OPINION: Contractor lawyers in demand as firms reluctant to return to bloated workforces

Roger Connon
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Opinion by Roger Connon

The oil and gas industry has long been a pioneer for flexible working. Indeed, Shell UK’s country chair Sinead Lynch, an advocate of agile working at the corporation works part-time. Both Shell and BP pride themselves on their work / life balance opportunities.

And as well as being flexible with their own workforce, the sector is more likely than ever to employ lawyers on a freelance\contractor basis. But why is there this new trend to contract out legal advice, instead of hiring more permanent in-house lawyers?

Why the sector demands more flexible legal resource?

When oil and gas prices were low, budgets were slashed and in-house legal teams shrunk as a result – just as the workload was increasing. There were limited budgets for external legal resources, and in-house legal teams needed expertise in areas which perhaps hadn’t been as important in the past, such as non-payment issues, regulatory and competition law advice and support.

With oil prices steadying now due to optimistic expectations around increased production, the industry is more confident than ever before. Despite this, companies are reluctant to return to the bloated workforces and high external costs of yesteryear. It is no surprise therefore that in an industry so familiar with the concept of contractors, that contract lawyers are being employed more than ever before.

How freelance lawyers can help in-house legal teams?

Freelance lawyers can be employed on a temporary basis to collaborate with the in-house legal team to ensure projects run smoothly.  Shorter-term projects, such as the decommissioning of oil rigs needs specialist legal help to circumnavigate the many global and regional regulatory regimes that have to be followed when dismantling these enormous structures. Operating in jurisdictions where there are higher risks around the extraction, retention and safe transportation of oil and gas needs specialist legal advice.

Other than utilising specialist skills the other benefit of using a freelance resource is that it can be completely scaled up or down to meet a businesses’ needs. Most contracts last between six and 18 months and due to the variety of lawyers who want to work in this flexible way, the level of experience can be matched to the job – so companies are only paying for the support they need. The number of legal contracting firms available on the market is steadily increasing and demand is growing for freelance lawyers in this sector. It’s certainly true that the way lawyers are being used by the oil and gas sector is changing and as the market fluctuates there is a legal resource available which can support companies in a way that suits them.

Roger Connon is Head of Oil and Gas for Vario from Pinsent Masons