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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.]

Initially, Sarah McLean wanted to be a health care lawyer. After about six months on the job, she said she found it “incredibly boring and routine.” However, she found oil and gas private equity interesting and challenging. 

“I really liked the clients I worked with—they were smart and sophisticated and generally treated me with respect,” McLean said. “And, as a result of having grown up in and around the oil field, I’ve always felt comfortable with both the private equity guys (and they are almost all men) and the more boots-on-the-ground management teams.” 

After 19 years at a regional Texas firm, McLean moved to Shearman with the goal to build an energy-focused private equity practice using a team approach and a lot of hustle. 

“I’m proud of what we have done with the group and the partners I work with, especially Omar Samji and Todd Lowther, who started the Shearman Houston office with me,” she said. “We’ve worked on some of the most interesting and complex transactions together over the past three years, and in 2020 Omar and I were named ‘Most Effective Dealmakers’ by the Texas Legal Awards.” 

“The industry is entering a time of transition, so I think it is a great time to be a young professional. My advice is to make and mind connections, treat people with respect, listen to people when they talk, be engaged in what you are doing, and have fun.” 

Mentorship and advice 

“Early in my career I worked with a private equity-backed company in Denver, and their landman Joel taught me a tremendous amount about oil and gas and how to do a deal. He spent a lot of time talking things through with me and explaining why certain details mattered from a business and legal perspective.

“I also had an administrative assistant for 15-plus years, Maria, who was a mentor to me. She spent countless hours each month teaching and helping me understand how to practice law efficiently.

“A few years ago, a client sent me a slide for a presentation he was doing that read ‘Nothing great happens inside your comfort zone.’ I think that is spot on, and I have really tried to embrace that motto since joining Shearman, especially with respect to business development and getting out of the office to meet people and listen to their stories. These small actions have led to further personal and professional growth in my life.” 

Facing challenges 

“My challenges have really come in two buckets. The first relates to challenges that women face every day in business. People have talked over me, repeated my ideas as though they were their own or called me names in negotiations or on calls. Those have mostly come from other lawyers rather than clients, so I have tried to respond with an internal chuckle and not let those instances impact my performance or focus. Instead, I tried to allow my expertise and skills speak for me. A client once told me that every time he has been in a negotiation with a man and a woman, the woman has always been more prepared. 

“The second relates to situations in which I (and other women) have been excluded from opportunities unfairly. Sometimes the exclusion has been kind-spirited (we aren’t going to ask Sarah to go to this meeting in Boston to discuss an opportunity because she has children) and sometimes it has not been (we are having a strategy session off site and inviting the entire management committee other than Sarah—the managing partner’s wife would not allow a woman to attend such offsite events). I’ve often responded to those by working harder and making my own opportunities. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more vocal about these issues—not just for myself but also for the other women I work with—and have been outspoken about such instances of gender inequity.” 

Memorable projects 

“Since I am a lawyer, my most memorable projects are likely really boring to other people. The transactions that stick out in my head are not necessarily the big dollar or big name transactions, but the ones that presented unique challenges that we creatively solved. The best negotiations for me aren’t ones where I come away thinking ‘we won that point’ but the ones where everyone listens to each other’s goals and expectations and we can come up with a solution that addresses both parties’ needs. 

“I also have very fond memories of one of the first pro bono projects I ever handled, and at the end of it, I remember my client looking at me with tears in her eyes and saying ‘thank you.’ The client needed her child’s name changed, and as a young lawyer and a transactional lawyer, anything to do with courts and the courthouse was new to me. As a result, I felt as though she and I experienced the process together. As a lawyer, it is always rewarding to be able to use my expertise to help or represent those who need it most.” 

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Passion for the industry 

“I love the people. Growing up I oftentimes found myself with my dad stopping at a location or checking a well on the way to or from a basketball game or track meet (there was a lot of driving involved in doing anything or going anywhere in NW Oklahoma). And I saw how he interacted with his customers both on location and over the phone. The oil and gas business was a relationship business for him and is a relationship business for me. I truly like my clients, enjoy getting to know them and working with them. They are dedicated, hardworking, creative, thoughtful, interesting and smart.” 

Career goals 

“My goal has always been to do something I enjoy doing with people I like, and that goal hasn’t changed much over the years. My other goal now is to guide the development of the younger people on my team (most of whom are women) so they can achieve their goals.” 


“I try to admit it when I’m wrong or when I make a mistake, whether it be at work or especially with my kids. I don’t know whether it is social media or culture, but I find that people are generally hesitant to show vulnerability or weakness and that leads to pressure (especially on women) to be perfect. It’s not immediate, but if I get mad at one of my kids or overreact to something, I try to go back to them and apologize and make sure they know that I know that I make mistakes.”