To find a job in her desired field of transactional oil and gas, Kristen Smith looked outside the Denver job market and accepted a position focused on liquefied natural gas in Houston, Texas, during the final stretch of law school. Today, Smith supports business development and commercial operations as in-house counsel at Texas-based Cheniere Energy, Inc., a leader in the business of exporting natural gas from the United States.
Tell us a little about your work. What do you do, and what might a “typical” work day look like?
There is no such thing as a “typical” day working in-house for a rapidly growing company like Cheniere, and that is part of what I love about it. I support two separate functions at Cheniere—business development and commercial operations. Typical activities include helping our business development team structure deals involving new opportunities, assisting our operations team with a range of contractual and legal questions, and negotiating liquefied natural gas (LNG) sales and related agreements.
How did you find your job?
Talking to people, or “networking,” but I believe talking to people sounds much less forced. My first job out of law school was with Baker Botts LLP’s global projects group in Houston. In November 2015, I moved in-house to Cheniere.
My husband and I had really settled down in Denver during law school; however, despite endless searching, I had still not found a Denver firm in need of a junior associate for a transactional oil and gas practice by the start of my 3L year. Slightly discouraged, I started asking everyone I knew in the oil and gas world for advice on finding a legal job in the industry. The advice I got was uniformly, “Go to Houston and work in Big Law.” Armed with that insight, I continued to ask more questions about the Houston energy market. The Houston firms I decided to target did not have a recruiting relationship with Colorado Law at the time, so I had to get my resume in front of them the old-fashioned way. I sent my resume to the recruiting offices of several firms in Houston, and a few of my own contacts were kind enough to send my resume directly to their contacts within the same firms I was targeting. Soon enough, I had a handful of interviews set up in Houston over winter break of my 3L year. I knew Baker Botts was the right fit as soon as the interview began, and a few weeks into my last semester of law school, they made me an offer that I was more than excited to accept.
During my two years at Baker Botts, my practice grew to be largely focused on liquefied natural gas and I had gotten to know several of the folks from the legal and business development teams at Cheniere. Before I was even contemplating a job change, an email alert popped up with a job opening in Cheniere’s legal group because I had set up Google email alerts on all of my clients. From my prior interactions with this group, I knew that (a) I would be able to work well with them and (b) I was really interested in the types of projects they were developing. So I applied for the position, interviewed, and received an offer.
How did Colorado Law help you in your job search?
Colorado Law provided the avenues for me to build my contacts. I worked at the Natural Resources Law Center (now the Getches-Wilkinson Center) during my 1L summer. In that role, I was able to go to several Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Foundation events where I made several connections to people who would eventually help introduce me to the Houston energy law market. In addition, I think that several of the transactional classes offered at Colorado Law were transcript items that employers were delighted to see.
What skills do you utilize on a daily basis and how did your experiences or courses at Colorado Law help you develop these skills?
Communication and contract analysis are the two most common skills I utilize. The Real Estate Transactions course was one of my experiences that stands out as contributing to my development of these skills. That class took us through the process of analyzing and commenting on a full-blown sale and purchase agreement, which is essentially what I do a lot of the time today. Knowing how to analyze and comment on a draft agreement, and how to communicate your comments to a variety of audiences, is essential to any transactional practice.
Please talk a little about “people skills” and networking specifically. How has your professional network made a difference in your career?
Networking (again, really just talking to people) is the engine that moves my career from one level to the next. Without my network and their connections to the Houston energy market, I may never have been able to interview with Baker Botts over winter break of my 3L year. And, without the professional network that I developed while I was at Baker Botts, I might never have gotten to know the team that I work with at Cheniere today.
What advice would you give to current students with respect to finding a job?
Figure out what you want and what you need to do to get there. Even if what you want changes over time, you will have made progress in at least one direction. Demonstrating that you are truly interested in a particular area will help you stand out amongst the masses of job applicants that are undecided about what they want to do.
Employers, especially in a down market, will not as often want someone who wants to explore all aspects of the legal system or dabble in a little of everything until they figure out their true passion. They will be hiring someone for a specific role/practice and they want someone who is passionate about the offered work. Your first job will most likely not be your only job, so don’t be afraid to take a risk and really sink yourself into a topic you find interesting, even if you’re not entirely sure about it as a “forever” career path.
If you were to recommend Colorado Law to a potential law student, what would you say?
If you are looking for a great, practical legal education in a place that allows you a fantastic outdoors lifestyle, go for it. Colorado Law is a great place to meet incredibly intelligent people who will be in your circle for the rest of your life. It is a fantastic springboard for your legal career.
Why did you choose Colorado Law?
Everything fell into place for me when I was evaluating which law school to attend. I knew that I wanted to work in the energy space, and Colorado Law has a great environmental/energy law program. I was also born in Colorado and lived in Denver for a few years growing up, so I had a few roots in the area and a love of the outdoors. My husband was finishing his master’s at DU at the time I made the decision to attend Colorado Law. On top of all of that, Colorado Law offered me a scholarship that was hard to turn down. There was no question that this is the law school I was meant to attend.