MSC Member Spotlight: Porter Wright

This week, we had the chance to learn more about Porter Wright and understand their work in Pennsylvania’s natural gas industry.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Q. Can you briefly tell us a little bit more about Porter Wright? Any unique facts?

Porter Wright has been helping clients solve problems, navigate legal and regulatory landscapes, and achieve business goals for more than 170 years.

What started as a desk in the London, Ohio courthouse in 1846, the firm expanded throughout the state, representing energy, infrastructure, and utility clients. We now have eight offices across the Midwest and Southeast (Ohio, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.)

A unique fact about Porter Wright is probably the notable lawyers who have been within the firms ranks, including Earl Morris, who was former president of the American Bar Association, and worked on the “The Harding Papers” case.

We opened our Pittsburgh office in 2017, and now regularly provide corporate, litigation, and immigration services to a diverse set of industries – ranging from energy and manufacturing to healthcare and education.

The firm brings together knowledge, skills, experience, and resources for clients ranging from start-ups to large, publicly-traded corporations, including Fortune 50 companies.

And with experienced energy lawyers licensed in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia (as well as certain federal courts in New York), Porter Wright is well-positioned to support the industry throughout the Marcellus and Utica plays. 

Q. How do you serve clients/customers in the energy space?

With the significant increase in energy resource exploration and development over the last two decades, we recognized a need for innovative, creative, and effective legal counsel to support Marcellus and Utica shale operators.

We work closely with clients to assist with all aspects of the energy space – whether it is negotiating transactions with industry stakeholders, government authorities, and landowners, seeking or challenging regulatory permits or approvals, negotiating economic development opportunities or advocating at the county, city or state government levels, pursuing legal action to enforce rights required to facilitate major production and infrastructure projects, or defending claims in litigation ranging from lease and joint venture disputes to claims of environmental contamination.

We have served as primary outside counsel for multiple national companies in connection with the construction of hundreds of miles of pipelines across the region. We’ve also served as counsel in land acquisition to support exploration and production efforts, and to address contractual, regulatory, financing, and environmental issues associated with these efforts.

Q. Can you tell us about your position and how you specifically support the natural gas industry?

Jeremy Mercer: I am a life-long commercial litigator have focused on the energy industry for more than half of my professional career. With an emphasis in oil and gas litigation, I primarily represent E&P, midstream, and service companies. My work primarily includes helping clients with administrative proceedings, state trial and appellate courts, and federal trial and appellate courts. This has taken me from representing E&P companies in zoning hearings in Township garages standing next to the salt trucks, to conducting site inspections on plaintiffs’ property in northeast Pennsylvania in November and December (walking through the woods in hunting season – a perfect reason to be decked out in blaze orange!), to argue before the Pennsylvania Superior Court on lease and trespass cases, to jury trials in federal and state courts on behalf of E&P companies. I have been in courthouses throughout the Marcellus region in Pa. – from Greene to Susquehanna and Tioga counties – as well as federal courts in the Western and Middle District.

Coupled with the experiences of my colleagues, whether the issue is a zoning challenge or application or a lease or royalty dispute, a claim of environmental contamination, trespass claims (both offensive and defensive), the pursuit of an injunction, a dispute with a joint venture partner, or defending a class action, we are ready to help industry players do what needs to be done to enforce their rights across the Commonwealth, as well as in West Virginia and Ohio.

Q. What would you says is the most important skill you’ve developed in your career?

Only one? I’m not sure I can pick just one, so I’ll narrow to two: listening and learning to be adaptive.

In order to figure out the right path, whether it’s developing a strategy for litigation or considering a business venture – or dealing with home schooling challenges – listening for and understanding the ultimate objective can make all the difference in the world in determining the approach. 

But just as important is the ability to adapt. Sometimes the ultimate objective changes midway through a litigation – an objective of enforcing a lease suddenly becomes the need to access the property immediately to plug and abandon a well. 

You have to be nimble and work with the client throughout a matter to make sure that plans developed at the start remain the right path forward throughout the litigation. While not quite at the level of “no plan survives first contact with the enemy,” a good lawyer needs to remember to check in with his or her client throughout the representation to ensure that the ultimate objective hasn’t changed.

Q. Why would you recommend the MSC to others?

The MSC has been, and remains, a great way to stay up on developments affecting the industry. The Energy Source email is timely and informative. The meetings and programs are consistently top notch and provide ways to learn about all aspects of oil and gas production. You can learn about air quality issues, HSE issues, drilling and completions, surface use issues, and midstream/pipeline issues over the course of two days.

Plus, it is a great way to be introduced to and stay connected with others in the field. Moreover, the advocacy efforts of the organization on behalf of the industry, both to the general public and with various government entities, is invaluable.