By Lauren Varnado
With oil and gas (O&G) companies realizing record profits in 2022, the outlook for the sector in 2023—unlike the broader economy—is cautiously optimistic. For professionals like me, an attorney specializing in the O&G space, that is welcome news.
In good times and bad, energy companies rely on sound legal counsel for representation in courtrooms and boardrooms nationwide. Michelman & Robinson, LLP, tasked me with launching an office in Houston for this very reason.
Starting Off With a Bang (Pun Intended)
Nearly a year ago, I joined M&R and opened the doors to its second office in Texas. M&R is a nationally recognized law firm headquartered in Los Angeles, with additional locations in San Francisco, Irvine, Dallas, Chicago, New York City and now, Houston, the branch I continue to build as Office Managing Partner.
Thus far, the reach of M&R Houston has been phenomenal. My office houses the firm’s specialty practice group focused on the O&G and renewables industries, and my mandate has been to move the needle within the energy sector and serve an ever-growing client base in that space. Toward that end, my team and I have been running on all cylinders, handling a wide array of litigation and transactional work, not only in Texas, but throughout the nation’s oil & gas-producing hubs.
One of those cases was a royalty-related lawsuit filed in New Martinsville, West Virginia against my client, the nation’s largest natural gas producer. A few months back, that courtroom battle made headlines from coast to coast when the openly hostile presiding judge pulled a Colt .45 pistol that was holstered under his robe and aimed it at me during a hearing in the midst of trial.
This was undoubtedly the most jarring and outrageous episode of my career, but undeterred, I was able to resolve the case, in which the plaintiffs sought hundreds of millions of dollars in damages. Shortly after the judge’s threatening display, I extracted critical admissions from the plaintiffs’ witnesses during cross-examination, leading to a confidential settlement highly favorable for my client.
A Two-Pronged Crusade
Since the showdown in West Virginia, I have been on a mission running parallel tracks. First, given the incident in New Martinsville, I am doing all I can to root out corruption within the legal bar and the judiciary, while advocating that all litigants must be given equal access to justice in West Virginia and beyond. At the same time, I am championing growth at M&R Houston, striving to further penetrate the O&G markets in Texas and elsewhere. These efforts are proving to be quite fruitful.
In less than a year, my office has more than doubled in size, and we have only just begun. My ever-expanding team and I are handling high-stakes, “bet the company” lawsuits in state and federal courts nationwide—cases involving environmental contamination, royalties (as mentioned), disputes between producers, and energy and commodity markets. Outside the courtroom, we provide ongoing advice and counsel on the acquisition and divestiture of O&G properties and midstream assets, O&G production and business operations, O&G leases, accounting obligations to interest owners, and royalty payment practices.
A Nod to Female Representation
What I am particularly proud of are my efforts to build a team comprised of men and women alike. Truth be told, representation among female lawyers in the energy sector is a mixed bag. On the plus side, women are fairly well represented in in-house legal departments industry-wide. This is an inspiration to me and the other women I work closely with, and, in my view, these lady lawyers working in-house are hitting it out of the park. Unfortunately, law firms are not keeping pace, and there is still much to be done to get more women associates and partners acting on behalf of O&G clients.
Given the want of female energy attorneys in law firms, it is quite a statement that M&R named me as its Houston Office Managing Partner. I am happy to report that I am building upon that momentum by adding remarkable female talent to our ranks.
Looking Forward to the New Year
As we prepare to turn the page to 2022, I am energized about what is in store in the coming year. If my journey at M&R thus far is any indication, things are certainly looking up—just as they are for the broader O&G space.
Of course, I am mindful of the significant downturn being experienced across other industries and that not all energy companies are flourishing. I also understand that when the economy is in turmoil, lawyers and law firms can be a godsend. As such, I hope to be of help to clients no matter their financial circumstances.
All that being said, my message is simply this: the M&R flag has been planted in Houston, and we are here to serve.
Lauren Varnado manages the Houston office of Michelman & Robinson, LLP, a national law firm based in Los Angeles that represents clients in a host of areas, such as complex and class action litigation and employment, corporate and securities, regulatory, white-collar defense & investigations, cybersecurity, privacy, real estate, and bankruptcy matters. The firm does so for individuals and entities across industries, including the advertising & digital media, banking & financial services, cannabis, hospitality, insurance, music & entertainment, retail & apparel and technology spaces. A sought-after, award-winning litigator and head of the firm’s energy practice, Lauren can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (713) 422-2121.