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Oil and Gas Investor

[Editor's note: Influential Women In Energy 2021 is a supplement to the May 2021 issue of Oil and Gas Investor magazine. Subscribe to the magazine here.]

While she didn’t grow up with a background in oil and gas, Christine “Chris” LaFollette, partner emeritus at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP and director at Holly Energy Partners LP, quickly came to appreciate the significance of the industry as a young attorney working in Houston. Because energy was significant to her clients and her community, she needed to understand it.

“Energy is not just a widget, but an all-encompassing industry that stretches from getting the product out of the ground to filling up your car or turning on a light switch.” she said. “I had to study and rely on my many patient colleagues and clients who drew diagrams and spent hours explaining the business to me. I found it, and continue to find it, fascinating and very rewarding to meet incredibly talented people and leaders in the industry.” 

“Indeed, while it is said that justice is blind, lawyers and businesspeople need to confront unconscious bias not only for women and racial and ethnic minorities, but also misperceptions of equity.” 

Overcoming challenges 

“At the beginning of my career, as one of the few female corporate attorneys in the energy industry, I quickly learned the importance of promoting diversity, equity and inclusion by always being the best you can be professionally and personally. I had to prove myself, while also continuing to help my women colleagues find a seat at the board table, which still requires diligent efforts on a daily basis.

“I remember in the early 1980s wearing my navy blue suit to fit in with the men and, yet, still being asked by a male attorney to ‘fetch’ him a cup of coffee before a meeting started. Needless to say, I shifted the bargaining power when later, to his surprise, I sat down across from him with his coffee to lead the negotiations.

“Indeed, while it is said that justice is blind, lawyers and businesspeople need to confront unconscious bias not only for women and racial and ethnic minorities, but also misperceptions of equity. I am passionate about promoting diversity and inclusion in the legal and business worlds. Though I have formally retired from the partnership, I continue to support Akin Gump with ad hoc special projects related to the firm’s women’s network.”

Memorable moment 

“Having practiced law for over 40 years, I have had the privilege to work with legal and business teams primarily in the energy space. My experience encompasses advising public companies and partnerships not only with their general corporate matters, M&A deals, financing and regulatory compliance, but also focusing on their duties to their stakeholders. I am a dealmaker, recognized for having recently advised on transactions totaling $28 billion over a two-year period. It is amazing to celebrate the closing of an acquisition as part of a team of business leaders, accountants and other professionals who pour immense time and effort into working together toward a common goal.”

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Career milestone 

“In the legal profession, one milestone is making partner in the law firm. This requires demonstration of the highest legal standards, work product and peer perception. I cannot claim the credit for achieving such a title on my own; I had tremendous support from mentors, both men and women, along the way. However, once partnership is achieved, the real work begins in developing a practice that earns the respect of clients throughout the life cycle of their business.”

Formative experience 

“By far the most significant educational experience for me was joining a client’s executive team to attend drilling school for one week. As the only female, I put on my hard hat and learned the aspects of the drilling process, including safety. On the last day, as we did a simulated blowout on a rig, I remember the sense of urgency as we felt the rocking and pitch. I looked at the foreman with huge eyes and held my breath. He calmly looked at me and said, ‘I want you to always remember this feeling at this moment. If someone ever calls your office and says, ‘we have a problem,’ you better answer the phone and act fast.’”