Energy, transport & infrastructure law: area of practice
Solicitors specialising in this commercial practice area may find that the majority of their work takes place outside the UK. It can involve project finance work for large-scale infrastructure (eg airports, sea ports and road developments) as well as advisory work on infrastructure and energy-related programmes (such as mining or nuclear procurement projects). Domestically, lawyers may also work on major infrastructure projects or transactions involving public private partnerships (PPPs). Governments, banks and financial institutions, sovereign wealth funds, sponsors and utilities companies are all potential clients.
The types of projects energy lawyers work on
Overseas jurisdictions are looking to UK firms operating in this practice area, which requires international travel. Solicitors may find themselves working in both emerging and developed markets: governments in Africa and throughout the Middle East are investing heavily in their infrastructure. There are also opportunities closer to home. Europe provides a lot of major project finance and advisory work: we recently worked on an airport privatisation deal in Greece and several large renewable energy projects. Opportunities for overseas travel may be limited for junior lawyers, but as they grow in seniority their responsibilities will include travelling to meet clients and potential clients in order to generate new instructions for the firm.
We typically have 12 to 15 projects live at any one time and each project varies enormously in complexity and duration. For example, a major social infrastructure project in a developing country can take a number of years; other projects can take several months. Lawyers in this field may work in teams of three to four people or even a team of ten if other practice areas, such as tax and real estate, are involved. On large-scale projects, solicitors find themselves working with a much larger team, as well as working with lawyers acting on the other side of the transaction.
Ten-hour days starting at 8.00 am or 9.00 am are standard but weekend work is uncommon. Travelling can sometimes lead to less conventional working hours, but most trips can be fitted into the working week. Networking with clients is part of the job and can take place inside and outside the working day.
Be warned: this is a a very competitive area of law
The work involved in this practice area is intellectually challenging, with the opportunity to meet different people from all over the world. There’s also the satisfaction of seeing the tangible outcome of a project. A difficult aspect of the role is learning to document complex commercial arrangements and advising clients on the risks posed by underdeveloped legal systems in emerging markets. It is also a very competitive area of law – aspiring solicitors wanting to go into it need to be able to thrive in this type of environment.
Is energy, transport and infrastructure law recession-proof?
While the domestic market has suffered, firms in this practice area are less dependent on domestic circumstances than other solicitors due to the international nature of much of their work. It’s important to cultivate contacts – including potential backers of projects – in different jurisdictions as it helps not to be too dependent on any one market.
What skills do energy, transport and infrastructure law solicitors need on the job?
- A strong commercial understanding of the market they are operating in.
- The capacity to focus on the details of a transaction without losing sight of the big picture.
- The ability to take a genuine interest in the client’s business.
- A competitive streak
As a trainee solicitor in energy, transport and infrastructure law
Trainees can expect to undertake a variety of tasks, including researching legislation, drafting and proofreading documents, helping on deal closings and attending client meetings. They are also encouraged to take up secondments to our overseas offices.
Types of law practised
Chris Brown is a partner at Norton Rose Fulbright LLP. He graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 1984 with a degree in economics and law.