Kirsty: how I became a green energy lawyer
As representing environmental interests becomes increasingly attractive to graduating law students, Kirsty Nurse (Law 2007) tells us about her own career journey that has led her to specialising in green issues and renewable energy.
Current treasured object: my cosy slippers (don’t know what I will do when we are back in the office)
Song of the moment: Bad Habits – Ed Sheeran
The first thing I noticed when I woke up this morning: It’s so dark! (when do the clocks go back?)
I graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 2006 and completed my diploma in 2007. It was then that I started my traineeship, and I admit that at the time I had no idea which area of law I wanted to specialise in. While I enjoyed my first seat (legal department) in family law, I found it an emotional area and one I really didn’t have the stomach for.
It was during my final seat in projects, a seat which encompassed advising clients on infrastructure projects such as schools and airports, that I first encountered renewables. I started working with the Co-operative Bank on project financing in the renewables sector and then was asked to do a secondment with them in Manchester after I qualified in 2009. It sparked an interest that would define my legal career going forward.
I joined the law firm CMS’s Power team in London in 2011 after gaining my English law qualification in 2010, before heading to CMS Edinburgh to help form a renewables practice in 2012. Along with a few colleagues, I was responsible for developing the Renewables Team from scratch. This involved bringing my contacts on board, including the Co-operative Bank, which was the first step in building a large group of great renewable energy clients. It felt like the right place and the right time coming together.
CMS really offers lawyers the opportunity to address the climate crisis, as our Energy and Climate Change practice is one of the largest in the world, with over 450 lawyers globally. Most of the work I undertake is “transactional”, which means I often have quite a lot of projects running at the same time. A large part of this work involves carrying out due diligence for lenders involved in financing clean energy projects as well as advising developers on developing and/or purchasing green projects.
I’ve also witnessed a significant shift in focus on the energy and climate change sector as the climate crisis has intensified since I first started out. It’s a relatively new area of law and I didn’t even know it was an option to work in it when I was a trainee.
As well as this, a large part of my role is on the business development side as lawyers have to keep up to date with regulation changes and technology updates. Energy is a constantly evolving sector where attendance at relevant conferences and seminars is essential to know they key issues which will be affecting our firm and clients.
I’ve also witnessed a significant shift in focus on the energy and climate change sector as the climate crisis has intensified since I first started out. It’s a relatively new area of law and I didn’t even know it was an option to work in it when I was a trainee. At that time energy was all about oil and gas. Now trainees come through and are eager to get a seat in the Energy and Climate Change practice.
With the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) hosted in Glasgow starting shortly, we’ve been doing quite a lot ahead of it, both for clients and also in terms of our own sustainability commitment, which includes organising a series of client-facing insight activities, videos and webinars on issues surrounding COP26 and renewables in general. With Scotland hugely involved in renewables, COP26 is a great opportunity to show the world what we do.
The popularity of the energy and climate change sector in law is really increasing and I’d advise new and aspiring lawyers to get involved. There are various options including volunteering with renewable groups; taking courses specialising in clean energy or joining sustainability focused organisations, such as the 2050 Climate Group or the UK Environmental Lawyers Association student arm. There are a growing number of opportunities for those who want to work in the sector, too. Renewables and sustainability is now such a popular area, and every business is interested in it. Companies want to buy clean energy or install solar panels or wind turbines or just simply reduce their carbon footprint and improve their sustainability. As a variety of sectors are involved, there are more ways than ever to work in energy.
I also believe that Scotland and the University of Edinburgh are ideally located and have the right expertise. Scotland has been a centre of innovation and invention for hundreds of years and it is hard not to be inspired by such a history, particularly when studying at the University where the list of alumni is impressive to say the least. Whilst I certainly do not have the engineering or scientific brains of some of the more famous names, I like to think that the knowledge of those that came before provided me with a drive to be involved in a sector in which Scotland can maintain its status as a world leader in innovation in sustainable energy and in doing so supporting the finding of solutions to some of the key issues regarding Climate Change.
Indeed, with the current climate crisis, a sustainability strategy is expected in all sectors of business, not just encouraged. I believe a lifestyle change on a global level is required to improve the state of the planet. Countries with the money to make improvements must help those which are still developing and are likely to be more reliant on fossil fuels. We must use our knowledge and technological abilities to improve things across the board… and hopefully it is enough.
(Image courtesy of CMS and Legal Cheek)