Reputation is everything. Whether you are starting out as a legal consultant or have been doing it for years, your primary driver of business is what people think about you. Everyone has their specialty and personal interests If you are working in energy, however, you should be open to working in all types of energy.
The most prominent Big Law firms focused on “energy” have attorneys that specialize in both renewable and fossil fuel energy. This even applies to those firms based in the oil capital of the world which is Houston, Texas. They don’t lose business from one industry or the other because they work in both. By working in both industries, they by definition double their business.
This is the mindset that every legal consultant working in energy should have. They shouldn’t hate on source of energy or refuse to do business in a particular sector. One of the worst reputations you can have as a legal consultant working in energy is being anti-something.
You want to be known as a pro-energy lawyer.
While experience in and knowledge of either of these sectors are key, here are a few reasons why legal consultants should be open to working in either:
Why work with renewables
As long as federal, state, and local governments continue to provide incentives for renewables, there will always be a market for investment in these energy sources. It is ultimately a business decision to invest in renewables: with the lucrative government incentives being offered, companies can turn profits with investments in wind or solar at incredibly fast rates. By some estimates, investments in renewables yield investors 6-8% return annually.
From a business standpoint, there is a great demand for legal work in this space. Idealistically, it is not difficult to bandwagon onto the clean energy train. There is excitement. There is momentum. There is the environmental high ground. None of these are antithetical to a belief in fossil fuels.
Why work with fossil fuels
Petroleum, natural gas, and coal have accounted for more than 80% of total U.S. energy consumption for more than 100 years. Fossil fuels made up 81.5% of total U.S. energy consumption in 2015 alone. The verdict is in and has been in: fossil fuels are cheap, reliable, accessible, and power the American and international economies.
The problem with refusing to work in the industry is the difference between disapproving of pollution (despite its continued decline) and downplaying the industry as a whole. You can be pro-environment and pro-fossil fuels (see my last article). You will marginalize yourself, however, if, in the face of economic facts, you discredit the fossil fuel industry as unimportant, destructive, and not worth your time.
The legal needs of the industry are so complex and diverse that there is never ending legal demand and ample opportunities for specialization. No one should blame you for working in one of the most established industries in the world!
How to do both
What do both industries have in common? Their goal of providing energy to power local communities and the development of the economy. As a legal consultant working in energy, you want to be known as a pro-energy lawyer, not an anti-fossil fuels or anti-renewables one.
When working with renewables, you are justified by the volume of investment and public support for the industry’s growth. It is important to be honest, however, about the fact that renewables accounted for only 10% of energy consumption in the U.S. in 2015.
When working with fossil fuels, you are dealing with the indisputable leading source of energy in the world. This does not mean you are oblivious to the environmental concerns. In fact, environmental lawyers make up a bulk of attorneys in the industry.
Energy is energy and it is crucial to human life. Take the high road and be open to all types of energy. It will double your business and gain you the reputation of being a pro-energy lawyer. Doesn’t that sound great?