Phil Stempin

(UM News Service) How many lawyers does it take to turn on a lightbulb?

As it turns out, quite a few considering the nuances of the energy industry needed to power that bulb.

The University of Montana’s Alexander Blewett III School of Law is currently training students to practice in the energy sector. Industry demand means these students will have numerous job offers upon graduation.

Bri Anderson a third-year law student from Shepherd initially planned on going into tax law until classes on oil and gas law changed her trajectory.

“I thought I had everything figured out,” said Anderson. “Then I took Judge Brown’s oil and gas class and realized this was a great path for me.”

Judge Stephen Brown worked over 25 years in private practice and now sits on the Montana Water Court, which expedites and facilitates the statewide adjudication of over 219,000 state law-based water rights and Indian and Federal reserved water rights claims. These water rights are often at the forefront of energy development.

“All Rocky Mountain west law schools teach oil and gas and water law,” said Brown, an adjunct professor at the law school. “From a legal perspective, these classes are the foundation to transactional law involving natural resources and energy.”

Anderson spent the summer interning with Crowley Fleck, a law firm that does work within the energy sector. She interned with their oil and gas group, focusing on mineral titles and digging through documents to find out who owns what and where.

As with water rights, laws governing ownership of mineral rights can directly impact the energy sector.  If someone owns land, it doesn’t necessarily mean they own what’s under it. With decades or even a century of paperwork on plots of land, ownership rights can get fuzzy. Lawyers are needed to dig through this paperwork to find clarity for their clients. “This work resonates with me intellectually,” said Anderson. “I’ve always enjoyed doing puzzles, and that’s what it feels like to work on these complex contracts.”

Brown is happy to teach students about a field he’s spent his professional life working in.

“It’s more than just figuring out rules and regulations,” Brown said. “Law students are learning how to critically think through various problems and then come up with meaningful solutions.”

“Even with the transition to a net-zero energy policy, knowledge about oil and gas law is essential,” Anderson said.  “There is a huge need for lawyers in the energy sector, and I’m grateful to be a part of it.”

Anderson plans on finishing out her last year of law school and will then move her family to Bismarck, North Dakota, to start her full-time job with Crowley Fleck PLLP.

“The opportunities I’ve had at law school have been tremendous,” said Anderson. “Think about the issues in the world that need solving, and that’s where the jobs are.”