Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

A Gusher of Work for Texas Oil & Gas Lawyers

Fracking seems to be the gift that keeps on giving to Texans of all pay grades. Not only are roughnecks and engineers in big demand, so are lawyers who specialize in oil & gas. At the biggest firms, young lawyers can start at $160,000 a year. For top partners, their time can be billed at a rate of up $1,000 an hour according to the American Bar Association.

“The different clients that I have, fortunately enough, were all driven by fracking because without that technology that market would never have opened,” said James Collura.

Dave Fehling / StateImpact

James Collura is an oil & gas lawyer in Houston.

Collura is an oil & gas attorney with the Houston firm of Coats Rose. It’s not one of those “big” firms and says it prides itself on keeping costs low.

Nonetheless, Collura said his firm is paying higher starting salaries despite what has been happening in other states where hiring is down dramatically.

Texas Law Firms Defy Downturn

At the University of Texas School of Law, David Montoya, Assistant Dean for Career Service, said Texas law firms have fared better than those in other states because of the surge in the oil & gas business.

“From the downturn beginning in ’08 to ’11 there was about a 44 percent national decrease in large firm hiring,” Montoya told StateImpact. “The strength of the energy industry here, though, has helped buoy some of the large firm hiring over that same period of time.”

In Houston, law firms with energy specialties are expanding with some big, national firms opening new offices here.

 ”I think one of the things is attracting other firms is they’ve seen the success that Latham has had here,” said Michael Darden, head of the oil & gas transactions practice at Latham & Watkins. It’s a global firm but until a few years ago, it had no offices in Texas.

After luring eight top lawyers from Houston’s most established and successful energy law firms, Latham opened an office in 2010.

“We’re now up to basically 70 transactional lawyers here in the Houston office,” Darden told StateImpact. “Historically, non Houston-based firms have had a very hard go of it coming into Houston and trying to take business from the big firms here: Baker Botts, Vinson & Elkins, Fulbright & Jaworski and a litany of other very good firms.”

Dave Fehling / StateImpact

Kinder Morgan took over El Paso pipelines offices in Houston after merging in 2012.

Megabucks from M&As

Those firms have reaped millions in fees handling recent mergers and acquisitions like the one involving Kinder Morgan and El Paso, two huge pipeline companies. Total sale price: $23 billion.

As ranked by industry publisher Mergermarket, Vinson & Elkins was tops in the nation for 134 energy deals valued at $178 billion. But a close second was Latham & Watkins with 98 deals valued at $168 billion.

One of Latham & Watkins transactions involved Plains Exploration and Production’s acquisition of over $5 billion in equipment used in the Gulf of Mexico by BP.

“It involved teams that at any given time might (have included) a dozen lawyers working on each side of that,” said Darden.

No Trickle-Down to State Regulators

But the big money has not spread to another sector of oil & gas: regulation. While lawyers say the top private firms are paying $160,000 to young lawyers just out of school, state drilling regulators like the Railroad Commission of Texas offer far less. The commission pays a range from $55,000 to $85,521 for its lawyers.

“The Commission does not generally have the means to compete with the oil and gas industry or law firms for attorneys,” emailed the Railroad Commission’s spokesperson, Ramona Nye. “Nevertheless, there is typically no lack of qualified applicants when the Commission seeks to fill attorney positions.”

James Collura, the oil & gas attorney mentioned earlier, said he handles a lot of regulation-related issues for his clients and does not feel that the competition for good lawyers leaves the state at a disadvantage.

“Governmental attorneys are excellent at what they do. A lot of times people are motivated and do their jobs beyond a monetary standpoint,” said Collura.


  • Passerby12

    Where are the oil lawyers that represent Black royalty owners who have suffered a Breach of Covenant with Exxon-Mobil for thirty years in the Haynesville Oil/Gas Shale in the Gladewater Field, at Gladewater Gas Unit #5, Wells 1&2? Exxon-Mobil requires that I write a letter to explain myself while it has produced billions of cubic feet of gas at the wells since 1981 and Well #2 is an underproduction oil well since 2006 when it was reclassified as a oil well by the Texas Railroad Commission in the Haynesville Oil/Gas Shale. I am receiving Division Order Checks for $0.12 from a thirty year old lease in the Bossier Shale which is active with an oil and gas well on the lease. I have a 1/8th in the 640 acre lease with the wells on my land but I have not been paid my fair share of the profits from the commodities: oil,condensates, and gas since we signed the lease in 1980.

    The Texas Railroad Commission suggested I retain a lawyer in 1983 but changed the rules in the Haynesville Shale in 1993 when Well #2 was completed as a gas well. A lease that Lee Raymond told my family would not produce over five years is still active but the delay rental payments have not been correct or forth coming to my family since we signed the lease in 1993. The production in the Gladewater Field, Haynesville Field has increased over the last thirty years but we have been paid less than a thousand dollars for all of our oil, condensates and billions of cubic feet of natural gas. while the white royalty owners, citizens of Exxon-Mobil’s corporate elite have profited continually. I feel involved in a “New Slavery” where a predatory, racist, oil giant, Exxon-Mobil, does not honor our oil/gas lease or the covenant it made with my family because we are Black and it knows no lawyer will defend our rights written in oil and gas law. I might as well be living in Nigeria or Russia where the government owns all mineral rights but Exxon-Mobil is not the government; Is it?

    • SouthernSoul

      Feel free to email me at southernsoul79@gmail.com

    • IHeardItOnTheInternets

      Exxon-Mobile’s lawyers find out the skin color of the people their employer has contracts with and they discount black people’s payments by 90%. And you won’t be able to get a lawyer to represent your legitimate claim because the entire bar (including the black lawyers) is either racist against blacks or being paid off by industry. Oh, and slavery and government and stuff. True story.

  • SouthernSoul

    Passerby12, I am a law student interested in oil and gas law and also a person with East Texas roots. I would love to get in touch with you and learn more about the issues with black royalty owners in east texas.


      Please call me 903 570 3865 very important my name is dwayne..please call assp


    Hello…im seeking a lawyer that can help no matter skin color…great uncle was smart..we own 75% working interest wit 1/8th overridding royalty.oil company giving us run arounds. 2 wells producing since 05.we are gettn paid nothn n even said land cant b located.i have all needed paper n documents…PLEASR HELP

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