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Energy May be Gold Mine for Young Lawyers

13-Apr-11

By Daryl-Lynn Carlson, Financial Post

Firms in Alberta are keen on recruiting students who have an interest in the field of energy law.

Almost all major law firms are willing to hire articling students or associate lawyers who have focused their studies in the energy law sector. That used to be due to the intrinsic complexity of the energy field, but now the desire for talent is also being driven by economic need.

The energy sector is expected to fuel Canada's economic growth over the next five years. Law firms are looking for lawyers who have a particular interest in the area of energy law.

Accordingly, Torys LLP recently opened an office in Calgary to serve energy-related clients.

Managing partner Les Viner said in an announcement that the firm recognized the need to open the office based on "the pace of economic growth in Calgary and its strength in the energy sector," which has earned the city a reputation as an international financial and business hub.

Ron Deyholos, a partner in Torys' new Calgary office, says the city's energy sector is indeed flourishing.

His practice focuses on energy and oil and gas law and he is recognized by Chambers Global as a leading Canadian energy lawyer.

"There have been a lot of opportunities to do oil and gas work for clients both in Calgary and internationally," he says.

Many law firms have been hiring law school graduates as associates to augment their firms' expertise. However, he says that once junior lawyers become recognized in the field of energy law, they are soon snapped up by other law firms -or sometimes even by the energy companies that the firm represents.

"Our firm hires a lot of associates in the sector and once they become mid-to seniorlevel associates, they have a tremendous amount of opportunity and what we're seeing is that the law firm's clients often hire away the associates into their in-house law depart-ments," Mr. Deyholos says.

The firm therefore has a relative shortage of experienced lawyers in the energy law field, which is not helpful due to the limited number of law school graduates who have specialized in the field.

"In this province, the major law firms routinely lose talented associates to major oil and gas companies, and that contributes to shortages of associates in the energy sector," he says. "It is a very important area of law in this province."

Douglas Crowther, leader of Fraser Milner Casgrain LLP's national energy team in Calgary, says the sector will be hot for at least the next five years. "The energy industry is going to be the engine of growth for the country."

Mr. Crowther says the energy sector will require lawyers who practise in many areas of law including construction, occupational health and safety, tax, immigration, aboriginal law and intellectual property.

He suggests law students seeking articling positions apply at a law firm that has a significant energy law practice, then take advantage of the opportunity to learn the industry.

He also points out that the Edmonton oil and gas industry is significantly different from Calgary's in terms of its legal requirements.

In Edmonton, most of the major law firms that serve the oil and gas sector deal more with manufacturing aspects of the industry.

"A very significant part of the oil and gas industry in Edmonton is what I would characterize as the 'service sector,' which include companies that are pipe manufacturers or are soliciting contractors to do this type of work, which is a very different area of law," he says.

"Edmonton is really the hub for this, which is different from Calgary."

Still, he says that in any aspect of energy law, there is a need for more lawyers to represent the growing number of clients that are associated with energy, be it in the manufacturing of pipelines or any subsequent area of law ranging from tax to environmental compliance.

The area of energy law in Alberta is indeed becoming significantly more interesting.

According to Ronald Kruhlak, partner and head of the energy, environmental and regulatory practice group at McLennan Ross LLP in Edmonton, the laws regarding the energy sector are constantly changing, rendering the area of law compelling.

"It's a very interesting area of law because it is always changing," he says. "From my vantage point, there are new developments that are expanding from the conventional oil wells scenario and lawyers must keep current on all of the new regulations and directives to know how to advise clients in the best way."

He says there is a need for more lawyers in the energy sector due to the fact that the oil sands in Alberta will remain a primary source of energy for North America for at least the next decade.

"There will be a significant demand for lawyers for many years," Mr. Kruhlak says. He adds, however, that "the lawyers involved will have to be aware of all of the latest changes in all aspects of the law."
 

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