With a Name Like Law, Was Becoming A Lawyer a Foregone Conclusion? 12/17/14 12/16/14 10:25:58 PM
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Doug Law’s work with Black Hills Corporation’s energy affiliates spans several states, and there’s always room for expansion.
With a Name Like Law, Was Becoming
A Lawyer a Foregone Conclusion?
By Lorraine Boyd
The Daily Record
What choice did he have? With a name like Doug Law, he had to become a lawyer, didn’t he?
Not exactly. Let him tell the story:
“I grew up in Williston, North Dakota, which was, and is, a hub for oil and natural gas development. If my grandparents had settled in northwestern North Dakota instead of the Sand Hills of Nebraska, I probably would be retired from the oil and gas royalties, like some of my friends from that area. But … I love Nebraska, and I’m glad to be a Nebraskan!
“My parents met at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the early 1950s. They both taught high school in the Sand Hills. I was born in Mullen, Neb., but after getting jobs there, my parents moved our family to North Dakota where I was raised.
“During summer college breaks, I worked at various heavy labor/blue collar jobs in the oil fields such as working on crews that constructed oil field tanks and other oil field roustabout jobs,” he said.
“I grew up a Cornhusker living in North Dakota. So after two years at the junior college in North Dakota where my dad taught, I went to Lincoln in 1980 to become a chemical engineer.
“My intention was to develop a better oil rig drilling mud product used when drilling oil wells. But after getting into upper level organic chemistry classes in Lincoln, I recognized I was spending four hours in a lab that should be completed in two hours and not having as much fun.
“I enjoyed my business law classes so much more that I decided to finish out at UNL with a business degree with a minor in finance, then go on to law school. The University of North Dakota’s School of Law had a very good oil and gas program so I headed back there to become a business lawyer in the oil and gas field.”
And so he did.
The 2014-15 president of the Omaha Bar Association is currently an in-house corporate lawyer with Black Hills Corporation, which has several energy affiliates. It owns a coal mine in Wyoming, an oil and gas exploration company in Denver, electric generation, transmission and distribution companies in South Dakota, Wyoming and Colorado, and natural gas companies in Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Colorado and Wyoming. There are nine in-house lawyers within Black Hills Corporation’s family of companies.
“My role is much like a general practitioner,” Doug said. “Like many corporate counsel, I handle questions coming from almost every area of law. My focus – along with other members of our law department – is mainly on natural gas and electric public utility distribution. Most of my work involves a business that is regulated by several state public service commissions. But we are also subject to federal law issues for natural gas pipeline safety issues, contracted service with interstate natural gas transportation pipelines, electric transmission and for reliability of electric service for our electric operations.”
Past Experience Put to Use
His early experiences and undergraduate studies did not go to waste.
“All of the undergraduate chemistry classes still pay dividends in my current legal career. I understand better the differences between steams of liquids produced from an oil and gas well. While I would leave it to the chemists and engineers to identify, all energy lawyers should understand the basic chemical formula differences between methane, butane, propane, nitrogen, hydrogen, diesel and gasoline so that they can properly draft or review purchase and sale agreements.
“Growing up in North Dakota did give me a first hand view of the ups and downs involved with the oil and gas business. My second-year summer law clerk job was spent doing debtor/creditor work after the oil boom turned into a bust,” Doug remembered.
Then there was that summer spent in Norway during law school.
Because of the large number of people of Norwegian ancestry living in North Dakota, UND’s School of Law established an international exchange program with the University of Oslo, Norway. During the summer of 1984, Doug spent six weeks there at the end of his first year of law school.
“One of the international law topics that we discussed during the Comparative Law class that summer was the legal issues arising from the oil spill of the Amoco Cadiz off the coast of France in 1978, opening my eyes to the risks of transporting oil from producing fields to markets.”
More valuable experience awaited him during his second year of law school.
He served a semester as a legal intern at the North Dakota State Legislature, conducting research and drafting amendments on the issues of the Judiciary Committee and the Natural Resources Committees. “That experience was a great lesson for me in understanding how laws are formed, and to appreciate the difficult process that goes into passing legislation.
“When asked, I’m still involved in reviewing, analyzing and drafting legislative amendments for legislative bills that impact Black Hills Energy or its customers.”
Entering the Work Force
Upon graduation from law school, he began his legal career at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). “I worked as an advisory attorney drafting FERC orders. It was fun to be an energy lawyer under Presidents Reagan and then Bush.
“After nearly three years at FERC, I wanted to relocate my family back to the Midwest,” he said.
In 1989, he began working at Peoples Natural Gas as an in-house lawyer. It was a division of UtiliCorp United Inc. and a spin-off of Northern Natural Gas (which was eventually acquired by Enron). UtiliCorp eventually became Aquila until five years ago when most of Aquila’s natural gas distribution properties were acquired by Black Hills Corporation. In 1995, UtiliCorp outsourced its legal resources, with Blackwell Sanders becoming their primary legal advisor. Two hours after he was let go, Doug landed a job at Blackwell Sanders (now Husch Blackwell), where he worked in the Energy Law group for 13 years.
“That process opened my eyes up to the various business models that corporations employ regarding their legal resources, and to better understand the valuation of legal service by both corporations and law firms.
“The law firm went from 180 lawyers to 600 lawyers practicing in several cities by the time I left in 2008 to return to in-house corporate law with Black Hills Corporation. Omaha’s office grew from three lawyers to about 50 local lawyers. So I feel like I’ve seem almost every legal business model out there, except for sole practitioner.”
How is he able to apply his experience to the Omaha Bar today?
“My law firm experience as an associate, partner and equity partner taught me how to survive in a competitive legal world, and introduced me to the business of law. I believe that experience helps me as Bar president because I understand the commitments and pressures that law firm practitioners must fulfill daily. My time at the law firm also provided an opportunity to develop deep and long-lasting relationships with many lawyers in Omaha.”
Energy Is His Passion
The affable lawyer is enthusiastic about many things. His family, his volunteerism, his service to the Bar, and his profession. The unassuming attorney would prefer to talk about his work in the field of energy, a topic about which he is passionate.
Asked why his interest hasn’t waned, he replied, “Energy is a fundamental component of survival in life. Our company mission statement is ‘Improving Life With Energy.’ Our vision is to be the energy partner of choice. Black Hills Corporation’s values are centered on its employees executing and fulfilling its mission and vision.
Our company leaders understand that energy is filled with several highly political issues. However, we are in the business of producing, generating and distributing energy. Most of our service involves energy delivery systems.
“I go to work daily knowing that my work will help my company deliver natural gas to keep people warm in the winter, and delivery of electric power to keep the power on all of the time, including the air conditioner in the summer.
Asked how the industry is changing, Doug said, “Technolo-gy advancement will change the form and structure of regulated utility companies. … However, until technology advances to a point that makes alternative energy sources more reliable and more affordable, the primary sources of energy and energy delivery systems will continue.
“Keeping up with the political debate of carbon versus alternative sources of energy and energy delivery systems is exciting and provides legal challenges to be addressed.”
As a volunteer, Doug has taken many leadership roles, from captain of his school’s swim team to president of UNL’s Omaha Alumni Chapter to chairman of OBA’s Law Day.
How are his leadership roles helping now as Bar president?
“I’ve always enjoyed being a team player. I aspire to be a leader where the other group’s members are all focused on the same end goals. It’s analogous to a competitive cycling team taking turns leading the front of the pack, all headed to the finish line.
“As a leader – especially in a volunteer member association role – you must appreciate the membership and especially the service provided by others in the association. You can’t hire and fire like an employer. Accordingly, my past member positions along with leadership positions have helped me to understand better how to engage members and encourage other association leaders.”
He added that, “My in-house experience helps me understand the demands that other Omaha Bar Association corporate counsels experience.”
He said his experience also helps him to know that trusted relationships, commitment to the organization and respect of the members is the key to success.
“The mission and vision of the Omaha Bar is to serve the members. I am the person who gets to set the pace and tone. The OBA has many well-established traditions, and we’ll continue to develop new items to benefit our members. We are turning a greater focus on health and wellness of our members, beginning with more education to help our members maintain a proper work/life balance.
Off the Job
What do we need to know about Doug away from his job?
He and his wife, Wendi, met in law school and married at the beginning of his third year of law school. They’ll celebrate their 30th anniversary next August.
Two months into his job at FERC, he learned he had cancer. He endured a series of surgeries and chemotherapy and “a couple of scary sessions at Fairfax Hospital … but there’s nothing like a life-threatening challenge to drive one deeper in faith with God,” Doug said.
Although the couple was told they wouldn’t be able to have children because of the chemotherapy, two years after treatment ended, their only child, Alexandra, was born.
“Like many children of Omaha Bar Association members, my child is pursuing a career in law. Alex, now 26, a graduate of the College of Business at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, graduated from Santa Clara University’s School of Law last May and is now awaiting her California Bar exam results. She wants to be in corporate law and has her emphasis in high technology and corporate law.”
He noted Alex could help him in his role as OBA president “to understand the motivation and desires of the Bar’s younger members. And I can always ask Alex to translate where there is a generation gap!”
Although he grew up in North Dakota, Doug comes by his Nebraska heritage honestly. The family is 4th generation Nebraskan, starting with his paternal grandfather homesteading near Wallace, Neb. His mother still lives with his younger sister near the family farm, for which President Benjamin Harrison signed the land grant certificate more than 125 years ago.
Doug keeps in shape at the YMCA, usually swimming. “However, my daughter convinced me to join a couple of Zumba classes two years ago, and now I’m one of the few men who is a regular.” He’s also a Big Red football fan and an occasional golfer. Movies and winter vacations in Hawaii are other favorite pastimes.
Doug Law: A man of many interests and an able leader for the Omaha Bar.
While working in D.C. in 1987, Law was sworn into the State Bar Association of North Dakota by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. The photo of this moment shows him with a bald pate, compliments of his chemo.
Coincidentally, the next Supreme Court Justice with whom he posed for photos was Samuel Alito in Omaha last August, who happens to occupy the same office as Justice O’Connor.