Energy Sector Lawyers Are Making Moves. Here's Why.
Jun 30, 2021 | Law.com
What You Need to Know
- The pandemic has made many lawyers question if they still want to work in the energy industry.
- Bankruptcies in oil and gas have also been greater in number.
- Energy start-ups and renewables companies are attracting attorneys from traditional energy companies.
The volatility of the energy sector, a record number bankruptcies and trying to find lawyers who can keep up with the emphasis on environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues is leading to a shuffling of legal talent in the energy sector.
There have been a series of moves in the energy sector over the past month. CPS Energy saw the departure of three in-house attorneys. The general counsel of Chesapeake Energy resigned after the company emerged from bankruptcy. And energy sector-focused procurement start-up GoExpedi brought on a lawyer from Anadarko Petroleum Corp. to lead its legal department.
Some are leaving the industry altogether. Most recently, Jennifer Keefe left fracking service provider company FTS International to become the general counsel of Allied Biosciences, a biotechnology company. Keefe was not made available to comment for this report.
“I have talked to a number of GCs in the energy industry that have expressed a desire to look [for work] outside of the energy industry,” said Peter Boerner, a partner in Major, Lindsey & Africa’s in-house counsel recruiting group in Houston.
Jina Abells Morissette, a partner at recruiting firm DHR International in Calgary, said lower than usual revenue in the energy sector is driving some general counsel to leave the industry.
“You are seeing something that is different than normal in the energy industry,” Morissette, a former general counsel at Cavalier Energy, said. “[General] counsel typically stay at those companies for a very long time.”
Boerner, in discussing the legal talent shuffle, noted a record number of bankruptcies in the industry.
A March report from Dallas-based Law Firm Haynes and Boone said since 2015, there have been a total of 560 bankruptcies filed by oil and gas companies. The report shows that eight were filed in the first quarter of 2021. That is the highest first-quarter total since 2016, when 17 were filed. An earlier version of the report from January showed 107 total bankruptcies in 2020 largely driven by the pandemic.
“You’re not just seeing the movement happen at the general counsel level. Whenever you see an industry become slightly depressed because of decreased revenues, that creates instability,” said Brandy Russell, a partner in DHR International’s legal practice group in Chicago.
The pandemic has also shown general counsel at energy companies that working in-house does not always lend itself to an ideal work-life balance, especially in a depressed industry.
Morisette added that some renewable energy companies are seeking top talent, which causes ripple effects throughout the energy space. Some attorneys, she explained, are not as excited at the prospect of staying in-house at a traditional oil and gas company and have been attracted to work at energy startups.
“Where technology and innovation is happening is not as much in the traditional oil and gas companies. Traditional oil and gas companies are a great place to find lawyers for those new companies,” Morissette said.
Russell said she expects more new hiring at many energy companies over the next few months. A new focus on ESG will leave many of these companies evaluating their current talent, she said.
“There is an opportunity for companies, given the renewed focus on ESG,” Russell said. “I think if companies want to make sure they’re well-positioned—whatever new regulatory frameworks are coming down—there going to want to evaluate their teams.”
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