Oil & gas: area of practice
Oil and gas law isn’t a separate legal system, but rather a mixture of different areas of law applied to a specific industry. It is a fast-paced area of work that suits those interested in business and high-value work. It involves giving advice to various business entities involved in the oil and gas industry. It includes provisional advice on the day-to-day operational aspects of the oil and gas business and on mergers and acquisitions (M&A).
The work of an oil and gas solicitor
Oil and gas lawyers get involved in many types of transactions, two principal examples of which include:
- Acting for a client buying or merging with another offshore company or buying or selling offshore oil and gas assets
- Working on a large oil and gas infrastructure project, eg developing a new oil and gas field or reservoir.
In addition, lawyers will advise on an ad hoc basis on particular contracts or matters. Ultimately, oil and gas lawyers will be required to give advice on all contracts and matters relevant to the oil and gas industry. An M&A deal can be quick: the transaction can sign in a week, but can take up to a year. An infrastructure project, which involves entering a suite of agreements, is more likely to take six months to two years. For smaller M&A deals, you might have three or four lawyers in a team; larger transactions may require up to 20 lawyers – drawing on specialist knowledge from colleagues in the tax, employment, and health and safety departments.
Oil and gas clients
If you want to carry out oil and gas work, you are likely to be based in Aberdeen – the oil capital of Europe – or London. Oil and gas lawyers frequently meet with clients at their offices; some lawyers will even be based at a client’s offices for periods of time. You will do some socialising with clients at industry events, although this tends to increase as your career progresses. Clients fall largely into four categories:
- Major oil companies
- A recent influx of smaller, independent oil companies that have moved into the North Sea
- Companies that provide services to oil companies, eg drilling companies
- Banks and financial institutions involved in lending or financing oil and gas deals and projects.
Some projects will require overseas travelling, eg to Norway, Russia, West Africa, Asia and Latin America. Lawyers tend to enjoy a good work/life balance, but you will be required to occasionally work into the night and the odd weekend when a particular project demands it. This sector has remained buoyant during the recent recession, largely thanks to oil prices remaining high and constant. M&A activity has slowed down slightly but not nearly to the same extent as corporate departments have witnessed.
As a trainee
You will get involved in drafting documents, due diligence, undertaking research, attending client meetings and taking instructions from clients.
Types of law practised
- EU and competition.
NORMAN WISELY is a partner in the energy, projects and construction practice group at CMS. He graduated from the University of Dundee with a degree in law in 1997.