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The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas.

Kathryn Shurin, Partner—Real Estate, Energy, Land Use & Environmental (2023)

Kathryn “Katy” Shurin is a partner in the Real Estate, Energy, Land Use & Environmental Practice Group in the firm's Houston office. Katy represents financial institutions, hedge funds, commodities trading companies, energy marketers, project sponsors and developers, and other energy companies and investors in complex energy finance and commodities trading matters, mergers and acquisitions, and other commercial transactions that span the power, renewables and alternative energy, natural gas, and upstream oil and gas sectors. Her representations often involve highly structured, asset-backed transactions that utilize project and structured finance concepts and techniques. Katy represents clients in structured transactions and hedging and other offtake arrangements involving gas-fired power plants, solar- and wind-powered facilities, and battery storage projects located in each major power market in the United States.

Katy’s experience also includes negotiating environmental products trading agreements, including with respect to renewable energy credits (RECs), renewable identification numbers (RINs), carbon capture allowances (CCAs), low carbon fuel standard (LCFS) credits, regional greenhouse gas initiatives (RGGIs), and voluntary emissions reductions (VERs). Katy is familiar with both bespoke arrangements and the master agreements used in the power, gas, and environmental products trading industries. In addition, Katy also has significant experience representing energy clients in workout and restructuring matters, both in and out of court. 

Describe your practice area and what it entails.

I represent clients in the energy space in complex energy transactions that can generally be broken down into three buckets: (1) energy finance matters, (2) commercial contract matters, and (3) mergers and acquisitions. My transactions are not limited to a particular sector in the energy space; rather, they span the conventional power, renewables and alternative energy, natural gas, and upstream oil and gas spaces.

My matters often involve highly structured, asset-backed transactions that utilize project and structured finance concepts and techniques. Understanding credit concepts and considerations is a key element of my work. I have deep experience representing clients with respect to power purchase agreements, virtual power purchase agreements and other offtake, trading and hedging transactions for power, natural gas, environmental attributes, carbon offsets, sustainable fuels, and other commodities. I also negotiate energy management agreements, O&M agreements, and other project documents for infrastructure projects, and represent clients in mergers and other business combinations, acquisitions, and divestitures of energy assets.

What types of clients do you represent?

I represent financial institutions, hedge funds, private equity funds, power and natural gas marketers, commodities trading companies, independent power producers, project sponsors and developers, and other energy companies. Because my practice is so varied, the types of clients that I represent also tend to be varied.

What types of cases/deals do you work on?

In the renewable energy space, I represent project sponsors and developers as well as corporate, commercial, industrial, and municipal buyers; and hedge providers and other offtakers in the negotiation of power purchase agreements, virtual power purchase agreements, and other offtake arrangements relating to utility scale and distributed generation wind, solar, and battery storage projects, and in the negotiation of renewable energy credit purchase and sale transactions. I also represent commodities traders, financial institutions, hedge funds, and other energy marketers in the purchase and sale of renewable identification numbers, carbon capture allowances, low carbon fuel standard credits, regional greenhouse gas initiatives, voluntary emissions reductions, and other environmental products. In the conventional power and oil and natural gas space, I represent hedge providers and other energy companies in the negotiation of financially and physically settled hedge transactions, tolling agreements, prepaid transactions, fuel purchase and sale agreements, capacity purchases, fuel storage agreements, energy management agreements, and related contracts. I also represent retail energy providers that operate in deregulated power and natural gas markets, and the financial institutions and other energy companies providing financing to such retail energy providers, in the negotiation of working capital and letter of credit facilities, financial hedging arrangements, and physical power and natural gas supply arrangements. Lastly, I have significant experience representing clients in restructuring and work-out transactions, both in and outside of bankruptcy court, and in mergers, acquisitions, and other business combinations.

How did you choose this practice area?

I started my career as a capital markets associate in New York. A few years into my practice, I needed to move to Houston for personal reasons. The law firm I worked for at the time did not have a Houston office so I needed to change firms. In the process of looking for a new law firm in Houston, I came across an opportunity for an energy transactional associate. I thought the position sounded interesting and decided to take a leap of faith and try something new. Taking that risk was the best career decision I could have made, and I have never looked back.

What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?

The thing I love most about my practice is that no day is ever the same. The diversity of transactions on which I work means the issues I am handling on any given day can be quite varied. At its core, I am a problem solver. My job is to help my clients achieve their business goals, which are often to close deals of one kind or another. Doing my job typically requires a lot of creative thinking, patience, and stamina. I am constantly balancing both understanding the intricacies and details of a particular transaction with keeping the broader picture in mind so that I can provide the most comprehensive advice to my clients. Each day I spend a significant amount of time on the phone talking to clients and opposing counsel. I also spend a large portion of my day reading and marking up contracts and conferring with my associates. The process is collaborative and interactive, which I love.

What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?

Law school curricula was not particularly well suited to prepare students for transactional law practices when I was in law school. If you can take the business law classes and practica offered at your law school, those certainly help. Bankruptcy, Secured Transactions (UCC Article 9), Tax, and privately held and publicly held business transactions classes are especially relevant to my practice. If your law school offers any energy law-related classes, journal opportunities, or clinics, those would be great to take as well. But most training is on the job. I do not expect incoming associates (or summer associates) to have any sort of baseline level of expertise in energy law or the negotiation of commercial transactions. We spend a lot of time training our associates to learn how to negotiate and draft agreements, and teaching them about the assets we are working with and energy contract and financing structures because we view that time spent as an investment that is critical to the development of our associates and long-term viability of our practice group.

What is unique about your practice area at your firm?

What is unique about the energy practice group at Sheppard is the incredible breadth and depth of experience of the attorneys in the group. My practice is just one piece of a much larger puzzle. And that puzzle is huge! It is honestly mind-blowing at times the amount of expertise we have in our group, from transactional to regulatory to litigation to restructuring to tax, and the various sectors of the energy space in which that expertise lies, from renewables and alternative energy to conventional power to oil and gas to biofuels to liquified natural gas, just to name a few. I think this is unique among law firms. Very few firms are truly full-service, one-stop-shop energy firms like we are. Being a part of a much larger whole in this regard is incredibly helpful when it comes to client service. Many of my clients have questions or transactions that are outside my particular area of expertise, and being able to refer them to my colleagues down the hall or in other offices and know that they will receive excellent legal advice is such a good feeling. It also doesn’t hurt that the Sheppard energy team is comprised of incredibly collegial and friendly folks who are always willing to be of service and are completely committed to building something bigger than just themselves or their core area of practice.

What are some typical tasks that a junior lawyer would perform in this practice area?

Typical tasks for junior lawyers include review of due diligence material, preparation of due diligence memoranda, legal research, preparation and management of closing checklists, preparation of closing certificates and other ancillary documents required for closing, interfacing with counterparts at other law firms, creation of form-trading and finance documents for clients, and review and negotiation of transaction documents based on the form documents.

What kinds of experience can summer associates gain at this practice area at your firm?

Our goal is for the experience of our summer associates to mirror the experience of a first-year associate in our practice group as closely as possible. We want our summer associates to leave with a realistic understanding of what it means to be a part of our practice group and the firm as a whole. We view our summer associates as members of our team from day one and that is how we treat them. This means that we integrate our summer associates into our deal teams as much as possible. We maintain fairly lean deal teams to begin with and are often very busy, so there is typically no shortage of work on live transactions for our summer associates to do. Our summer associates draft ancillary transaction documents, conform drafts to term sheets, create and maintain closing checklists, manage closing documents and the closing process, perform due diligence, and prepare due diligence memoranda. Our summer associates also sit in on client calls and attend client meetings and business development events with us as well. They do most everything our junior associates are expected to do.

What are some typical career paths for lawyers in this practice area?

There are many career paths for lawyers in the energy space. Of course, there is the path from energy associate to energy partner. For associates seeking a different path, there are myriad in-house counsel opportunities, often arising with our clients or companies opposite our clients in a transaction with whom the associate or others at the firm are familiar. There are also opportunities for lawyers to become more active in energy policymaking by joining a governmental agency, such as FERC, NERC, the CFTC, or SEC, or a public utility commission, independent system operator, or regional transmission operator. And there are opportunities for lawyers to “switch over” to the business side and take a non-legal position with an energy company, financial institution, private equity firm, hedge fund, or other entity. The possibilities are pretty much endless!