Roger Connon: Specialist lawyers set to replace in-house firms

Roger Connon is Head of Oil and Gas, Vario
Roger Connon is Head of Oil and Gas, Vario
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New legal resource provides freelance lawyers with years of experience to oil and gas sector, says Roger Connon

There is an increasing optimism in Aberdeen, where I have plied my trade as a lawyer for the last 30 years. The price of Brent Crude oil, the barometer by which Europe’s oil capital takes measure, remains steadily above $50 a barrel and analysts predict that political unrest in Saudi Arabia may push it nearer the $70 mark.

There is light on the horizon but let’s not forget that cutbacks over the last three years impacted on service providers of all trades and professions, including our own legal sector. In-house legal teams in the north-east, and in other locations which supported the North Sea oil and gas sector, were decimated or at least severely pruned and cost cutting meant that out-sourcing to legal firms at times of peak demand became a non-starter.

With confidence in the market slowly returning, Pinsent Masons expects an increase in oil and gas related M&A activity and while legal services budgets have been reduced, the reality is the workload for in-house teams has continued to grow, with other factors such as non-payment issues, the requirement to re-tender for contracts and an increase in disputed contracts all requiring expert attention.

We believe our Vario freelance legal resource can play an important role in assisting energy sector businesses in making the most of this recalibrated oil and gas landscape and after recently stepping down as a partner and Pinsent Masons’ head of office in Aberdeen, I am excited to be taking up a new role as Vario’s head of Oil and Gas, with the aim of establishing Vario as the leading provider of specialist contract lawyers to the oil and gas sector.

Businesses operating in the North Sea sector remain focused on controlling costs and are wary of returning to the bloated workforces of yesteryear. Across the supply chain, they have embraced the need for greater collaboration and are more willing to explore new ways of working.

Our Vario model – providing motivated lawyers with the skills to match clients’ short and long-term objectives – is ideally suited to this new environment and our freelance lawyers include specialists with years of experience in oil and gas law, employment law, mergers and acquisitions, regulatory, IP, commercial and corporate law.

Vario lawyers are vetted to the highest standards and they are supported by our firm-wide network of PSLs – practice support lawyers who provide technical research, training updates and advice on the latest legal precedents and upcoming changes to legislation.

To strengthen our proposition, I will be looking to recruit lawyers who are seeking greater variety in their work or will prefer a more flexible way of working that Vario can offer.

Pinsent Masons recognises that to maintain our position as a modern forward-thinking equal opportunity legal firm, we have to offer flexible working options. Our Vario model is an extension of that approach and our freelance pool of lawyers range from those who are looking for a varied and challenging legal career but who want to combine law with a second career or other interests, to parents with young children who prefer to work through the winter months and have the flexibility of being able take time off during the lengthy summer school holiday period.

To get the best out of our Varios, we work with them to understand their experience, professional and personal motivations, the legal work they want to be doing and how they want to do it. In parallel, our clients tell us what they need, the business challenge they are facing, the skills they are looking for, the type of individual who works well in their company and the period for which Vario support is required. On finding a match, we manage the process to ensure the Vario integrates seamlessly in to the client’s organisation.

Varios from Pinsent Masons are currently deployed in roles at a number of international oil and gas operators and major contractor companies working in the UKCS and we expect this number to increase as Aberdeen and the oil and gas sector’s recovery continues to gather momentum.

Roger Connon is head of Oil and Gas, Vario