attorneys to be steeped in every aspect of the industry, they expect them to be steeped enough to at least identify any potential issues of concern, experts say.

Taking a broad view also means casting a wide net as to who potential energy clients can be, according to Enochs.

"Especially with the globalization of energy, what you now have is companies like Google building wind farms, companies like Starbucks making sure all their energy is generated from renewables and companies like Microsoft setting up mini electric companies," Enochs said. "You have to be abreast of things that happen in areas that aren't necessarily seen as related to energy, or what's considered an energy company."

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