As an energy attorney, Hallie F. Gilman came to the realization that her New England-based law firm, Pierce Atwood, was conflicted out of representing the very clients she wished to work with most: renewable energy generators. So a couple of years ago Gilman made the decision to leave private practice for an in-house job.
Today, having made her way up to the associate general counsel post at First Wind in Portland, Maine, Gilman oversees regulatory and compliance programs for a company that develops wind and solar power projects across the country. The role allows her to continue the work she handled in private practice on energy infrastructure projects, and to become involved in the environmental policy issues for which she’s developed a passion.
“A renewable energy project is a big infrastructure project with all of the facets of construction and permitting that go with that, and it also has all kinds of policy implications for the way that we use energy and how that’s changing,” says Gilman, who recently spoke with New England In-House’s Julie McMahon about her position at First Wind.
Q. What’s the biggest advantage of being in-house?
A. It is a huge luxury to really believe in the value of every project you work on. That’s the best thing. I also love that [First Wind] feels a little bit like an Internet startup and a little bit like a construction company. It’s a really fun combination.
Q. What exactly does First Wind do?
A. We develop, build and operate utility-scale wind projects, and we’re moving into solar projects, as well. … The great thing about what we do and the way we do it is that we’re really involved in projects from developing a ridgeline to the operation of a project. We really take an interest in how a project comes to fruition and how it will operate and be a good neighbor through its life.
Q. You’re involved in projects from start to finish in this job. Was that a big change from the work you were doing as an attorney at a law firm?
A. It’s great to be able to do that. Being in-house, you get to understand how all of these parts of a project fit together over the life of a project, and you can contribute to all of these pieces — not just the parts the client pulls you in for.
Q. What does your role at First Wind entail?
A. My role is half compliance, primarily on the operating projects side. Many of our projects are registered with [North American Electric Reliability Corp.] and have other compliance operations as they go through their life. I’m part of a team in charge of maintaining regulatory compliance. The other half of my job has to do with regulatory status and strategy. There are some regulatory, strategic and litigation matters that can crop up in the development or operations stage. Those can crop up at the state or federal level.
Q. How do youkeep up with all the regulatory changes that occur?
A. It’s a lot of email and communication. What I like about regulatory law is that it is constantly translating the regulators’ concerns to the business people and the business peoples’ needs to the regulators. Being in-house, you’re constantly translating within different business groups as well. The operational needs need to be communicated to the development teams, [and vice versa]. Everyone says “communication,” but it’s really a lot of translation, keeping the information moving in a usable form.
Q. Do you still feel connected to the legal community now that you’re no longer at a law firm?
A. It feels a little different. My connection is often as much as a client as it is a practitioner. I think that I’m lucky to be in the regulatory sphere because I’m probably more likely than many of my in-house colleagues to be involved in regulatory proceedings. I probably practice law outside of the legal department more than most would be. I feel like I have a foot in both worlds, which is nice.
Q. Does being in-house allow you to strike a better work-life balance than when you were practicing at a law firm?
A. I have found that both in-house and private practice are as consuming as they possibly can be. I was very fortunate to be at a law firm that was not hung up on “face time.” In both settings, I have certainly endeavored to find time for community commitments. It’s been hard to do in both places.
Q. How was the transition from private practice to in-house?
A. My transition was atypical in that I moved in-house to a position that was only part legal. My original position was only a small portion state regulatory practice, and it was primarily an external affairs role. Colleagues at the law firm worried on my behalf that I was giving up on the practice of law. It was a risk I knew I was taking. It was somewhat of a calculated risk, if there is such a thing. My role ended up changing to become more of a full-time lawyer.
Q. For what matters and assistance do you turn to outside counsel?
A. I do work with outside counsel a lot. We turn outside when we need particular expertise that we don’t have in-house. Because of the geographic diversity of our business, we often turn to outside counsel when the matter requires local knowledge and credibility and expertise. And we turn to outside counsel when the project is just too large to be handled by our very lean in-house department.
Q. What do you look for in the outside counsel your company hires?
A. I happily don’t always make these decisions. I think an outside counsel interested in working with our company needs to be ready to be creative about fee structure and certainly needs to be pragmatic in terms of assessing legal issues. We ask all of our outside counsel to consider fee structures where that makes sense. There are so many different ways to improve certainty around cost and share risk between the parties. We’re very open to different kinds of structures for different kinds of matters, so creativity is really the key.
Q. What do you not want in the outside counsel you hire?
A. I would say we require outside counsel to be pretty proactive and aggressive. Outside counsel who aren’t comfortable in that role aren’t a great fit. It’s not a pet peeve but more of a fit issue. We’re a growth industry, and we’re a fast-moving industry.