Stacey McLey is rare. She is unicorn-riding-a-shooting-star rare. She’s a female lawyer in the oil and gas industry in Kansas City. The vice president and associate general counsel of litigation at Crestwood Equity Partners, who just turned fifty, said her career hasn’t merely been a case of finding herself the only female lawyer in a meeting. At one point, she was the only female lawyer at her firm.
Over a long career, McLey has managed to chalk up experience at firms both big and small before going in-house, utilizing a deep understanding of oil and gas litigation and the leadership required to oversee outside counsel. As Crestwood has committed to helping raise the profile of women in oil and gas, McLey has also stepped up to help lead the way as a mentor and example of a successful woman in law.
McLey says that as her career has progressed, experience itself has proven to be one of her most valuable skills. “Fifteen or twenty years ago, with some of the issues that we have come in, I would have thought the sky is falling,” McLey says. “But now, I can take a thirty-page complaint and realize that there are really two issues at play, not twenty.”
In matters where issues seem like they can be immediately addressed, McLey says she’s worked to negotiate with opposing counsel via a limited or directed discovery process. “In many of these commercial business cases, you can’t be overly aggressive and litigious, because these are companies you may want to work with in the future or vice versa,” McLey says.
McLey isn’t able to personally handle every piece of litigation at Crestwood, which is why developing the capacity to lead outside counsel teams has been essential. “There’s only one of me, so I have to rely [on my team] and trust that the projects I delegate are going to be done correctly and to the best of their ability,” McLey says. “I need to find the ‘total package’ when it comes to outside counsel: a team that is hardworking, works well with me, and is efficient with their billable time.” The lawyer’s experience hasn’t come cheap.
While she started her career at prestigious firm Shugart, Thompson & Kilroy in Kansas City, McLey has served in a variety of capacities that ultimately seem to have been the perfect fit for Crestwood. While litigating on behalf of Ferrellgas, McLey was often awoken in the middle of the night to go investigate gas explosions and other accident-related matters that involved working with metallurgists, accident reconstructionists, and civil engineers to get to the bottom of accident causation. “I had small children at home, and I never knew how often I was going to have to leave,” McLey says. But those hard-earned experiences helped prepare the lawyer for the onslaught of litigation matters she would tackle after going in-house.
One of the enduring lessons McLey has learned entails creativity in solutions. In employment cases, “sometimes just acknowledging and listening to the employee’s complaint can eliminate future litigation.” In other instances, “you learn that removing personal emotions from the situation can get the case resolved more quickly,” McLey says. “It’s only natural for you to be defensive when allegations are made against you, and those emotions can cause some to dig in and fight, hindering the litigation process.”
Crestwood has worked to do more than acknowledge the lack of diversity in the oil and gas industry at large. The Crestwood Women’s Network was formed in 2018 to empower women at the company and to create a platform that encourages women to take an active role in personal and professional development. “I’m proud to work for a company that has taken these issues to heart and put programing in place that celebrates diversity,” McLey says.
McLey was asked to be a founding member of the organization, representing one of two female vice presidents at Crestwood’s Kansas City offices. “We had five gentlemen at our first meeting,” she says, “and I think they got to experience what it was like to be the minority in the room for once, but we hope they come back and learn how they can be better managers and promoters of female talent.”
Mentoring seems the logical next step for McLey, who has continued to find ways to expand her scope outside of the office, working with nonprofits and her own children’s school activities. McLey says it may not be as exciting as a midnight phone call about a gas explosion, but it’s exactly where she needs to be.
Helping break the cycle of suffering
Stacey McLey is a longtime member of the Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault (MOCSA), one of the only rape crisis counseling services in the Kansas City area. The organization, which has expanded to eight counties, works to support members of sexual abuse of any gender. From legal advocacy to art therapy for victims, McLey says watching victims heal and ultimately become volunteers for the program reminds her of just how important the work the organization is doing can be. “You realize that this is literally a life-changing organization,” McLey says. “For MOCSA, I’m all in.”