When Patrick Byrd chose to go in-house in 2012, he admits he knew little about the natural gas space. But coming to Boardwalk Pipelines LP didn’t scare the attorney. It was the kind of uncertainty that he thrives on.
“I literally signed up for a class called, ’Natural Gas 101: From Wellhead to Burner Tip,’” the current assistant general counsel (AGC) reveals. “I knew I needed to educate myself, so that’s what I did. I sought out long-tenured people in the organization to learn about pipeline construction, gas markets, pipeline integrity, and just embraced not being the expert.”
It’s the best advice he can offer anyone contemplating going in-house. If you don’t take the time to learn your industry intimately, you’re in for a world of hurt, especially in the energy industry where an issue in Ohio can make waves in Texas. Because Byrd has taken the time to build relationships within his over 1,200-person organization and put in the hours, days, and years to learn industry intricacies, he has been able to grow in amazing ways.
“It comes down to being comfortable with being uncomfortable,” the AGC explains. It’s a phrase he comes back to often, and seems essential for managing the broad range of matters that regularly cross his desk.
Over ten-plus years, Byrd has taken it upon himself to try and be a good steward for an industry that is an easy target for criticism. He sees it in both the transactional and litigation parts of his role.
“Being a good steward means a lot of different things to me,” he says. “It might be telling the good stories of how we actually go above and beyond to help landowners or affected stakeholders when they need it. It might be taking the time to explain why we’re taking part in a certain transaction, and the benefit it can ultimately provide. This industry is still a very important part of the American way of life, and I believe that story needs to be told.”
The key to operating in an industry that can sometimes be a scapegoat for broader issues, Byrd explains, is operating with a keen sense of self-awareness. It’s not just the energy industry, or even law. He sees it as essential to being a good person.
“It’s not my job to be a shill for the energy industry,” Byrd says. “I think it’s an industry that is very beneficial, but is not without its issues. It’s important to take a rational approach to complex issues and understand what you’re bringing to the table.”
In the case of Byrd, that’s quite a lot. The attorney spent two years clerking for the Honorable Ewing Werlein, Jr. in the Southern District Court of Texas. That’s where he learned that there wasn’t just one way to practice law. He remembers seeing lawyers who couldn’t care less about pleasantries and other litigators who sought to attract more flies with honey. The experience didn’t just provide him a formal education, it provided him friends for life.
“A clerkship can certainly be a feather in your cap, but I think a lot of people don’t realize that it’s a time when you can make friends for life,” Byrd says. “I still regularly get together with people from those days. The law community isn’t that big when you get down to it, and I think that camaraderie isn’t something that’s talked about enough.”
Byrd would build out extensive litigation experience at Baker Botts LLP and Jones Walker LLP before going in-house in 2012. Now, litigation is just one component of the AGC’s role. Large asset purchases, M&A, and divestitures weren’t a daily part of Byrd’s firm practice, but they are a consistent part of his day-to-day now.
“I leaned heavily on outside counsel while I was learning,” Byrd remembers. “There were a ton of issues that were outside my wheelhouse, but I was able to step in and learn the legal and business implications of contractual provisions and quickly started to be able to provide solid advice to help get the job done.”
The saying goes that law firm work is an inch wide and a mile deep. In-house is exactly the opposite. Byrd regularly encounters a dozen different discrete questions a day on topics all over the board. Flexibility isn’t encouraged, it’s required.
External partners have taken notice of the AGC’s multifaceted talents, as well. “Patrick possesses a unique blend of legal expertise, business acumen, and interpersonal skills,” say Terrence K. Knister and James D. “Doug” Rhorer, members at Gordon, Arata, Montgomery, Barnett, McCollam, Duplantis & Eagan LLC. “His ability to navigate complex legal issues, whether in a litigation or transactional context, makes him an invaluable asset. Patrick communicates effectively, fosters collaboration, and has a natural talent for building consensus amongst counsel and internal stakeholders.”
At age forty-three, flexibility outside of his day job doesn’t come quite as easy as it used to. Byrd played soccer at the University of Texas and into adulthood, but after extensive knee surgeries, he doesn’t spend much time on the pitch these days. Instead, the lawyer can be found playing casual volleyball or chasing his three daughters around the house.
When it comes to being the father of three girls ages thirteen, eleven, and nine, Byrd says he has to rely on his litigation skills more than he’d like, but just like his day job, he’s okay being uncomfortable.
“With daughters, you will be made aware—regularly—that you don’t know anything at all,” the lawyer says, laughing. “They’re challenging me every day, and I think there may be a legal career in at least one of their futures.”