Energy covers everything from digging the foundations for a power plant or wind farm through to the electricity arriving at the plug socket of a user. The essence of energy law is the law surrounding contracts for all the stages of the energy sector, from the development and sharing of oil and gas fields, for example, through to the construction of energy-related facilities, and the provision of energy between suppliers or between suppliers and consumers.
Types of dispute in energy law
Disputes can occur relating to the construction of a facility, such as an oil refinery. These may be technical disputes as to whether a refinery is producing as per its specification or, prior to this, disputes about how long it has taken or how much it has cost to construct a refinery. Disputes can also occur around accountability and finances if the costs become much greater during the course of the construction work.
Energy law can involve arbitration or litigation. Typically a big construction energy case lasts two years from beginning to end, and an energy barrister might have six or seven large-scale cases on the go at any one time. Energy work is normally undertaken as part of a broad commercial or construction practice.
Clients and cases
Clients can be energy producers and retailers, for example E.ON or UK Power Networks, or the Exxon Mobils and BPs of the world. Downstream, clients tend to be large engineering firms or contractors involved in the infrastructure of energy. Hearings tend to be two or three weeks long at minimum, and you would have a number of full hearings scheduled throughout a year with the rest of the time out of court doing applications, although some matters may settle. In practice, you could expect to work an average of 60 plus hours a week. A work/life balance is possible, but it is up to you to put the effort in to organising your life so you can do this.
Arbitrations take place at the relevant institution, such as the London Court of International Arbitration, or at the institute in the relevant region, for example the Singapore International Arbitration Centre. There are opportunities to travel to meet clients and experts; however, much of your time abroad will be spent working. Litigation work tends to go through the Technology and Construction Court or the Commercial Court.
With energy you are involved in the forefront of a sector that drives the world’s economy. For example, I’m working on a few wind farm cases at the moment, and I’ve also recently acted in a decommissioning case in the North Sea. The development of new technologies – wind power both on and offshore probably being the best example – has provided a lot of work for lawyers. Clients are building these projects for the first time and things go wrong (technically or commercially).
In a recession clients react differently but the work doesn’t dry up. For example, when the oil price is $150 a barrel, everyone invests like crazy, so there’s a lot of work around – some of which goes wrong and needs lawyers to put right. When the barrel price plummets, the new investment work may dry up, but people default on contractual obligations or terminate contracts because they can’t afford them anymore.
As a pupil
Pupils normally work 9.00 am–6.00 pm, and weekend working and late nights are not the norm. They do almost everything their pupil supervisor does. This can include drafting particulars, writing advices, researching the law and, if you’re in trial, drafting submissions. In the second six months pupils take their own smaller cases – applications or cases – in front of district judges. This provides an opportunity to practise advocacy.
The reality is there is less advocacy work at the junior end of the Bar than there used to be, but as a tenant you will hit the ground running. Energy doesn’t lend itself to small disputes easily, but you’d be more likely to be working as a led junior on a case.
Types of law practised
ADAM CONSTABLE QC is a barrister at KEATING CHAMBERS. He studied law at the University of Oxford and was called to the Bar in 1996. He took silk in 2011.