We are also working on a new start-up company, Evolution Well Services, which is developing new technology for an electrically powered hydraulic fracturing system. Where conventional hydraulic fracturing equipment uses diesel motors to power the fracturing pumps, we are developing a system that uses electric motors to power the fracturing pumps. The electric motors are powered by a turbine that generates electricity from natural gas to power the fracking pumps. The turbine runs on gas from the field or compressed natural gas and is also capable of running other liquid hydrocarbons too. The main advantage to this new technology is its cost savings over diesel-powered equipment. When the price of oil and diesel fuel was higher, there was a bigger cost savings differential, but there are still significant cost savings associated with this technology, along with other benefits. The turbine is much quieter than your traditional diesel motor and generates less emissions. You also have a smaller physical footprint for the equipment and do not have numerous diesel trucks driving up and down the road at all hours of the day and night bringing equipment and fuel in to power the traditional diesel equipment. All of this provides practical benefits to both the landowner and the operator.
We face the typical legal issues that many E&P companies face. We have disputes with landowners. We run into contract issues from time to time with vendors who are doing work for us. And there is a variety of regulatory matters that we have to deal with on a regular basis. If we are acquiring properties or selling properties, there are legal issues that I have to deal with. In working with our hydraulic fracturing company, I have had to get up to speed very quickly in intellectual property law to ensure we do everything necessary to properly manage our IP process, including acquiring patents and trademark protection. It is challenging working in a new area and at times a little scary, but I enjoy the work.
Regarding the current economic downturn in the industry, because a substantial amount of Beusa Energy’s properties are natural gas properties, we have been dealing with low prices for quite some time. We have had to weather the storm and adapt like others in the industry. We have sought to identify ways to be more efficient, cut costs, get more from less, and shed properties that are not active producers or not generating an active return.
In my past experience in private practice, there is generally an uptick in litigation during a downturn because the disputes that people are willing to overlook when prices are high are not overlooked when prices are low. Now, however, I think a lot of people and companies are being very cautious about litigation. Even though a company might have the legal right to file a lawsuit, that company might not want to invest precious resources in the dispute. People are thinking and being very selective in terms of whether they want to pursue litigation.
Every case is different, and each case has to be evaluated on its own merits. But from my perspective, I work very hard to try to make sure the company stays out of litigation. Unless there is a pressing business reason or a pressing business directive, I try to stay away from litigation as much as I can. Further, many of the places in which we own oil and gas properties tend to be rural areas, which present unique challenges and considerations as they tend to be pro-plaintiff and pro-landowner. You do not want to be involved in litigation in those venues unless you have no choice.
The path I took to my current position is probably the traditional one that most people are familiar with in the legal industry. I graduated from law school and then clerked for the chief justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court. After my clerkship, I moved to Houston and began my practice with Akin Gump. I spent around 13 years with Akin Gump and had a varied practice. I started off doing toxic tort litigation, which, in retrospect, was very helpful because I gained a great deal of experience and had many opportunities to go to court, take depositions very early on, see a lot of good lawyers practice their craft, and learn what works before a judge and jury and what does not work. That practice moved on and I then started doing commercial litigation with a focus on oil and gas, but I also did litigation of all types, including traditional contract disputes, some securities work, and a little employment. But the bulk of my work was in the oil and gas area. I switched firms in 2008 and worked with Jackson Walker. I then joined Beusa Energy as general counsel.
I think the favorite part of my job is helping the business people try to figure out the best way to accomplish whatever objectives they want to accomplish. All lawyers ultimately want to help their clients accomplish their goals, but being in-house, I get the chance to be there when those ideas are first developed, work with them when they are in their very early stages, and then find a way to implement them and execute a strategy to get the goals accomplished. It is really satisfying when, at the end of the day, you help your client—whether it is with a regulatory issue or a piece of litigation—and they turn to you and say we did a good job putting this together or, regardless of how this turns out, I am happy with what we did and how we did it. That is always satisfying and rewarding.
Regarding outside counsel, while I would like to say that I have a complicated matrix that I use to determine who I need to hire, at the end of the day, it comes down to a couple of things. One, I look for someone who has the expertise and background in the area in which I need assistance. Two, I look for someone who I personally feel I have a connection with because I am the only lawyer at my company. Regardless of what the matter is, I am going to be working closely with the attorney. It has to be someone whose judgment I trust and who I feel is willing to approach the matter the same way that I would approach it. So that is what it comes down to: You have to have skill in your area and there has to be some type of connection.
My advice to young attorneys is that, while it is hard to predict your precise path—especially with respect to in-house positions—it always comes down to the basics. You have to be good in your area and have expertise in the field in which you work. I think you need exposure to the client. I was very fortunate because, for most of my career, I was the primary lawyer who did a lot of work with Beusa Energy. Even when I was an associate, I wound up being the person they would call for the questions they had or disputes that they had. You need to be familiar with the client and they need to be familiar with you. Exposure to the client is always important, and you should work hard to develop those opportunities whenever possible. I did not know when I first started doing work for the company that I would actually wind up being their primary lawyer in-house, but they watched me develop over the years and I watched them develop over the years so, we had a very long history to evaluate each other and to draw upon when trying to decide if we wanted to work together. But at the end of the day, it comes down to having experience in your area and being capable in your area.
Outside of work, I have an 11-year-old son, so I try to spend time with him and be involved in his activities. And like too many middle aged men, I have decided to train for a triathlon. So I am always trying to run, swim, or bike. If I am lucky, I will become mediocre at all those activities.
If I was not practicing law and money was no object, I would spend my time reading, learning languages, traveling, and running mediocre triathlons.
Keywords: energy litigation, Gregory V. Brown, general counsel, Beusa Energy
Will Taylor is an associate at Jones Day in Houston, Texas.