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How I became a green energy lawyer

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CMS’ Kirsty Nurse reflects on her career journey as representing environmental interests becomes increasingly appealing to law students

Kirsty Nurse, Of Counsel in the CMS Energy and Climate Change practice group

CMS offers lawyers the opportunity to address the climate crisis, as their Energy and Climate Change practice is one of the largest in the world, with over 450 lawyers globally.

According to Kirsty Nurse, Of Counsel, and one of the lawyers in the team, most of the work she undertakes is “transactional”, which means she often has “quite a lot of projects running at the same time”. A large part of her work involves carrying out due diligence for lenders involved in financing clean energy projects as well as advising developers on developing and/or purchasing green projects.

As well as this, Kirsty notes that a large part of her role is on the business development side as lawyers have to keep up to date with regulation changes and technology updates. She describes it as a constantly evolving sector where attendance at conferences and seminars is essential.

With the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) hosted in Glasgow on the horizon, Kirsty notes how “CMS as a whole is doing quite a lot ahead of it, both for clients and also in terms of our own sustainability commitment, which includes organising a series of client-facing insight activities, videos and webinars on issues surrounding COP26 and renewables in general”. With Scotland hugely involved in renewables, Kirsty, who is based in CMS’ Edinburgh office, believes COP26 is “a great opportunity to show the world what we do”.

Kirsty has witnessed a significant focus on the energy and climate change sector as the climate crisis has intensified. She notes that this is a relatively new area of law and says she “didn’t know it was an option” to work in when she was a trainee. “At that time energy was all about oil and gas,” Kirsty explains. “Now trainees come through and are eager to get a seat in the Energy and Climate Change practice.” So how did Kirsty land a career in this sector? She modestly describes it as a case of “right place, right time”.

Applications are open for The CMS Academy: The Next Generation Vacation Scheme and close on 24 December 2021

After graduating from the University of Edinburgh in 2006 and completing her diploma in 2007, Kirsty started her traineeship, where she admits she had no idea which area of law she wanted to specialise in. “While I enjoyed my first seat in family law, I found it an emotional area and one I really didn’t have the stomach for,” she claims.

It was during her final seat in projects, a seat which encompassed advising clients on infrastructure projects such as schools and airports, that Kirsty first encountered renewables. “I started working with the Co-operative Bank on project financing in the renewables sector”, Kirsty tells me, “and then I was asked to do a secondment with them in Manchester after I qualified in 2009.”

Kirsty joined the CMS Power team in London in 2011 after gaining her English law qualification in 2010, before heading to CMS Edinburgh to help form a renewables practice in 2012. Along with a few colleagues, Kirsty was responsible for developing the renewables team from scratch. “This involved bringing my contacts on board, including the Co-operative Bank, which was the first step in building a large group of great renewable energy clients,” she says. Although Kirsty chalks her success up to “right place, right time”, it is clear to me that her impressive career can also be attributed to the excellent impression she made with her clients.

As the popularity of the energy and climate change sector increases, Kirsty advises new and aspiring lawyers to get involved. There are various options including volunteering with renewable groups; taking courses specialising in clean energy or joining sustainability focused organisations, such as the 2050 Climate Group or the UK Environmental Lawyers Association student arm. She also stresses that there are a growing number of opportunities for those who want to work in the sector. “Renewables is now such a popular area,” she explains, “every business is interested in it. Companies want to buy clean energy or install solar panels or wind turbines or just simply reduce their carbon footprint and improve their sustainability. As a variety of sectors are involved, there are more ways than ever to work in energy.”

Indeed, with the current climate crisis, a sustainability strategy is expected in all sectors of business, not just encouraged. Kirsty believes a “lifestyle change on a global level” is required to improve the state of the planet. “Countries with the money to make improvements must help those which are still developing and are likely to be more reliant on fossil fuels,” she adds. “We must use our knowledge and technological abilities to improve things across the board… and hopefully it is enough.”

Kirsty Nurse will be speaking alongside other lawyers from the Energy and Climate Change practice at CMS during ‘The green energy revolution — with CMS’, a virtual student event taking place next week, on Thursday 7 October. You can apply to attend the event, which is free, now.

Applications are open for The CMS Academy: The Next Generation Vacation Scheme and close on 24 December 2021

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