Law firms add staff worldwide to capitalize on energy boom

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As clients seek opportunities in the booming energy sector, law firms have adjusted their practice areas, adding staff in strategic locations across the country and around the globe.

"Energy has been a focus for the firm for some time, but it's really in the past few years that they've made formal recognition of the need for legal services in the energy sector," said Reed Smith partner Nicolle Snyder Bagnell head of the firm's oil and gas sub-team of its global energy and natural resources practice group that was established in 2011. "Here in Pittsburgh it's really been a growing area, with the increase in business from the Marcellus Shale and the Utica Shale."

Reed Smith has 127 lawyers in the energy practice group, with 22 in Pittsburgh and 13 in its newer Houston office. Reed Smith was cited by U.S. News and World Report as one of 2014's best firms for energy law.

Energy is not just expanding as a practice area in southwestern Pennsylvania.

In areas such as Qatar and Mexico, major regions for the energy sector, the tried-and-true practice of looking up case law history and referring to precedent isn't usually possible, said Laura Ellsworth, partner in charge of the Pittsburgh office of Jones Day.

Lawyers in those parts of the world must have a strong background in energy issues.

"You can't just read up on the case law, because there isn't any," she said. "You have to have experience in handling not only local business and political issues, but energy sector issues as well. You really have to have people who trust their gut and have a lot of experience."

The challenges to working on energy issues can vary widely from country to country; what may work in the oil sector in Ukraine may not be possible in Singapore or Russia, Ms. Ellsworth noted.

Jones Day is opening an office in Perth, Australia, which is where much of that country's mining and energy operations are based. It's the firm's second Australia office, and is expected to have a focus on projects and disputes in the energy sector.

"It's an area that's really ripe for lawyers, because there are so many regulatory issues to work through," Ms. Ellsworth said.

She added that going forward, Mexico will be an attractive option for companies wanting to do business in the energy sector, and Jones Day has increased its presence in Mexico City.

In December, Mexico's Congress approved energy reform, ending a monopoly on crude oil production held by state oil company Pemex. The legislation will allow foreign and private oil companies to enter into deals for business in Mexico's energy sector.

"It basically allows private entities to do profit sharing and invest in ways they never could before in Mexico," Ms. Ellsworth said. "This has the potential to create a boom in Mexico like shale did in Texas."

She said Mexico can be a challenging place to do business at all, let alone in an area that's going to have a whole new set of rules.

"All the regulations and documents are still in progress there," Ms. Ellsworth said.

Kim Lyons: klyons@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1241 or on Twitter @SocialKimly.


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