Former classmates merge energy law firms – new oil company in Oklahoma

Jacob Charney and Benjamin Brown said they want to build the next legal legacy in Oklahoma.

The two energy attorneys merged their law firms on April 1 and said they aim to become the next Crowe & Dunlevy by catering to a new generation of oil and gas companies. Stuart MacDonald, University of Central Oklahoma energy finance professor and energy attorney, said the merger makes sense from a logistical standpoint. But if they really want to stand out, they’ve got to produce results for their clients.

Charney and Brown are both co-founders and managing attorneys at the Tulsa-based firm, CharneyBrown LLC. Charney said he and Brown are in their mid-30s and are part of a new guard of attorneys who want to start their own business, rather than joining a large firm. Their clients range from large drillers to mom-and-pop companies.

But the demographic differences younger attorneys bring could help them cater to small, private-equity-backed oil and gas startups that are staffed by younger people who have different priorities and demand flexibility.

The two were friends while attending the University of Tulsa’s College of Law and stayed in touch after graduating in 2011. Charney is a title attorney. Brown was a landman and worked for a driller before he moved to a law firm.

They were talking about client gifts at Christmastime and discovered there was significant overlap in their lists. Charney said they always enjoyed collaborating while in law school, and they realized they could both benefit by joining forces. Brown said he realized then that’s how now-big-name law firms began.

“They started with a small group of guys decades or centuries ago and are long-lasting,” Brown said. “On the oil and gas side, we want to create a legacy and help clients realize cost savings and be efficient. And we can do that if we collaborate.”

MacDonald said that’s how law firms always start: two guys with experience and an overlapping client base.

“If they’ve got 99 percent of the competition beat in being the next Crowe & Dunlevy, the last 1 percent will give them hell,” MacDonald said.

Title attorneys are a dime a dozen. So Charney said he hopes they set themselves apart by excelling at what some of their baby boomer peers don’t do as well: They’re easily accessible, technologically savvy and open to collaboration.

Every client has his cellphone number. He’ll answer at odd hours when he’s out of the office or on vacation. Older title attorneys are less likely to embrace cloud-based technology, he said, which is key to being fast and efficient.

After Newfield and Apache closed their Tulsa offices, a new crop of entrepreneurial ventures appeared on the scene, Brown said. Smaller, private-equity-backed companies have to keep overhead low, because they’re competing for capital among other drillers in an equity group’s portfolio.

MacDonald, who’s practiced in Oklahoma and Texas, said the two might be able to become the next powerhouse firm. They’re a part of a cultural shift among baby boomers, Generation Xers and millennials. The divide is the greatest generational misunderstanding he’s ever seen, and that’s true among industries. But they’ve got to be better than their competitors.

“Because if they’re accessible, more technologically savvy and more in tune with the worldview of their clients, that only works if you produce better results,” MacDonald said. “Because if Crowe produces better results, I’m going to them.”

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