The good news for any lawyer wanting to make a career in the energy sector is that in-house teams and private practice firms are recruiting.
“The demand is there for all types of energy experience – corporate, commercial, projects, regulatory and sometimes contentious – and across the spectrum of energy supply,” says Chris Cayley of First Counsel.
But renewable energy has not kept pace in the same way, according to Daniel Smith of Noble Legal, who adds: “There’s been a distinct lack of interest in renewables since the downturn started three years ago and this sector’s shown little sign of recovery.”
“Renewables and cleantech were to the fore, but demand has changed as policy has changed, with a knock-on effect on investment sentiment,” agrees Cayley.
Magic circle and silver circle associates are in the best position as candidates since they are likely to have handled some of the most complex work, and US firms in particular prefer to recruit from marquee UK names.
However, associates with ambition should not think they can just walk into an in-house role.
“Competition for in-house roles in the energy sector is intense and client expectations are high in terms of the quality of candidates they expect to see on a shortlist,” says Carl Merrick of Taylor Root. “The interview and selection processes can be fairly testing in the energy sector, but the financial rewards can be equal to, if not better than, top City firms and the financial services sector. And the quality of work can be second to none.”
So how can associates make a name for themselves? James Franklin of Robert Walters argues that it is not unrealistic for mid-level assistants to build up client followings.
“There are a lot of AIM-listed businesses, small start-ups and mid-caps operating in this space where associates are able to forge relationships and bring smaller clients with them,” he says. “Another way mid-level associates might distinguish themselves is by having a niche or specialism. For example, someone with experience of offshore work in a particular jurisdiction is highly marketable.”
That said, there are dangers in overspecialisation, warns Cayley, and you will need a commercial brain to work out which area to bet on.
“It is, of course, a good idea to look closely at the prospects of any energy company you’re considering joining,” he stresses, “particularly if they’re in the more niche areas of renewables and cleantech. You may be getting in somewhere at the start of something big, but it’s important to go in with your eyes open to the risks.”
Next week, Energy job watch part two: do you have to relocate to progress your career in the energy sector?