The Laurence Simons Search Talking Head series continues with an interview with Stephen Jurgenson, Partner at Clyde & Co.
Based in the London office of Clyde & Co, Stephen’s core disciplines include project development and finance, banking and institutional finance, corporate lending, mergers and acquisitions, and construction.
He is active in the power, water, renewable energy, oil and gas, natural resources, hydrogen, and carbon capture sectors. He regularly advises clients on infrastructure and PPP matters, including airports, ports, roads, and rail, and also advises on real estate. His work includes advice on regulatory matters such as antibribery and corruption laws, anti-money laundering laws, sanctions, and compliance.
Recognised in the Legal 500, Stephen was resident in the United Arab Emirates from 2010 to 2017, where he founded and was the managing partner of the office of his previous firm.
Clare Beresford, CEO at Laurence Simons Search, catches up with Stephen to discuss all things career, energy and AI related.
Clare Beresford (CB): Good morning Stephen, thank you for taking the time to talk to me today. You have an impressive career; did you always want to be a lawyer?
Stephen Jurgenson (SJ): Good morning Clare. No, I did not always want to be a lawyer, this changed when I was 16 and I went to an open day, at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. I had always thought that I was going to be a mathematician or a scientist as I was good at those subjects at school. But on this open day I got talking to some of the law tutors, and my interest was piqued. I ended up studying law at Cambridge and that was it.
CB: I have spoken to a lot of lawyers recently who originally thought that they would become mathematicians or scientists. Do you think having an analytical mind makes you a better lawyer?
SJ: I believe it does. A lot of analytical thinking is involved in the practice of law and requires a logical approach, similar to science. This is the case in my practice area of energy and infrastructure development, which involves a lot of deal structuring and complex contracts.
CB: Is there any advice that you would give to your younger self that would have made the early years of your career easier?
SJ: I would advise myself to take more time over embarking on a legal career, that there is no rush. I came through Cambridge in three years, then I went straight to Nottingham Law School for a year, and then I only had a few months before I started my training contract. It was not as common to take gap years then, and not as many opportunities to study or to have placements abroad, but I wish that I had had that opportunity when I was younger. But then, in hindsight, I have been working in a law firm for over 26 years now, and I still enjoy it, so it definitely was the right decision for me to go into law. But to take more time at the start would definitely be advice to my younger self, and others considering the profession.
CB: That is interesting. We mainly talk with senior lawyers, but when we do speak to junior lawyers it is plain to see that more routes to law are being taken, with some different skill sets too.
SJ: Yes, the younger generation are taking different approaches, but I think my generation has to evolve with the times too. The manner of providing legal services is changing, and sources of law are changing too. Lawyers cannot carry on doing the same thing forever, for example my practice looks very different from 20 years ago. Further, with technology developing, and more home working involved, we need to evolve with the times, and will be needing different skillsets.
CB: With Covid dominating our lives right now, how do you think infrastructure and energy projects will be impacted in the future? If you had a crystal ball, what would your predictions be?
SJ: In terms of energy power generation there is going to be lots more projects in certain areas such as solar power. Everywhere will see more wind energy development, particularly offshore. Europe, particularly the UK, has become the leading market for offshore wind energy, and you can now see this kind of project in other markets too, such as in East Asia and North America. These developments extend out into other technologies, such as floating wind energy, which is deployable in deep water locations.
We will see a lot more development of hydrogen as a fuel and even homes will be potentially switched from gas heating to hydrogen heating in the UK. The question is where the hydrogen comes from as it does not exist naturally. It is going to come from either electrolysis of water using renewable energy, which presumably will come from offshore wind or solar in certain locations. This is “green hydrogen”. Hydrogen will also come from reformed methane and other hydrocarbons – “blue hydrogen.” The reformation process gives off carbon dioxide which is obviously not what we want – so carbon capture projects will be developed in parallel. All these technologies exist at the moment, it is just a question of the economics.
CB: So how do you see your role evolving with these developments?
SJ: The legal skill set is not going to change, but the ability to adapt and apply skills to new technologies is needed. I specialise in project finance as a discipline, where the issues are very similar, whether we are talking about power generation or infrastructure. The deal structures are very similar, the techniques are very similar and that will be the same for future infrastructure such as carbon capture and hydrogen. Lawyers will be using their skills to structure these deals and make them work particularly for private sector investment and finance. There was a government white paper on energy in December 2020, where the government set out its policies in all of these areas. So, we do know there will be a role for lawyers in negotiating and structuring these deals, and resolving disputes as well, as these will inevitably arise.
CB: We are consistently hearing from general counsels that ESG is dominating their agendas, regardless of sector or discipline. Do you think that, at some point, the cost of not investing in ESG will be so high that it will be driven by societal pressure?
SJ: I believe so. There is actually no legal or technical reason why any of these hydrogen and carbon capture projects cannot be developed today, based on current law, it is just a question of economics. The private sector is looking for a return on investments, however how they achieve a return is not completely clear yet. If you are in the private sector looking at developing hydrogen infrastructure or carbon capture the pricing and cost of hydrogen and carbon dioxide is not known. Businesses developing such assets without knowing would be taking a leap of faith without government support. It is time for the government to develop the right business environment for the private sector to invest and get a return, or the government should invest itself, or at least provide contractual support and mechanisms to facilitate this.
CB: How is artificial intelligence changing the legal operations function, will it change your professional life at all?
SJ: For me personally, it has not had any real impact. I rarely have large numbers of documents which need to be quickly reviewed – AI would help with that. My work mostly involves drafting documents and requires subtleties to be captured. This takes experience, so AI has not really changed anything for me yet. Maybe in the future this will change.
CB: What has been the most challenging aspects of your career?
SJ: There have been many specific cases that have been challenging. None of what I do involves a life-or-death situation though! There have been times when I have had clients whose jobs, or businesses, have been on the line. Providing advice in that circumstance can be challenging, but also very rewarding, when the matter is resolved.
CB: Looking back at your career, not that it is over by any means, what are you most proud of professionally?
SJ: I am proud of a lot of things. Professionally, I have done a lot of work on challenging and interesting deals, and I have been involved in some stand out transactions that I am very proud of. I have also completed pro bono work over the years, which has been very satisfying, and I am proud of the outcomes.
CB: Excellent thank you. If you had a superpower what would it be and why?
SJ: Was or had a superpower? It is a close choice between having the presidents of Russia, China and the US do as I say, or the ability to look into the future. As a lawyer, I spend a lot of time thinking and planning next steps, so to be able to see into the future would be really beneficial!
CB: If you could work anywhere in the world where would you choose?
SJ: I worked overseas for seven years in the Middle East and Dubai, which was great, but the plan was to always come back to the UK with my family. I am happy to stay put in the UK actually, working in private practice, settled at home. So fundamentally I like what I do and where I am based.
CB: Do you think there will be any change in working practices in law, post pandemic?
SJ: I think that there will be more flexibility in working practices after the pandemic, commuting may change, a mix of working in the office and working from home. But I know we will still work together as groups because there is so much significant benefit from this to be gained. I am hoping it goes back to some sense of normality, but I do not think we will be reverting to straight 9 to 5, 5 days a week, again.
CB: Stephen, thank you so much for your time today, and for your thoughts and insights.