December 18, 2018 Member Spotlight

Member Spotlight: Sheila Slocum Hollis

Sheila Hollis

A pioneer in her field, Sheila Hollis's motto is "energy never sleeps." From her beginnings in Denver to working internationally, Sheila's 45 years of practice have been anything but dull. Get to know Sheila!

Tell us a little bit about your career.

As an energy lawyer for nearly 45 years―all in Washington, D.C.—I’ve had two stints in government and have been in private practice for the remainder of the time. The energy practice has taken me throughout the world. I’ve worked extensively in Africa, a fair amount in Asia, and all over the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and South America. It covers just about every aspect of energy and environmental issues that are associated with the topic of energy, such as renewable energy, nuclear, oil, gas, transmission lines, infrastructure development, energy trading, and regulation.

My Twitter handle is @energylawgirl, and my motto is “Energy never sleeps.” And it never does. You never have a dull day in energy law because of international markets, the physicality of the issues, and their significance to the world. You never do the same thing twice; it’s a wonderful experience. I have absolutely no regrets about jumping into this challenging subject and making a life out of energy law—and being one of the first women to do so.

Is it what you had planned when you started law school?

Quite simply, the answer is no. My thought was to be a real estate tax lawyer in Colorado, particularly in Denver, although I always had a great interest in international law and thought that perhaps my interest in property and tax would take me internationally. 

I loved the practice of law from the moment it was dangled in front of me by family friends. My mother was a nuclear weapons designer, a geological draftsman, and generally fascinated by real estate, and as an only child (my father died when I was young), I was a miniaturized legal representative when we went to all of the closings and negotiations.

She never went to one without me. So, I got a good taste of the law from watching my mother, who had no training in business or in law to do what she did: make a good life for us by both working her entire life and also having this interest and fascination with property. 

If you could go back to the beginning of your legal career, would you have done anything differently?

Studying management, the “business of law,” would have been very helpful. I probably would have picked a law school with a broader base. I went to a Rocky Mountain law school because I was a Westerner, and Denver is the “Queen City of the Rockies.” 

I thought I would spend the rest of my life in the Rockies where I was born, and while I didn’t live there my entire childhood (Los Alamos, N.M.; Hanford, WA; and Casper, WY were among my childhood homes), I wanted to stay in Denver. I had a young child, my husband, and my mother there; we had no other family, so I thought that Denver was going to be the alpha and omega of my world.

And also, I had a close connection to a very fine, small real estate law firm. They wanted me to go to the University of Denver Law. So, I stayed close. The law school and the law firm were only about a half mile apart, and I was at home in Denver and the law! We loved the mountains and lifestyle.

In retrospect, I probably should have gone further east or west beyond the confines of the Rockies. Little did I know that immediately after graduation, I would head to D.C., never to practice in the West!

What advice would you give to someone considering law school today?

Plan on the unexpected occurring both in the practice of law and in life, to pick up new tools quickly, and to learn enough about the way law is practiced so that you have the flexibility to mutate into another type of practice if you need to.

For example, artificial intelligence, intellectual property, environmental law, and also international law soon opened up to me. I would think that I would stay flexible, keep an open mind, and if an opportunity comes along that does not exactly fit your “big life plan,” you still should probably take a pretty close look at it, and don’t be afraid. 

Just do your homework, do your due diligence on your life, hold it up to the light, question yourself, get input from those who are close, understand you and understand the practice before you make the leap, but don’t be afraid to do something that isn’t as you had it all plotted and planned out because there may be bigger opportunities out there. I started in the old Federal Power Commission, which became the Department of Energy and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Be ready for change at any turn and twist. It’s a fast-moving river and plenty of opportunities come and go very rapidly, so be prepared and flexible, and don’t be afraid. Within four years of the beginning of my career, I was selected for managerial roles, and it would have been beneficial to have management skills.

What are the biggest changes you saw in the legal profession over the course of your career?

The expansion, the magnitude of the profession, the number of lawyers, the sophistication of the issues, computerization, and the change in the structure of law firms and law offices have been remarkable. When I initiated my career and practice, there were wonderful secretaries and assistants, and it was heavily dependent on human beings as opposed to machines. Computers were not around. Instead, we had electric typewriters, dictation machines, and shorthand.

Well, machines have taken over a major part of that world. The old-school secretary who was your partner, best buddy, and organizer has gone away, and now there are legal assistants, multi-faceted, multi-talented individuals who can juggle, fulfill, and meet a number of needs for a number of lawyers and who tend to be very highly educated and trained with respect to computers and digital communications.

When did you first become a member of the ABA and why did you decide to join?

Well, I was always a “joiner,” but in law school, I happened to look up one day going into a class. There was a small sign on the wall that advertised a lecture on energy-related issues.  This was the first little hint of the oil shortage and the issues that would soon arise. For $5, come in and listen. So, I went in, and it was such an excellent lecture (and also a recruiting tool for the ABA), and that’s when I became involved. 

Then when I came to Washington, I was recruited heavily by the Section of Environment, Energy and Natural Resources—at the time it was the Natural Resources Section—to become a member of the ABA and get in the mix of early-on leadership, which has been a wonderful and incredibly fulfilling part of my life. Many of my best friends (and this is not a cliché but rather reality), ultimately became almost a family over the years, particularly in the Section of Environment, Energy and Resources. They’ve proven to be very close, wonderful friends, and friends of my family as well. 

My mother, as well as my husband and daughter, traveled the world with me to things that the ABA offered. The latest major events were the Magna Carta commemorations and the Charter of the Forest, the companion piece. The ABA has been a critical part of my career development, network development, friendships, and opportunities. I have absolutely nothing but positive things to say about the ABA.

Under the pressures of the times, things are changing, but I think it’s a valuable commitment to make and something that will enrich your life, enrich your practice, and add a certain fabric and texture which you might not otherwise be able to find. It’s particularly important in these difficult times and the switchover to digital communications that these friendships and human relationships (which I happen to be a big believer in still) should be key. And those personal relationships that form a network throughout the country and throughout the world are incredibly valuable in the most basic sense as human beings, as well as lawyers. It enriches your life and your practice. 

What has been the highlight of my work with the ABA?

There have been so many wonderful things. I’ve been in the House of Delegates for many years on behalf of the Section of Environment, Energy and Resources and before that on behalf of the Energy Bar Association. I chaired the Section of Environment, Energy and Resources and a variety of committees and have been appointed to a number of ABA presidential committees.

I’ve been honored to be chair of the Fund for Justice and Education group. I had the honor of being a member of the Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary for the initial investigation of Chief Justice Roberts when he was nominated to serve on the Supreme Court from the D.C. Circuit. I chaired the Coordinating Group on Energy Law and the Standing Committee on Environmental Law.

I also chaired the Board of Editors of the ABA Journal for three years and was on the Board for six years, and it is just a wonderful, tremendous experience. I chaired the Standing Committee on the Gavel Awards as well. I have just finished a term as Chair of the Standing Committee on the Law Library of Congress, a remarkable and enriching experience.

If you had not become a lawyer, what do you think you would have done?

Well, I have always been a bit of a philosopher and would love to have been a philosopher, a print journalist, an archaeologist, or perhaps a classicist. All of those continue to interest me greatly.

I love to read, and I start my day by reading every newspaper or other publication I can get my hands on of all varieties. The diversity and the color of our world and country is a rich tapestry despite the problems.

As a back-up, I would enjoy being a Formula One racer or a professional “Cowboy Songs of the Old West” singer!


Sheila Slocum Hollis
Council Member, ABA Senior Lawyers Division

Sheila Hollis is chair of the Duane Morris, LLP Washington, D.C. office, and was the office's founding managing partner, as well as the founding leader of its Energy, Environment, and Resources Practice Group. She served for a decade on the firm’s Executive Committee, the first woman to do so in the 120-year history of the firm. Ms. Hollis practices in energy transactional and regulatory law and international and administrative law before government agencies, Congress, state and Federal courts, and other entities. She focuses on domestic and international energy, water and environmental matters, representing governmental bodies, the power and natural gas industries, and other entities.

Ms. Hollis recently received Petroleum Economist's Legacy Award.