How remote working can fuel oil & gas lawyers - comment

Remote working has come of age in the Covid-19 crisis and it will have a lasting impact on how oil and gas lawyers conduct business.

Senior decision-makers have had to get their heads around a new reality, says Connon. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell.

The pandemic has altered the mindset of corporate bosses who previously insisted that lawyers working for them had to be in situ and “on the premises”.Pinsent Masons’ Vario concept offers businesses a range of legal support, from paralegals to experienced hands at general counsel level, providing flexible legal advice across the globe.

Varios can and do work “in house” on short-term projects and on ad-hoc/call off basis but can also carry out the work remotely. A barrier to this freelance model was that corporate legal teams would typically want hired help to be sitting alongside them in the same office, but I believe all that will change when business returns to the “new normal,” whatever shape that takes.

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In the past, remote working was something frowned upon by commercial teams who insisted that if they were adding freelance support to their existing legal resource, the lawyer had to be sitting in the same room as their permanent team.

Connon is head of oil and gas for Pinsent Masons' Vario. Picture: Simon Price.

As a result of Covid-19, senior decision-makers have had to get their heads around a new reality, and have found that in practice remote working actually functions very well. The emerging technology, for example, means the old arguments against it are pretty much redundant.

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The potential cost savings for clients is obvious – a legal advisor working from home in Aberdeen, London or Sydney, for example, will not incur expensive international flights to and from the client’s HQ.

There are other factors that underline the benefits. In a recent case, we attempted to place a lawyer with a major oil and gas operator in Asia, but the red tape around securing a work permit and meeting immigration requirements was very challenging.

However, with an open-minded client and the technology we have available, we were able to show how Vario lawyers have the skillset to take instructions in one jurisdiction and be able to deliver the project from another global location, and we successfully filled the assignment.

Availability

Another outcome from Covid-19 and the widespread adoption of remote working will be a widening of the available freelance lawyers who can work across the major oil and gas producing hubs. This is a potential game-changer. Pre-Covid-19, a request to provide legal assistance for a Middle Eastern client with oil and gas assets in Iraq, for example, may have had limited appeal to, or availability of, Vario lawyers.

But by opting for remote working, many seasoned legal professionals became available for this kind of project. It may be that at the start of an assignment, the lawyer flies out to meet the client and takes instruction, for example, then returning to their home country to get started. But equally, this can be done by video conference, offering substantial financial savings, and not racking up unnecessary air miles.

The global oil and gas industry will always have to take account of local laws, but many of the commercial and legal constructs have global similarities, so oil and gas lawyers, in particular, are conversant and comfortable with going in to other jurisdictions and delivering the framework needed to get complex projects or transactions over the line.

There has been a number of reports by industry commentators who predict Covid-19 will herald the end of the modern office as we know it, with open-plan workspaces giving way to greater social and business distancing practices as part of a seismic shift in work culture.

Perceptions about home or remote working have dramatically changed, even in the last few weeks, and it appears that our Vario offering is a model that fits extremely well with smart, forward-thinking businesses who depend on continuity and cannot afford the disruption that a pandemic like Covid-19 imposes on operations.

Roger Connon, head of oil and gas for Pinsent Mason’s Vario

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