EMLF Member Spotlight: Sharon Flanery
Current association: Steptoe & Johnson PLLC (2004–present)
Columbia Natural Resources (2001–2003)
Columbia Gas Transmission Corp. (1998–2001) CONSOL Energy Inc. (1993–1998)
Thorp Reed & Armstrong (1991–1993)
CNG Development (1987–1990)
Saudi Aramco (1983–1985)
Columbia Gas Transmission Corp. (1978–1982)
Law School: Duquesne University
Undergraduate: West Virginia University
Children: Cara, age 20 (Junior in College)
Home: Pinch, West Virginia
Favorite movie: Bohemian Rhapsody
Favorite Restaurant in Charleston: Soho’s, especially the outdoor Beer Garden
EMLF Involvement: President of EMLF from 2013–2014, currently a member of EMLF’s Board of Trustees, a speaker and author for multiple past EMLF programs, and 2017 recipient of EMLF’s John L. McClaugherty Award for Dedication and Service.
You have been an oil and gas lawyer for several years and have been quite successful. How did you get involved in oil and gas law? My undergraduate degree is in petroleum engineering, and I worked several years as an engineer before I decided to get my law degree during an industry downturn. Friends from my engineering days, including Neal Pierce, helped guide me to energy law and my first permanent law position at Thorp, Reed, & Armstrong. At TRA, I was also lucky to meet Kevin Abbott and Kim Wakim. Both were good mentors and friends.
You represent both oil and gas clients and coal companies. Have you found any interesting or noteworthy differences between the legal work you do within the two industries? I think there are many more similarities than differences in the legal work for both industries, one of my favorites being the wonderful clients I serve in both industries.
Over the years, you have been very active in various mineral law organizations. You have particularly committed a lot of time to EMLF, even though you had a busy practice. Why? What has EMLF meant to you? EMLF is a great fit for me personally and professionally. It provides timely professional education in areas that are directly related to my practice. Additionally, EMLF provides significant opportunities to meet and network with colleagues across the energy industries.
You have a petroleum engineering degree and worked as an engineer for such companies as Columbia Gas Transmission, Aramco, and CNG Development. Does your engineering experience help you in representing oil and gas clients and understanding their issues? My engineering experience helps me understand the technical aspects of the industry and how the law applies to, or impacts, operations. This background has also been helpful in identifying and relating to the practical, business issues that face clients.
Were you working as an engineer while attending law school? If so, that must have been demanding. How did you balance the responsibilities? I attended law school at night, and I worked full-time during 3 of those 4 years. I balanced the responsibilities by having a husband that supported me and did everything else—from groceries to lawn work to sometimes attending social events on his own. Splitting responsibilities in this way has always worked well for our family.
You represented oil and gas clients before the Marcellus boom. How has being an oil and gas lawyer changed since the boom? The Marcellus boom has caused exponential growth in the oil and gas industry, resulting in the creation of many more opportunities for oil and gas lawyers in our Appalachian region. It has also driven a more rapid development of oil and gas law in many jurisdictions, through statutes, regulations, and caselaw.
You have been practicing law for a few decades now and have had success. Is there any advice you would give to new lawyers and law students who are about to become lawyers? Besides learning the law and working hard, new lawyers should develop good teamwork skills. That will help you not only collaborate with your colleagues at work, but also with your clients.