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A partner working in oil and gas law explains what trainees can expect from this area of practice.

Oil & gas: area of practice

Working in this area means being involved in high-profile projects such as petrochemical and oil refineries, explains Julia Derrick – a partner at Ashurst LLP.

The best part of being an oil and gas solicitor is getting to work on high-profile, strategically important and topical projects and transactions.

Oil and gas solicitors are involved in all aspects of the oil and gas sector, ranging from M&A transactions involving oil and gas assets, the financing and development of oil and/or gas projects, to high-profile disputes between key players in the oil and gas space.

The work is very varied and may involve helping clients to buy or sell oil and gas assets or companies, creating joint ventures, developing oil and gas infrastructure such as pipelines or terminals or infrastructure to support the energy transition, putting in place contracts to enable parties to trade oil and gas on a short or long-term basis or giving regulatory advice. Clients include international oil companies (IOCs), national oil companies (NOCs), trading houses, financial institutions and banks, construction companies, authorities and host governments.

What does a typical transaction in oil and gas law look like?

There is no such thing as a typical transaction, and the timelines and number of people working on a matter can vary significantly depending on the nature of the work, the size, scale and complexity of the transaction and the client’s commercial objectives.

In a large-scale M&A transaction where we are acting for the buyer, the transaction will typically start with a due diligence process, followed by the negotiation of a sale and purchase agreement and then a period after signing during which any conditions precedent need to be satisfied to move to completion of the transaction. Straightforward M&A transactions may last between three and six months, but this can be significantly longer if the transaction is particularly complex. Project development work tends to involve drafting contracts needed to develop infrastructure and these projects tend to last longer than the M&A transactions, with transactions lasting between six and eighteen months (and sometimes considerably longer).

What is working life like for an oil and gas lawyer?

Working hours are normally from 9.00 am to around 7.30 pm, though it can vary depending on how many transactions are happening at the time and whether are transaction is close to signing or closing. This means there might be months in the year when it’s quieter and a trainee can leave early; it also means there will be other months when late nights and weekend work are required.

The best part of being an oil and gas solicitor is getting to work on high-profile, strategically important and topical projects and transactions, which are often in the news and which are often innovative and intellectually challenging. The downsides are that activity levels in the sector are often closely linked to oil price movements, so it can be difficult to predict the pipeline and flow of work.

What opportunities for travel are there in oil and gas law?

The oil and gas industry is a global business and consequently working in this sector means that you will have the opportunity to work with people from a diverse range of cultures and work on transactions involving a diverse range of jurisdictions. This also means that travelling is common, as often you will need to visit clients who are based outside of the UK or attend negotiation meetings in places where it is convenient for the relevant parties to meet. Recently members of our team have travelled to various countries in Europe, Africa, Asia, the Middle East and South America as part of transactions.

What will a trainee lawyer do in an oil and gas department?

Trainee tasks are varied, but include conducting due diligence, drafting and research, attending negotiation meetings with clients, as well as conditions precedent tasks; these are the various documents and formalities that need to be satisfied before a transaction can close. There is plenty of scope for client contact and trainees are encouraged to take on as much responsibility as they can handle, with appropriate supervision.

Sector-specific commercial knowledge is important for trainees in this practice area. During the process of a transaction the commercial aspects are often as important, if not more so, than the black letter law.

What skills do oil and gas lawyers need?

  • Commercial awareness and an interest in the sector.
  • The ability to analyse projects and transactions from different perspectives.
  • An appreciation of each party’s concerns and objectives.
  • The ability to work methodically and manage a diverse workload.

What implications is Brexit likely to have on oil and gas law?

The fundamental structure of the UK upstream oil and gas industry and its governing legal regime, including the licensing system, is unlikely to be significantly affected by Brexit. It should be noted that the regulatory framework applying to the upstream industry – and in particular to environment and health and safety regulation – is highly developed independently of EU law, and any impact is likely to be minor. The offshore decommissioning regime mainly stems from international conventions and domestic legislation, and would therefore be largely unaffected.

Clearly a concern is the perceived reluctance of some foreign or overseas oil companies to invest into the UK North Sea further, or into exploration projects either on the mainland in other areas of the United Kingdom or in other energy sections, against the background of the Brexit uncertainty. However, a large element of the work that we do is outside the UK.

Types of law practised

  • Contract.
  • Banking and finance.
  • Corporate.

JULIA DERRICK is a partner in the projects (energy & resources) group at ASHURST LLP. She graduated with a degree in geography from the University of Edinburgh in 2003.