You are a specialist energy and resources lawyer at Sydney Law School. What does it entail?
I conduct specialised research and teach about the legal issues that affect the energy and resources sectors globally. My particular research focus is on renewable energy law and the legal issues surrounding the development and commercialisation of energy storage. I teach our postgraduate students across a broader range of areas including oil and gas law, mining law, electricity law, project finance, renewable energy law and legal issues affecting emerging technologies. I also teach tort law (civil wrongs) to our first year students in the Law School.
What is a “typical day” like?
My day can be incredibly varied depending upon where I am in the world and whether I am predominantly conducting research or teaching (or both!). I might have a meeting with the Minister for Mines from an African country to discuss their mining contracts or I might be lecturing to 150 law students on the finer points of the law of underground trespass to land. I also try to meet frequently with members of the energy and resources sector in Australia so that I can understand the issues that are affecting them on the ground and seek to find solutions to these problems through my research.
In addition to your day job, you work with African and Asian countries to build their capacity to negotiate and manage their oil, gas and mining contracts. Can you please say a bit more about what you do?
One of the most rewarding aspect of my job is to capacity build mid to senior level public servants and members of civil society organisations from developing nations. I cover the basics of oil and gas and mining law, as well as how to more effectively negotiate their contracts in the extractive industries. This training is international with courses taught in Sydney and Perth in Australia, Monrovia in Liberia, Mahe in Seychelles, and Addis Ababa in Ethiopia.
My focus is to help negotiators from developing countries develop a better understanding of the sector, its contracts and how to sustainably manage revenue flows. We talk about how to structure projects to secure international financing, enhance monitoring and enforcement, prevent corruption, as well as encourage environmental and social sustainability. I also try to enhance their technical contract negotiation skills so that they can achieve a better outcome.
In some of the countries I work with, these extractive industry projects can be their greatest hope for development. If implemented successfully, communities get jobs, an income, access to clean water and electricity, as well as essential infrastructure such as schools, roads and hospitals. That can be life changing in a post-conflict society, so it really is important.
You’ve practiced law in the UK and China. How was it different?
Some aspects of practising law are very similar no matter where you are in the world. As a the lawyer, you need to understand the context of the legal issue, the desired outcome and then work through the different legal strategies that may be adopted to help meet or better the desired outcome.
What working in a number of different countries has taught me, is that understanding the local culture and cultural context matters. In some countries people are forthright when they have a problem, while in other countries they may be reticent to raise issues or want to save face. You need to be able to communicate complex ideas to people in relatively simple language and in a culturally appropriate manner.
You’ve just done a comparative PhD on the role of renewable energy laws in different countries around the world. Can you please say a bit more about it?
This was a study that examined the national renewable energy laws of every country that had such a law. This project showed that while in some areas national renewable energy laws are becoming more similar, there are still a number of areas with significant national differences. For example, by linking energy security to national security, a number of countries are reluctant to participate in cooperative approaches which would see a more stable and reliable electricity supply.
What is the role of the renewable energy sector in foreign policy?
Over the past five years, the renewable energy sector has experienced an unprecedented boom in terms of investment and technological development, due to growing recognition of the role it will play in ensuring energy security, sustainably meeting rising energy demands and mitigating climate change. This period has seen technological convergence, an increasingly globalised market and the sharp growth in the number of countries regulating to accelerate the deployment of renewable energy.
Recently, we have seen the emergence of international conflicts between countries before the World Trade Organization over their support for their domestic renewable energy industries and technology manufacturers. Foreign policy has an important role to play to ensure that all countries can from benefit from renewable energy technologies to encourage greater access to energy and rural electrification.
What would you recommend to a woman who would like to follow a similar career path?
Prior to becoming an academic and a consultant, I was an international project finance lawyer at a large international law firm. This background has proved to be invaluable training in the technical skills and commercial knowledge required to be a good lawyer. Finding mentors who take an active interest in your career is also beneficial.
I think women often need to be more strategic in their choice of career specialisation. Energy and resources law is a great area to work in as it interesting, dynamic and relatively recession proof, as even in times of economic crisis, we still need to have energy for lights, transportation and heating and cooling.
Why did you want to be a lawyer?
I had not intended to become a lawyer. However, when I applied for my preferred degree at the University of Sydney, a Bachelor of Economics (Social Sciences), I was advised that I qualified for the double degree, which combined it with a Bachelor of Laws. I enrolled on the basis that if I was not enjoying the law component that I could always drop the Bachelor of Laws. Luckily, I loved both my degrees, but particularly, my law degree. It showed me that law affects every aspect of our lives, as well as providing a structured way of thinking about problem solving.
What was your first job and what did you learn doing it you still use nowadays?
While a university student, one of my jobs was as a Customer Service Officer at the NSW Maritime Authority. Through this role, I got to be an emergency maritime radio operator at the weekends. I learnt that you can achieve a lot more in a crisis (such as when your boat is sinking) if you can remain calm, can come up with a plan, communicate it clearly and inspire confidence in others.
What are the most and least rewarding aspects of your career so far?
It has been really rewarding to see better deals being negotiated in the energy and resources sectors in the developing nations where we have done capacity building. We are also now seeing more active monitoring of projects to ensure that the companies comply with their contractual and legal obligations in areas such as exploration and production, taxation, employment, community development, health and safety, and the environment.
One of the least rewarding aspects of my career is the hours spent learning how to read sewer diagrams so that you can check the sale of land contracts carefully when you are asked to advise on the purchase of a property. To this day, I have never used this knowledge.
What are the key skills that make you good at what you do? How did you gain them?
I am an effective communicator, with good technical ability in negotiation and contractual drafting. The ability to process large volumes of complex information in tight time frames, while maintaining a close attention to detail also helps. I gained these skills through a combination of learning them at Law School, learning them in the workplace, and mirroring successful people in the sector that I admire. Having a passion for both the area and for helping others is also important and shines through in the work you do.
What is the toughest lesson you have learnt?
It is horrible to get sick overseas when you are travelling by yourself. Your mother is right – don’t drink the water, don’t eat dodgy food and always know where to get medical help. The US embassy or consulate normally has a list of English speaking doctors in-country on their website.
What has been your biggest challenge and how did you tackle it?
One of my biggest challenges has been leaving a successful career as a commercial lawyer to do a PhD and become an academic. This was not an easy decision to make. I enjoyed many aspects of being a lawyer but had come to the conclusion that there was more to life than making lots of money so I bit the bullet and applied to do my PhD. It meant making a lot of sacrifices including giving up many nights and weekends to get the PhD finished while holding down a full-time job. That said, I love my job and don’t regret making the change for a second.
What achievements are you most proud of?
I am always proud when my students succeed in achieving their goals. I was also delighted to be recently invited to present my research to the key international organisation in my field, the International Renewable Energy Agency.
Do you have a role model and if so who and why?
Some of the most inspiring women I have ever met are the women who have survived the most horrific physical and sexual violence during civil wars in Liberia. Despite all of the adversity in their lives, they refuse to give up and constantly strive to make their countries better for future generations. When you hear their stories, it immediately puts everything in perspective and you realise just how privileged you were to grow up in a country that was free of violence and with excellent public education and healthcare.
Penelope Crossley | Lecturer in Energy and Resources Law | Faculty of Law, University of Sydney
Inspiring girls and young women to choose a career in foreign policy
Copyright © 2016, Women in Foreign Policy. All rights reserved.