Law schools see less interest in energy expertise

The interest is still there, but not like it was five years ago when oil and natural gas was booming in both West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
As a result, experts at the three area law schools — West Virginia University, University of Pittsburgh and Duquesne University — said interest in energy law has waned somewhat as the industry has matured in West Virginia and in Pennsylvania and is not the economic panacea as hoped.
“We have not seen a huge spike,” said Amy Wildermuth, dean of Pitt law. “What we have seen is an uptick in interest in public service and public interest law.”
Five years ago, it was projected oil and gas would add 5,700 new jobs in West Virginia by 2015. In reality, the industry added 2,600 new jobs between 2008 and 2017, according to the West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy.
Also, natural gas severance tax revenue was only 15% higher than 2008 numbers, the report said. Pennsylvania, meanwhile, has more than 300,000 jobs directly and indirectly tied to the oil and gas industry, according to the Marcellus Shale Coalition, a Pittsburgh industry trade association. Pennsylvania is also the second-largest producer of natural gas behind Texas.
In response to the optimistic picture painted by the Marcellus shale industry five years ago, the three area law schools beefed up energy curriculum for law students considering a career in the oil and gas industry.
WVU law school, for example, started the Center for Sustainable Development with the goal of training the next generation of energy and environmental attorneys and helping them find a place in the industry. In addition, the law school has offered — since fall 2014 — a master of laws (LL.M.) with courses in energy and sustainable development.
Gregory Bowman, dean of WVU law, said student interest in the energy sector has slowed from its peak years, but the school is still successful in placing graduates focused on energy law with law firms and energy companies. It also hosts an annual national energy conference that includes a moot court competition on energy and sustainability issues. More than 20 universities from across the country participate.
“WVU Law is still offering the Master of Laws (LL.M.) in Energy and Sustainable Development, and about the same time that degree was added, we also added a JD concentration in Energy and Sustainable Development,” Bowman said. “The JD concentration has been more consistent in terms of student interest, which was to be expected, as part of the interest in an LL.M. program was an interest in specializing in the energy sector. Once the JD concentration was added, students had that option as part of the primary law degree. Both options have proven attractive to prospective students.
“We’ve found that students appreciate the option of specializing, not only in the energy and sustainable development space, but also in the other areas of concentration we added: Public Interest Law, International Law, and Labor Law,” he added.
Kevin Abbott, a Pitt law adjunct professor and energy attorney in downtown Pittsburgh, said law school graduates are still finding good jobs, but the field is not as popular as it used to be.
“We continue to place students in good jobs,” Abbott said. “I have helped place students in large law firms representing natural gas and electric companies, in in-house positions for those companies, in smaller firms representing individuals against energy companies, and in (Pennsylvania) regulatory positions.” Energy companies where Pitt law graduates work include Consol Energy, Chevron and Range Resources, one of the largest companies working in the Marcellus shale.
“The energy business is not going anywhere and neither are the legal issues,” Abbott said. “It will continue to be the source of good jobs for law students in this area for decades.”
Duquesne University has an Energy and Environmental Law track in existence for more than five years and gives students the opportunity to concentrate in energy and environmental law, as well as administrative and oil and gas law.

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