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Attorneys discuss ethics of energy law practice

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Indiana Lawyer Focus

Ethical issues faced by attorneys practicing energy law are often the result of the small number of lawyers currently in that field of law.

Evansville lawyer Kathryn Schymik, of Jackson Kelly, says that many energy law practitioners in Indiana are on a first-name basis and it’s not uncommon for a case to come up where a potential conflict exists.

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An Indiana Continuing Legal Education Forum conference on Feb. 22 focused on the expanding and changing area of energy law, with one session devoted specifically to ethical challenges. Linton attorney John Rowe and Schymik led the 30-minute open discussion, which included 26 Indiana attorneys attending either in person or via webcast.

One of the ethical challenges energy law practitioners brought up at the session involved conflicts of interest between parties they’re representing. In this area of law where mining or natural resources are tapped for energy, those owning the land and others producing or purchasing the end-product often rely on the same attorneys to handle their legal work.

Steve Link in Evansville said he often has clients who request his counsel on different stages of the same matter, such as an oil and gas operator that signs a land lease to drill wells and later the company that purchases the product from that land owner.

“We often see that there can be a question of who your duties are to at that point, and that’s something we all have to be mindful of,” Link said.

Schymik said she tries to be up front with clients about potential conflicts that could exist and let them know that, because of the small network of attorneys, they might have to be referred to other counsel.

For example, she said one of the challenges that she’s faced involves title work for one client on a lease or land transaction and then later having a purchaser or lender ask to rely on the same title opinion in order to draft a similar agreement. Essentially, Schymik said she must carefully examine what work-product and privilege issues exist.

Practitioners in this growing practice area say the changing nature of energy law and the regulatory environment present issues that could significantly alter their practices. This is particularly true when it comes to renewable energy issues surrounding wind, natural sustainability and climate change.

“We’re dealing with something akin to the Wild West from a legal perspective,” said Jeff Lorenzo of Lorenzo & Bevers in Seymour. “Much like the law related to the Internet, so many new issues have arisen in the past 15 years and we’re just beginning to sort through them.  But we can see a framework being constructed as we move forward. As the Legislature and courts respond to new environmental technologies, we’ll be confronted with issues we have no or very little regulation for. It will give attorneys a ground floor opportunity to contribute to the development of ethical responses to critical issues.”•

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  1. What is the one thing the Hoosier legal status quo hates more than a whistleblower? A lawyer whistleblower taking on the system man to man. That must never be rewarded, must always, always, always be punished, lest the whole rotten tree be felled.

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  4. Dear Fan, let me help you correct the title to your post. "ACLU is [Left] most of the time" will render it accurate. Just google it if you doubt that I am, err, "right" about this: "By the mid-1930s, Roger Nash Baldwin had carved out a well-established reputation as America’s foremost civil libertarian. He was, at the same time, one of the nation’s leading figures in left-of-center circles. Founder and long time director of the American Civil Liberties Union, Baldwin was a firm Popular Fronter who believed that forces on the left side of the political spectrum should unite to ward off the threat posed by right-wing aggressors and to advance progressive causes. Baldwin’s expansive civil liberties perspective, coupled with his determined belief in the need for sweeping socioeconomic change, sometimes resulted in contradictory and controversial pronouncements. That made him something of a lightning rod for those who painted the ACLU with a red brush." http://www.harvardsquarelibrary.org/biographies/roger-baldwin-2/ "[George Soros underwrites the ACLU' which It supports open borders, has rushed to the defense of suspected terrorists and their abettors, and appointed former New Left terrorist Bernardine Dohrn to its Advisory Board." http://www.discoverthenetworks.org/viewSubCategory.asp?id=1237 "The creation of non-profit law firms ushered in an era of progressive public interest firms modeled after already established like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People ("NAACP") and the American Civil Liberties Union ("ACLU") to advance progressive causes from the environmental protection to consumer advocacy." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cause_lawyering

  5. Mr. Foltz: Your comment that the ACLU is "one of the most wicked and evil organizations in existence today" clearly shows you have no real understanding of what the ACLU does for Americans. The fact that the state is paying out so much in legal fees to the ACLU is clear evidence the ACLU is doing something right, defending all of us from laws that are unconstitutional. The ACLU is the single largest advocacy group for the US Constitution. Every single citizen of the United States owes some level of debt to the ACLU for defending our rights.

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