What does an Energy Attorney do?

C. Mitchell

The field of energy law is broad, and broadening still. Oil and gas drilling, development of wind power projects, and renewable energy exploration are all covered by energy law, as are the policies affecting municipal power distribution, pricing, and customer billing practices. The job of an energy attorney is correspondingly large, though lawyers typically choose to specialize in a narrow sector of energy law. The main job of an energy attorney is to understand relevant energy laws, policies, and regulations, and apply them to his client’s situation.

An energy attorney might work on lawsuits related to oil spills.
An energy attorney might work on lawsuits related to oil spills.

Energy attorneys are advisers, advocates, and lobbyists. The can represent big industry, or can fight for the rights of new innovators. They frequently apply for patents and fight price-fixing. It all depends on the context.

Energy attorneys may act as lobbyists.
Energy attorneys may act as lobbyists.

Traditionally, energy law practice was dominated by the oil and gas industry. Most energy lawyers worked in energy law firms or practice groups that either supported or opposed coastal drilling practices. Lawyers who had been retained by oil and gas companies would often advocate for more favorable legislation and would seek to change policy guidelines regulating the industry. They would also represent the companies in any lawsuits. Energy lawyers were also retained by outside companies with grievances against energy companies. Lawsuits related to oil spills, environmental damage, internal employment law matters, or conglomerate price-fixing and antitrust violations were typically handled by energy lawyers with expertise in how the energy industry operated.

Oil and gas lawyers still make up a significant percentage of the field of energy law, but the practice area has expanded greatly. Technological advancements have made newer, often cleaner energy sources more achievable. Wind energy, hydroelectric power, and renewable energy sources have emerged as more environmentally friendly and sustainable over the long term than reliance on oil and gas alone.

As these energies develop, the companies and investors jumping on board need attorneys to represent them. The field of energy law has accordingly adapted, leading to a boom in the renewable energy law field and the prevalence of the renewable energy lawyer. Energy law firms are increasingly adding renewable energy practice groups. A renewable energy attorney in such a group might represent a variety of members of the energy community,from utility companies to investors and inventors, depending on firm and client needs.

Particularly with new energies, much of the practice of energy law is devoted to legislative advocacy. Energy lawyers around the world are seeking to shape their national regulatory stances to make the development of renewable energy and new energy sources more easy to develop and explore. This kind of energy attorney advocacy typically involves detailed knowledge of regulatory policy, tax structures and exemption schemes, and legislative incentive programs.

An energy attorney in today’s diverse energy marketplace is frequently also an intellectual property attorney or an environmental attorney. Lawyers with expertise in intellectual property can help new companies protect their ideas, which can help them better monetize new energy frameworks. An environmental and energy lawyer can identify ways of developing energy in a way that promotes — or at least does not harm — environmental protection efforts.

An energy attorney must understand relevant energy laws, policies, and regulations.
An energy attorney must understand relevant energy laws, policies, and regulations.

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