Spanning various legal aspects such as M&A, disputes, and finance, energy law revolves around advising on energy-related concerns, especially in the context of new projects and established companies. In this article, we delve into the core components of energy law, presenting a comprehensive overview that encompasses typical tasks, essential skills, types of law firms specialising in this practice area, salary insights, and crucial personal and ethical considerations

What Is Energy Law?

Energy law is a rather general umbrella term used to group together a shared aspect of much work across practice areas such as M&A, disputes, finance, etc. Generally speaking, the work involves advising on aspects of energy-related legal concerns, especially in the context of new projects (for example a specific mining site or oil rig) or companies (for example advising household names like Shell or BP on their overall operations). 

Energy Law is an active practice area for both barristers and solicitors. The former might be more likely to represent clients in court when a project runs into some issues, while the latter might be found advising clients on the financing of a new site.

What Are The Subsections Of Energy Law?

This area of legal work is often broken down into more specific types of energy, including examples such as:

  • Electricity
  • Oil and gas
  • Petrochemicals
  • Renewables

Depending on the size of the firm and complexity of the matter, some lawyers will even specialise in these specific subsections of energy law (particularly renewables, which is sometimes pushed into its own specific practice area).


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Intersections With Other Practice Areas

This is a highly interdisciplinary area of legal work. 

For example, an M&A deal whereby one energy company is acquiring another would need the specialist input of energy lawyers, who will have particular knowledge of how the associated infrastructure in the deal is likely to operate on a day-to-day basis (as experts in this industry as a whole). 

Energy lawyers could alternatively be linking up with the disputes team to represent a client (say a large oil company) who feels they have had a contract violated by a supplier (say a manufacturer who provides them with drilling equipment). Again, energy teams can be called in to provide specialist input.

Even the areas of energy law which you might associate with being more typically isolated, for example the establishment of a new energy project, will contain aspects of other practice areas. How is this new site being financed? Financially-orientated lawyers will be called in (an expert from DCM, Debt Capital Markets, for example, who might assist a client in selling off bonds in order to raise the cash needed). Where is the new site of this project located? The Real Estate team are likely to get involved at this point. Will there be potential challenges from government bodies as a result of the new project? A number of staff from the Public Law team could be called in too.

In short, aspiring lawyers considering this practice area should be comfortable with (or even excited by the prospect of) working in larger teams in a highly collaborative atmosphere.

What Are Some Typical Legal Tasks?

Energy lawyers will need to get involved in a number of tasks. Here are a few examples:

  • Due diligence
    • Transactions (for example the purchase of one energy company by another) will require a great deal of due diligence. Are both companies up to scratch financially? Are there any potential pitfalls your buyer should be aware of in advance? Are any major challenges likely to hit the sector in the near future? This is a research-heavy area common across numerous practice areas and particularly popular with trainees.]
  • Raising cash
    • Lawyers in this practice area might need to be creative in order to raise the funds to finance a project – an aspect which the client might need to be advised on heavily. Deciding which overall avenue to take in this area is usually reserved for slightly more senior lawyers (e.g. associates and partners).
  • Drafting contracts
    • A number of agreements are often in place for large energy companies. Who are their suppliers for certain equipment? Are there specialist clauses needed in their employment contracts for staff working in this sector? Lawyers will be expected to draft and edit these contracts as necessary (as is typical, again, across numerous practice areas).

What Skills Are Needed For Energy Lawyers?

Energy lawyers require a number of skills shared with lawyers across numerous practice areas, including research skills (for example, for the due diligence referenced above), client communication abilities, and exceptional quality of writing (for writing and revising contracts, as an example).

However, there are also some more particular skills which energy lawyers are often well-served to possess. While aspiring lawyers by no means require a STEM degree to enter this field, maintaining a basic technical understanding of how certain energy projects (e.g. wind farms) operate allows energy lawyers to understand their client’s business in a more effective way (think about patents within intellectual property, for example). Lawyers are increasingly expected to act as business advisors and consultants (requiring knowledge of the industry itself) as well as legal expertise, and this practice area is no exception to that trend.

Energy is also an area which is particularly affected by fluctuating markets. For instance, low commodity prices will affect the supply chain (and demand) for large energy companies significantly. Aspiring lawyers in this area should aim to develop a strong sense of commercial awareness in relation to energy in particular.

A basic understanding of political process is also useful, since energy is an area which is regularly challenged and discussed in the public eye (compared to something more seemingly detached from everyday life like private equity, for example). As mentioned above, Public Law is often found to overlap with energy-related legal work.

Which Firms Specialise In Energy Law?

A range of firms are active in the energy law space, although mostly at the upper end in terms of size and profitability. Large City firms (for example Magic Circle and elite US firms) are well-known for their expertise in this area. Law firms ranked highly for energy law include:


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Energy Lawyer Salaries

Energy lawyers are highly in-demand due to the often highly profitable nature of the work. The Lawyer maintains an active jobs page for energy lawyers, within which a number of roles are presented. Legal Counsel (in-house at energy companies) are comfortably reaching six-figure salaries just a few years after qualification.

Within law firms, energy lawyers’ earnings are more predictable, since they are tied to the overall lockstep model of the firms themselves (where salaries are relatively consistent across practice area, although diverting more towards partner level). Top firms in this area tend to be Magic Circle/large international firms – those types of outfits currently tend to pay between £100,000 and £130,000 upon qualification.

Barristers active in energy law are also often extremely well-paid, earning well into six-figure amounts. Naturally, those representing large businesses tend to be better off than those representing the government or non-profits who challenge them, for example.

Are There Ethical Considerations In Energy Law?

A common concern of aspiring lawyers considering energy law relates to the environmental impact of the sector. This is certainly something which commentators have criticised law firms for participating in before – the recently published ‘Carbon Circle’ report is one such example.

The ‘cab rank rule’, which stipulates that barristers should take on any work being offered regardless of personal opinion, is currently being challenged in light of the climate crisis.

It is certainly true that large oil and gas companies are major contributors to the climate emergency – the data is simply undisputable. However, individuals need to make their own decisions on where they think the moral lines should be drawn in regard to what they do with their own career (and the role they play in that process). 

Furthermore, the rapid growth of renewable energy sectors are signalling promising developments in the legal industry (even if they have, at times, been criticised of ‘greenwashing’). Many law firms maintain highly profitable and rapidly developing renewable energy practice areas – which may attract aspiring energy lawyers with particular moral concerns.

Key Considerations

In short, energy law is a multifaceted, complex area of law which is likely to attract a number of aspiring legal professionals. These are highly paid roles across a number of firms (and in-house settings) with a broad range of skills required. Ethical considerations make this a challenging area for many, but the growth of areas like renewable energy are likely to attract a great number of aspiring lawyers too.


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